The phrase “so the last shall be first” means there’s a place for everyone and everything in the world. It’s also a mantra that guides Brad Hoaglun and Ted Marconi’s practice of “intentionality,” which flows throughout Boise, Idaho-based Saint Alphonsus Health System’s plan for The Saint John’s Bible in 2018.
When the opportunity to be a part of the Year with the Heritage Edition arose, Hoaglun, Saint Alphonsus director of marketing and communications, and Marconi, volunteer coordinator, said the desire was clear. “As a Catholic healthcare system,” said Hoaglun, “this is our foundation, where we come from in providing care” – but that didn’t mean the decision was taken lightly.
After entering a dialogue with representatives from The Saint John’s Bible, the matter went before Saint Alphonsus leadership for a mission discernment – a process by which the hospital weighs the potential and effects of any big decision. As Hoaglun described it, “We ask, ‘Should we enter into this? How would we go about it and why?’ Through that process, we look at the impact of the decision – on patients, visitors, colleagues and the community – as well as the financial obligation.”
With a plan to pursue the Heritage Edition with “outside dollars” – from people and organizations who’d partner with Saint Alphonsus to bring the Bible to Boise so as not to impact the hospital’s ability to provide care – Saint Alphonsus leadership set about identifying motivated donors. Two came in the form of Angels Among Us, a local philanthropy group, and contributions in honor of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, the founding congregation of Saint Alphonsus.
Realizing the funding plan was only the first step toward making Saint Alphonsus a home for the Heritage Edition – the next was planning its introduction to the community.
Finding the Forgotten
“How do we make an impact, a big splash internally?” Hoaglun and staff asked themselves. “We were very intentional about doing an internal-only rollout, because it is our staff who form the foundation for our Catholic healthcare – caring for the needy, those who are poor and underserved.” When is the perfect time to bring an ornate, intimate work of art like The Saint John’s Bible into the spotlight?
Marconi recalls the deliberations. “Our first thought was that we should bring it in during the first part of Advent. It’s a new church year, right before Christmas and all, so we thought that would be pretty dramatic. But around the same time, people are distracted by Thanksgiving, the holidays, shopping… It became clear it had to be its own thing on its own time.”
“Inspiration finally came when we realized that February 2nd is 40 days after Christmas and, in the Catholic church calendar, is also the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord,” Marconi said, invoking the Catholic tradition of recognizing Luke’s account of the infant Jesus’ ritual purification 40 days after his birth. This revelation gave the group their chance to present the Bible.
And when the group considered the Christmas story – as Christ is born in the middle of the night – it helped them decide who gets the message first (or in this case, who gets to see the Bible first). As Marconi said, “The angels go to the shepherds first. The shepherds are mostly forgotten, left out, not connected to the greater community, but they get the message first.”
A Dramatic Introduction
Around 10 p.m. on Thursday, February 1, a group of Saint Alphonsus leaders – including the president of the health system, president of the hospital, vice president of missions, chief nursing officer, and Marconi – pushed a wooden cart down the quiet halls of the hospital. The night staff (most of it, anyway) was unaware of their presence, their load and their intent.
With Gospels and Acts in tow, the executive group visited the night staff at each nursing unit and department, sharing the story of Jesus’ presentation featuring prayers written by the nurse manager of each unit and delivered by the hospital president. “The staff were grateful, overwhelmed – they couldn’t believe this incredible work of art and scripture came to them at night,” Marconi said. “People walked up and could get up close and personal, touching the pages. They’re still talking about it.
“People forget that the night shifts are working,” he continued. “They’re some of the most faithful, caring, dedicated people in our organization, and many organizations, because of what they do and when they do it.”
When the group presented the idea to the night shift nurse managers, Marconi said, they “got choked up, tears in their eyes. They were so affirmed, and they were a huge piece of our success with the event,” even writing prayers unique to each unit. “Nurse managers ‘got it’ – they ‘get’ nurses at night – and they were 150 percent in.”
For the leadership team, the event was no less impactful. “It was right, it made sense, it connected,” Marconi remembered. “It was kind of like Christmas Eve in its own way.”
For Saint Alphonsus, the success of the event underscored the communality of the Bible. Speaking of the team that created the plan, Marconi said, “Every single one of us has been a part of discerning this entire process. It’s been amazing because there are about 15 of us on the team, and everyone comes from a different point of view. We don’t always agree, but we get to the discernment of, ‘What’s the essence here? What’s this really about?’ That’s why we’re able to come to such clarity.”
One Month, Countless Stories
Nowhere is the effect of The Saint John’s Bible more apparent at Saint Alphonsus than in people’s day-to-day interactions with it. Hoaglun and Marconi recall a maintenance worker explaining the history and calligraphy of the Heritage Edition to his young daughter “like a docent;” a woman whose father helped found the Saint Alphonsus Foundation eager to donate in his honor, and another whose uncle helped raise funds for the original Saint John’s Bible.
To continue their “intentional rollouts,” as Hoaglun describes them, the team at Saint Alphonsus has approached programming – a legislative dinner, an open house and more – with an open mind. “We’re opening it to people of all faith traditions or no traditions at all,” Hoaglun said, “but to us, it’s a sacred work.”
Working with a docent team trained by the Boise Art Museum, the hospital now displays the Bible in a designated viewing area outside its auditorium, resting on a custom case designed to match the reliefs and woodwork that accentuate the room around it. Foundation Director Jill Aldape said efforts are also underway to purchase the entire Heritage Edition set. Private fundraising has begun with a focus on bringing the entire Bible to Saint Alphonsus, along with contributions for facility costs, a part-time coordinator and ongoing programming. Until then, coordinators at Saint Alphonsus are looking forward to sharing TheSaint John’s Bible with people from all walks of life during the next year.
“When people understand it’s sacred to you, even if they don’t follow your beliefs, they respect it because it’s sacred to somebody,” Hoaglun said. “We’re not pushing it, saying ‘this is something you have to see because we want you to believe.’ To us, it is the Word of God, but we want you to come see this beautiful work of art.”
Hoaglun said it’s about “Letting people experience [the Bible] in their own way, to have reflections about what it means to them.”