Brother David-Paul Lange, OSB, is all enthusiasm as he steps into an unexpected job this fall. Professor of art as well as subprior of Saint John's Abbey, he never anticipated appointment as the director of the Benedictine Institute at Saint John's University. Yet, though the move definitely caught him off guard, he is in many ways the right person for a project with a big mission and a promising future.
It was Brother Dietrich Reinhart who first broached the idea of the Benedictine Institute in 2008. He conceived of it as a vehicle to promote the history, culture and spirituality of the Benedictine tradition at Saint John's. It would blend the intellectual and the spiritual, and it would reach out to serve faculty, staff and students, as well as alumni and friends of the University. And it would build bridges with the College of Saint Benedict as well as draw from a community that includes the School of Theology, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, the Collegeville Institute, and projects like The Saint John's Bible. It's an embarrassment of riches, and in them is both challenge and opportunity.
The board of regents -- now the trustees -- responded enthusiastically to the proposal, and in short order the board approved the ambitious project. Several generous supporters then stepped forward to provide funding for program and endowment, and the Institute took its first steps into uncharted territory. Spacious quarters on the third floor of the Quadrangle became its home, and signature activities like faculty-staff trips to Benedictine sites in Europe galvanized the energies of many. Even so, Brother Dietrich's unexpected passing was a clear setback for the Institute, depriving it of the vision of its most ardent advocate.
With an ambitious charter that quickly outpaced its resources, where does the Benedictine Institute go next? Though he may be new as director, Brother David-Paul is not short on ideas; and he can articulate grand aspirations and the details to flesh them out into day-to-day activity. For one thing, he sees the Institute as a resource that can speak to Benedictine values out loud. Its mandate certainly includes exploration into the Benedictine tradition, but it also seeks to promote a conversation that weaves together the intellectual and the spiritual. That conversation is the special richness of the Benedictine tradition.
So what comes first? Topping the list of priorities will be oversight of the men's spirituality program for students at Saint John's. Through the years that program has gathered participants from various backgrouds in an exploration of their spiritual roots, and the Institute is now the nesting-place for promoting that dialog.
Brother David-Paul also looks forward to the continuation of the "Lunch and Learn" series. This program has convened faculty and staff for monthly talks and discussions on topics relating to the Benedictine character of Saint John's. And he also hopes to reconnect with the dozens of faculty and staff who are alumni of the many study-trips to Benedictine sites in Europe. He sees them as a key resource for the future of the Institute.
In the plaza in front of the Humphrey Auditorium stands a statue of Saint Benedict that Brother David-Paul crafted not so many years ago. There Benedict stands, holding pen and book, with a stack of books at his feet. As he looks up from his work his eye catches the bell banner of the abbey church, and the bells call him to prayer. Together the bells and books remind him of the creative tension between work and prayer that is at the core of the Benedictine tradition.
As a sculptor Brother David-Paul meant it to inspire those who gather in the plaza to study and visit. I suspect he never anticipated that it might be the perfect mission statement for the Benedictine Institute. But it is. It's a statement not in words, but in metal; and like the Benedictine tradition, it will likely stand the test of time.