Bible designers hope work invites people to encounter Christ
August 21, 2020
Trevor Washburn has an invitation sitting on his desk begging to be opened.
Adorned with rich Catholic art, soft black leather, shiny gold trim and specially designed lettering, “it catches my eye when it’s sitting on my desk,” says Washburn, a college student who’s been part of the community at the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Omaha.
The carefully crafted work is the first volume of the Word on Fire Bible, a Bible so beautiful, he said, it invites people to pick it up and open it.
That beauty and attractiveness is exactly what its designers, two Omaha men, had hoped for.
“We wanted everyone who opened it to realize that this is a special book, God’s Word,” said Nicolas Fredrickson, one of the designers and a member of Christ the King Parish in Omaha. Fredrickson designed most of the individual pages and wrote a commentary on the Bible’s cover art, which he and Michael Stevens crafted.
Stevens – a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha who also is active at the St. John Paul II Newman Center – selected the works of art inside the Bible and wrote commentaries on them. He said he hopes the book’s focus on beauty will lead people to an encounter with the Lord.
Together the two graphic designers aimed to create the Bible with a craftsmanship similar to what they found in old Catholic Bibles or some well-designed Protestant ones. They collaborated with Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire ministry, which uses multiple forms of media to reach millions of people around the world.
DESIGNED TO EVANGELIZE
Bishop Barron – auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a theologian, speaker and best-selling author – shares the goal of leading people to Christ through beauty. He said the Word on Fire Bible is aimed at restless, searching hearts.
The primary purpose of the Bible is to evangelize, Stevens said. “It’s made for all Catholics, but especially those who have fallen away from the Church or who’ve never read the Bible.”
The volume, released June 15, contains just the Gospels and is the first of several yearly volumes planned. The next release, expected for June 2021, will be a volume of the rest of the New Testament, from the Acts of the Apostles through Revelation.
In less than a month more than 50,000 copies of the first volume were sold, according to Brandon Vogt, content director at Word on Fire. He organized the commentary in the Bible, which ranges from Church fathers to contemporary writers, including Bishop Barron.
Leather-bound volumes sell for $59.99, a hardcover version sells for $39.99 and a paperback copy for $29.00. All are made with high-quality, top-of-the-line materials, Fredrickson said.
More copies will be available in September and can be ordered through Word on Fire.
‘TAKE UP AND READ’
Washburn, who will be studying philosophy at the University of Nebraska Kearney this fall, follows Bishop Barron’s podcasts and takes classes with the Word on Fire Institute. He said he eagerly awaited the release of the Bible’s first volume and agrees that it especially calls restless hearts, a term made famous by St. Augustine of Hippo, who said: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (“Confessions,” Book 1).
The beauty of the Word on Fire Bible invites people to open it, Washburn said, similar to how God called St. Augustine through Scripture. “Take up and read; take up and read,” the saint heard a child chanting, according to his “Confessions.”
Washburn said he doesn’t know Fredrickson or Stevens, but he appreciates their work.
“It’s probably the most beautiful Bible I’ve owned,” the college sophomore said, “and I’ve owned quite a few.”
YEARS OF FRIENDSHIP
The commentary in the Word on Fire Bible is woven together with its art and Scripture text (from the New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition). Together, the elements read more like an encyclopedia or a novel, Fredrickson said.
Stevens developed a type font for the Bible, which Fredrickson helped him polish. It’s called Angelico, after Fra Angelico (“Angelic Brother”), a monk who’s considered one of the greatest 15th century artists.
The Word on Fire Bible came about after years of friendship and Scripture study for the two designers, about four years of planning, and some miraculous timing, they said in separate telephone interviews.
They met in high school, when both were musicians – Fredrickson a guitarist who went to Westside High School and Stevens a home-schooled violinist. They were part of a band that performed at trendy coffee shops.
Fredrickson said he was not a practicing Catholic until he met his wife, Marisa, and witnessed how her family lived, led by her father, the late Deacon Robert Jergovic.
Stevens was raised in a practicing Catholic family, but his faith really came alive later when he delved into Scripture study, he said.
The friends went their separate ways after high school. Stevens attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before transferring to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), where he graduated in 2015 with a bachelor of arts degree in graphic design.
He wasn’t immediately aware that Fredrickson also had been studying graphic design.
Fredrickson started out going to UNO to study chemistry but “took a turn to the design route,” earning an associate degree in design from Metro Community College in Omaha. He’s working toward another associate degree, in theology, from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
BIBLE STUDY BONDS
When Fredrickson began growing in the Catholic faith, Stevens noticed. The two reconnected through their shared passion for the Lord and for design. And soon they began studying Scripture together once a week.
“We ended up better friends than we ever thought we would be,” Stevens said. They studied together and with others as they embarked on careers, started families and had children.
Nic and Marisa Fredrickson have two children: Ignatius “Nash” Levi, 4; and Shepherd Aquinas, who turns 2 in August.
Stevens and his wife, Grace, have a son, Peter Angelico, who just turned 1.
Both men have their own graphic design businesses in Omaha and have done work for the Archdiocese of Omaha. Stevens designed a special section printed in the Catholic Voice for last year’s ArchOmaha Unite event. Fredrickson created the logo for the gathering.
“Our whole friendship was about the Bible in a way,” Stevens said, looking back. He said he was inspired by the Fredricksons’ example, and studying the Bible at the time helped clarify his own vocation.
When opening Bibles, they also talked about design, and how not many Catholic Bibles were created with the highest standards in mind. Stevens said it was Fredrickson who first proposed the idea of making their own Bible with the best possible materials and design.
Fredrickson also came up with the idea of pitching the project to Word on Fire ministries, an idea that seemed crazy at the time, Stevens said.
But Word on Fire had been working on a similar plan for a Bible and just happened to be at a stage when they were looking for designers.
“We love your ideas,” Word on Fire officials told Fredrickson and Stevens when they first corresponded about two years ago. “We’re actually working on a Bible right now.”
“It was crazy – not crazy, but providential – timing,” Fredrickson said. “We were definitely supposed to be doing this. What are the chances of the timing?”
That divine timing was the “most providential experience” that had ever happened to him, Stevens said.
Without Word on Fire, the Bible probably “would have been just an idea,” he said. “There were so many aspects we couldn’t have done on our own.”
Other factors worked in their favor: The Bible was printed in Italy during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in that country, yet production was not delayed or canceled. The two Omahans wondered if a high-end book would sell after the economy took a hit, but the Bible had garnered “incredible interest when it was released,” Stevens said.
Fredrickson attributes the success to God.
“I’m constantly reminded that this is so much bigger than me,” he said. “I’m happy to know that I’m God’s instrument in this.”
Stevens said he hopes the new Bible will “actually transform lives and not be just a beautiful artifact.”
“I hope the Word on Fire Bible will really reach people,” he said.