When St. Cecilia students were called into Chapman Gymnasium for a short reunion at the end of another hectic late April school day on Thursday, they didn’t know what they were going to be told.
It turns out that their director, the Reverend Cyrus Rowan, had good news to share:
Not good news about studies, athletics or activities, but the Good News of Jesus Christ in the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Rowan explained that he received an unsolicited phone call a few weeks ago from William Drexel of Omaha asking if Saint Cecilia would be interested in a donation of “The Word on Fire Bible Volume 1: The Gospels”, published in 2020 by Word on Fire Catholic Ministries headquartered in Des Plaines, Illinois.
Hastings Catholic Schools enthusiastically accepted an offer from Drexel and his wife, Sandy, to provide a copy of the book to every student in grades 8 through 12 at St. Cecilia’s Middle and High School, as well as one copy for each teacher and staff. member of HCS, which also includes St. Michael’s Primary School.
Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, a nonprofit group, is led by Bishop Robert Barron, a well-known Catholic clergyman, theologian, speaker, and media personality who is now Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Word on Fire works in traditional and digital media to “proclaim Christ in culture”.
Word on Fire develops and publishes its edition of the entire Holy Bible in six volumes – two to cover the New Testament, plus four volumes of the Old Testament to follow. The second volume came out a few months ago.
The volumes, which are to be available in leather-bound, hardcover and paperback versions, provide not only the scriptures themselves, but also commentaries from across the centuries by everyone from early church fathers to Saint Augustine of Hippo to modern monks and nuns. cultural figures, including Pope John Paul II, as well as religious artwork with accompanying articles.
St. Cecilia students and staff received copies of the leather-bound edition, with gold lettering, gold edges, and ribbons for page markers. The shipment included 245 books in all.
Rowan said students should keep the books, but those returning to campus next fall should bring them to school for use in religion classes.
Rowan said the Word on Fire Bible, which is marketed as a “printed cathedral”, is not only intended to provide the scriptures in a readable form (New Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition), but to engage the senses of the users, enabling them to delve more deeply and personally into the story and life of Jesus and to contemplate the beauty of Christian faith and tradition over 2,000 years of history.
“The world changes, but our faith can be lived in any time, no matter what,” he said.
The volumes will be a valuable teaching resource at St. Cecilia, Rowan said, because the Bible is already used daily or nearly daily in religion and morals classes.
Owning the books should also mean something to the students as individuals, he said.
Rowan encouraged students to peruse the books immediately and use them in their personal lives.
“What’s the point of having a Bible and letting it sit on a shelf in a box?” He asked.
The Drexels have no connection to Hastings and donate copies of the Bible volumes to Catholic schools in Nebraska, Rowan said.
Although the monetary value of their donation to St. Cecilia is undisclosed, a quick check of the Word on Fire website shows that a single copy of the book retails for $59.95.
After Thursday’s assembly, the students — who had no idea the books were coming — seemed overwhelmed by the out-of-town donors’ investment in their ongoing faith formation.
“I think it’s really, really generous that someone is willing to spend so much money on high school kids,” junior Robby Hrnchir said.
First-year student William Shaw said donors went above and beyond to provide him and his fellow students with such a beautifully crafted book.
“It’s very generous of them to think of us,” he said.
Senior Isabella Poppe said she and other future graduates now have a great resource of faith to take with them to college or wherever life takes them.
“It’s really special,” she said.
Rowan said the donated books will also be an encouragement to all adults working in the school system, who are expected to be Christian witnesses for students every day.
“We expect all of our teachers here to be teachers of religion,” he said. “We can all work to come closer to our relationship with Christ.”