Father Columba Stewart, OSB
Father Columba Stewart, OSB
Executive Director, HMML & Professor of Theology, Saint John’s University
Father Columba Stewart, OSB, was named HMML’s sixth executive director in 2003. Fr. Columba holds an AB in History and Literature from Harvard College, Cambridge, MA, and a MA in Religious Studies from Yale University, New Haven, CT. After further studies at Saint John's University School of Theology, Collegeville, MN, he earned his DPhil from the University of Oxford, England, writing his thesis on Greek and Syriac asceticism. 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.
In his role as HMML Executive Director, Fr. Columba 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. Under his leadership, HMML’s 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.
Since 2003, Fr. Columba 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 (NEH). 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.
He has published extensively in his research field of early Christian monasticism and is much in demand as a presenter and lecturer. Fr. Columba has received numerous grants and fellowships for his own scholarship. In 1994-95 he was the recipient of a year-long research fellowship from the NEH for his book Cassian the Monk. In 2009-2010, he was the recipient of a second fellowship from the NEH as well as a residential fellowship in Byzantine Studies at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library in Washington, D.C. In 2016-2017, he was a resident member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, and a Guggenheim Fellow in support of his work on Between Earth and Heaven: Interpreting the Origins of Christian Asceticism and Monasticism.
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. And, he 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.
What he enjoys most about his work: “The work gives me hope. It’s a drop in the bucket in terms of trying to address political or humanitarian challenges. But, it’s the drop I can put in the bucket. That’s meaningful to me.”