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Education of the Whole Person: How The Saint John’s Bible Empowers Catholic Marianist Tradition at the University of Dayton, Ohio

Since welcoming a Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible in 2016, The University of Dayton has used the work of sacred art and scripture as a means of igniting Catholic Marianist values in education, including using the work in classroom study and crafting a custom oak case and tapestry that embodies university’s pride.

Posted June 19, 2024 in Education

Dayton, Ohio — Universities are places with buzz. Campuses are homes to sports games, festivals, and young minds from all kinds of backgrounds with their eyes open, noses in books, discussing all types of theories, issues and concepts, learning some of the lessons that will allow the rest of their lives to take shape and unfold.  

When you think of the University of Dayton, the buzz that comes to mind is most likely its nationally distinguished basketball team, the Flyers, or its close-knit community. However, there’s even more wealth of history to this institution than meets the public eye.  

St. Mary’s School for Boys, the 14-student primary school that grew to become the University of Dayton, was founded by Marianists in 1850, making this school was one of the very first Marianist educational institutions founded in the United States.   

According to, “The Society of Mary (Marianists) is an international Roman Catholic religious congregation of brothers and priests. We [Marianists] work in spritual formation, social justice and environmental preservation.” 

The values of a Marianist education – providing an excellent education, education for formation in faith, educating in the family spirit, education for service, justice and peace, and education for adaptation and change – have always been the roots from which the University’s education stemmed. But, true to the Marianist values of growth and change, the University never stops trying to find new, unique ways to honor this part of its culture and history. 

That’s why in 2013, leadership at the University’s Marian Library decided to continue to embolden the Catholic Marianist spirit on campus by welcoming a Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible as a pillar of its Catholic Marianist identity.  

“We are a Catholic institution, which isn’t always apparent from our name,” said Katy Kelly, Assistant Dean for Strategic Communication and Outreach and Professor at the University of Dayton. “Having a tangible way to showcase our Catholic identity through this Bible, and to have it on display for students and faculty to engage with really connects a wide range of people together on our campus.” 

Now approaching its eighth year with The Saint John’s Bible, the University acquired its final Heritage Edition volume in 2016 after three years of community fundraising efforts. Since then, the University has treated its Heritage Edition as an extension of University values, infusing a palpable sense of Dayton pride into each interaction with the work. 

“Our philosophy is the education of the whole person, accepting and celebrating people as they are and what they can contribute to a grander experience,” said Kelly. “The Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible absolutely is a catalyst for that kind of learning.” 

The Saint John’s Bible in the Classroom 

One of the remarkable aspects of having the Heritage Edition on a university campus is the chance to share it with students from all walks of life. To do this, the Marian Library and faculty collaborate to present the Bible to students in a curated manner, with each visit tailored to maximize the experience for every student. Sometimes, professors have specific volumes, pages, and passages in mind to share, and other times the librarians choose a set of illuminations to share with students.  

“It’s amazing to hold an old book in your hands and think about someone who has used this for hundreds of years, but it’s also an equally amazing experience to look at this modern Bible and connect with the text through the contemporary images,” said Kayla Harris, Director of the Marian Library and Associate Professor at the University of Dayton. “We’re a Catholic institution, but not everyone [students, faculty and staff] is Catholic. To have this point of context where everyone can come in with different life experiences and recognize the images in The Saint John’s Bible is really special.” 

Every student at the University is required to take Religion 103, an introductory class to Religious Studies, and many of those students work closely with The Saint John’s Bible each semester. Additionally, the University offers a Gospels course where students visit the library and compare The Saint John’s Bible to other Bibles in their collection. They explore questions regarding the illuminations and calligraphy, delving into how these elements animate the Scripture beside other printed materials.  

A group of people gather around a collection of ancient texts and books and compare the material to the pages of The Saint John’s Bible.
A group of people gather around a collection of ancient texts and books and compare the material to the pages of The Saint John’s Bible.

The Marian Library also provides Visio Divina sessions with The Saint John’s Bible, an ancient form of Christian prayer that involves four steps: gazing, reflecting, responding, and resting. This process includes the volumes, as well as other ancient texts and books for a collaborative experience in bringing old and new expressions of Scripture together for provoking thought. 

