The University of Scranton Fall Lecture in the Humanities Set for Oct. 21

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Columba Stewart OSB (@ColumbaStewart) | Twitter

Father Columba Stewart, O.S.B., executive director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) at St. John’s University, will deliver The University of Scranton’s Fall Lecture in the Humanities on Thursday, Oct. 21, at 5 p.m. in the Moskovitz Theater of the DeNaples Center. He will present “Recovering the voices of our ancestors: preserving the world’s endangered manuscript heritage.”

The University will bestow an honorary degree upon Father Stewart at the lecture, which is open to members of the University community and invited guests.

“Through his drive and initiative, Father Columba has rescued, saved, digitally archived and shared with the world ancient religious texts that were in jeopardy of being lost forever,” said Rev. Joseph G. Marina, S.J., president of The University of Scranton. “We are delighted to recognize his lifelong commitment both to the Church and to the preservation of the world’s religious history by bestowing upon him an honorary degree.”

Father Stewart was named HMML’s sixth executive director in 2003. In that role, he travels extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and South Asia cultivating relationships with communities possessing manuscript collections from the early medieval to early modern periods. Although HMML’s original efforts targeted primarily Christian collections in various European locations, under Father Stewart’s leadership, HMML’s non-European manuscript preservation projects have increased from one project in Lebanon to projects located in more than a dozen countries. During this time, HMML has photographed tens of thousands of manuscripts in many of the world’s most dangerous and difficult-to-reach places and given priority to preserving the manuscript collections of persecuted or endangered minorities.

“Father Columba believes it is important to preserve these early Christian and interreligious and intercultural documents, manuscript and artifacts from our past because they help us understand not only those specific societies and cultures, but also because they help us understand more fully our connectedness as human beings,” said Gretchen J. Van Dyke, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at The University of Scranton, who first met Father Stewart when she was a Resident Scholar at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research in Collegeville, Minnesota, during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Since 2003, Father Stewart has secured more than $11 million in funding from leading private foundations and government agencies, including the Arcadia Fund, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. These funders have fueled HMML’s increased field operations and supported the creation and expansion of HMML’s online platform, the largest and most comprehensive digital collection of manuscripts ever created. The online collections are available to registered users to browse through tens of thousands of manuscripts at no cost. Under his leadership HMML also completed a record-setting capital campaign in 2017 that raised more than $20 million to support HMML’s digital manuscript preservation goals and renovate HMML’s facilities in Collegeville.

Under his leadership, HMML was awarded the 2011 National Medal of Honor from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the highest award a library can receive in the United States. Father Stewart was named by the NEH as the 2019 Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities, the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.

Fr. Columba has been featured on many national and international media outlets, including the CBS News program 60 Minutes, BBC World News, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly as well as in The Economist, Harvard Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, NEH’s Humanities Magazine, The Wall Street Journal and The Chronicle of Higher Education. In December 2019, he wrote a cover story for America specifically highlighting the long Benedictine determination to preserve ancient texts around the world.

Father Stewart has published extensively in his research field of early Christian monasticism and is much in demand as a presenter and lecturer. He has received numerous grants and fellowships for his own scholarship, including being named a Guggenheim Fellow and a resident member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, among others.

Father Stewart earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and his master’s degree from Yale University. After further studies at Saint John’s University School of Theology, he earned his D.Phil. from the University of Oxford, England. He professed vows as a Benedictine monk of Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, in 1982 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1990. In 1989, he joined the faculty of the graduate School of Theology and undergraduate Department of Theology at Saint John’s University. He also currently serves as the Benedictine in residence at the Collegeville Institute.