New professor teaches New Testament

Erin Ghere

He grew up and went to college in Ohio and spent the 1960s trying to make the world a better place before returning to his original passion: Christianity and its history.
Professor Richard Pervo joined the University this fall as the Sundet Family professor of New Testament and Christian Studies, an endowed chair established in January 1998 following a $1.5 million donation to the University by benefactors Leland and Louise Sundet of Excelsior, Minn.
Pervo will give continuity to some introductory Christianity courses and allow advanced students to pursue their studies of the faith further through some upper-level courses. Prior to joining the University staff, Pervo spent 24 years teaching New Testament and early church history at Seabury-Western Theology Seminary in Evanston, Ill.
He will teach one large course per semester, alternating between A Survey of the New Testament and Introduction to Christianity. He said the latter course is new to him, presenting a challenge. In addition, he will occasionally instruct smaller seminars and advanced courses.
As a result of the new position, Pervo said the introductory courses he is teaching will no longer be taught by adjunct professors and will provide some continuity by having a full-time professor. And students will be able to further pursue their interests in specific aspects of Christianity through some of his advanced courses, he added.
A large part of Pervo’s new position also will be research and publication, he said. At present, he is working on two books, he said.
“For a person that does research, it’s good to have an idea of what you’re going to do next. I am doing two, so I don’t have to think about that yet,” he joked.

Younger years
Pervo said the stimulus to do something different brought him to the University, a place he had no idea he would be just one year ago. Bill Malandra, the chairman of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, had to recruit Pervo, Malandra said.
Pervo was born and grew up in Lakewood, Ohio, and had an interest in Christianity throughout his youth.
After high school, he attended Concordia College in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he honed his interest in faith further and graduated in 1964.
“I was 18 years old and knew I wanted to teach Christian origins and early history,” he said.
By the mid-1960s, Pervo wanted to do something different and began working for the St. Louis City Welfare Office in July 1966. As a caseworker, he dealt with families in one of the poorest housing projects in the area at the time. He met his wife, Karen, there; they were married in 1967. She is now a financial manager for Dayton Hudson Corp.
After about two years with the welfare office, he began serving as assistant director for community and economic development for the Union-Sarah Community Corporation in St. Louis. There he helped the corporation receive one of the first $1 million federal government grants for neighborhood economic development.
After nearly five years of working in social programs, Pervo returned to his first love. He earned his bachelor’s in divinity at the Episcopal Theology School in Cambridge, Mass., in 1971. He then earned a doctorate in theology at Harvard University, also in Cambridge, in 1979.
“I decided maybe it’s not wrong to do something you like,” he said of his transition.
He took a position at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary as an assistant professor of New Testament and Patristics in 1975, while still working on his doctorate, and remained there until he came to the University.

New University position
The University created Pervo’s new teaching position from a $1.5 million donation to the University in early 1998. The Sundets also gave $500,000 to improve the men’s athletics facilities at that time.
The position was created to complement a similar endowed chair in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies department, established in 1996. The intention was for the two chairs to form the core of a movement to help revitalize the religious studies programs.
Pervo said he is enjoying his new position and working environment very much.
“Change is stimulating,” he added.
Pervo and his wife recently purchased their first home in St. Anthony Park, having lived in faculty housing at Seabury-Western. He said he is now reveling in the joys and trials of owning his own home. The Pervos share their home with two Persian cats.
“We’re enjoying the new adventure,” he said.

Erin Ghere covers faculty and welcomes comments at [email protected]