How They Did It: The Journey to Welcoming a Heritage Edition 

An enthusiastic group of champions have believed in the profound impact and influence that The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition cultivates since the early days of fundraising for the work. The leader of this group was Father Tom Thompson, the former Director of Marian Library, who spearheaded the University’s initiative to establish a fund for purchasing all seven volumes back in 2013.  

The fund garnered support from donors who had all kinds of diverse connections to the Bible, including university faculty and staff, friends, alumni, local philanthropists, book lovers, and artists. Ninety-one individual donors contributed amounts ranging from $10 to $25,000, making the effort a truly communal one. The collective generosity of the donors underscored the immense enthusiasm surrounding the acquisition. 

“During our fundraising efforts, The Marian Library published our newsletter that featured The Saint John’s Bible in every issue, promoting our goals to a greater audience. I think so many people resonated with our efforts because The Saint John’s Bible represents a variety of disciplines in the artwork, relating to science and history, and reflections of society and technology,” said Kelly. 

Identity on Display  

As a sacred work of fine art, The Saint John’s Bible offers a personal, spiritual experience to all who encounter it. This personalized experience encapsulates the vision that Marianist Brother Gary Marcinowski, S.M., Professor Emeritus in Art & Design, imagined for the University of Dayton as it welcomed its full Heritage Edition set of The Saint John’s Bible into the Marian Library. 

“Brother Gary is an artist and designer. So, he was very passionate about crafting a case for the Bible that was unique to our university,” said Harris. “As a Marianist institution, Brother Gary wanted the case to connect with our Marianist heritage — to allow it to tell the story of our campus.” 

The process of crafting the case was delayed  after a tornado swept through Dayton in 2016, causing a setback to their elaborate plan until just last year. Using Brother Gary’s designs, Cassady Woodworks built the case out of white oak, serendipitously aligning with the Marian Library’s 80th “oak” anniversary. Brother Gary wanted the case design to evoke an “arts and craftsfeel, highlighting the hand-made nature of the work. 

The custom case designed by Brother Gary took a handful of years to finish and now remains on the seventh floor of the Marian Library at the University of Dayton with one Heritage Edition volume The Saint John’s Bible on display and the others stored below.
The custom case designed by Brother Gary took a handful of years to finish and now remains on the seventh floor of the Marian Library at the University of Dayton with one Heritage Edition volume The Saint John’s Bible on display and the others stored below.

“It was very serendipitous that the oak case was originally supposed to be completed in 2018 and has now been finished in 2023, just in time for the Marian Library’s 80th anniversary,” said Kelly.  

In addition to the custom case, Brother Gary envisioned a tapestry to drape above the display. Ann Zlotnik, Communication and Creative Coordinator at the University of Dayton, designed and printed the tapestry, which depicts an image of Mary, mother of Jesus, holding a copy of The Saint John’s Bible in her hands — reminiscent of the image “Our Lady of the Marian Library”.

Illuminating Prospects with The Saint John’s Bible 

The University of Dayton experience inspires innovative programs and new opportunities aimed at enriching engagement with the Word of God. With the arrival of the custom case and tapestry for the seventh floor reading room at the Marian Library, the University is reminding people now more than ever that The Saint John’s Bible is here and can be used for a variety of purposes.  

“The Birth of Christ” and “Creation” illuminations are open and on display for visitors of the Marian Library.
“The Birth of Christ” and “Creation” illuminations are open and on display for visitors of the Marian Library.

As of summer 2024, the Marian Library is in the process of updating its programs for personal devotions with the seven volumes in student chapels throughout campus. Meanwhile, the Marianist Educational Associates (MEAs) group on campus remains dedicated to training and preserving the Marianist charisma. Last semester, a professional development team organized a program for librarians on The Saint John’s Bible, providing insight on its creation, Dayton’s acquisition, and comparisons with other materials and collections. The University hopes to host more such programs and extend invitations to broader audiences on campus. 

Regardless of how the life of the Heritage Edition on campus grows and changes over time, one thing is for sure – it is, and will be a permanent expression of the University of Dayton’s spirit and identity.  

The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program: Enhancing Spiritual Connections Across Global Institutions  

To read more stories similar to this one, subscribe to the Heritage Program’s monthly e-newsletter, Sharing the Word, or visit the blog.   

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