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First Endowed Professorship Makes Flagler History

Sep 29, 2014

In 2014, thanks to a gift from Craig and Audrey Thorn, Flagler celebrates a historic milestone: the creation of the College’s first-ever endowed professorship. The Craig and Audrey Thorn Distinguished Professor of Religion position, which was awarded to Dr. Timothy J. Johnson, marks the first time Flagler has created a named endowed professorship.

It’s a momentous development, and one that has tremendous impact not just on Johnson’s work and the students he mentors, but on the stature and standing of the College. When an institution of higher learning creates endowed professorships, the benefits to students, faculty, and the community are profound. For one, it allows the College to recruit and retain world-class faculty and high-achieving students. It also helps faculty push further in teaching and scholarship by providing support and resources for research and collaboration. Finally, it connects the College to the community by allowing donors to fund a particular passion or personal interest in academic life. 

Johnson’s endowed professorship was years in the making. The Thorns were enthusiastic supporters of the College. Audrey was a St. Augustine native, and Craig, an architect and former mayor of St. Augustine Beach, worked closely with Flagler on nearly every major building and architectural project during the College’s first four decades. He was instrumental in the renovation of the Hotel Ponce de Leon, Kenan and Wiley Halls, and he designed six campus structures: The Flagler Gymnasium, Lewis Auditorium, the Tennis Center, Saints Field, Lewis House, and Lewis Memorial Pavilion.

In 2004, the Thorns created a bequest to ensure that upon their passing, Flagler College would receive a donation in excess of $1 million, the College’s largest unrestricted bequest received to date. Nearly half of this gift was used to create the Craig and Audrey Thorn Distinguished Professor of Religion, while another large portion was used to establish the Thorn Theater at Lewis Auditorium.

“The distinguished professorship is an incredible honor,” Johnson said. “It’s a clear affirmation of the work I’ve been doing and also provides an incredible impetus to move forward and to expand upon this work. It’s a very special moment for me.” 

A Senior Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Johnson holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He also holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology and a Diploma Litterarum Latinarum from the Pontifical Gregorian University, a bachelor’s in Sacred Theology from Pontifical Theological Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome, and a B.A. in theology from St. Louis University. 

Honoring a Sense of Place

The endowed professorship is important to Johnson and the College on many levels, not the least of which is the way it allows a particular passion of the Thorns to live on. 

“The Thorns had a very personal connection to this area,” Johnson explained. “They were passionate about St. Augustine and Flagler College in particular. They were very invested in the particularities of place, and that concept is strongly tied to the work I’ve done in exploring the concept of place and how place is the origin of identity. These are living interests to me and they were important to the Thorns as well. In this way, through this endowed position, the Thorns continue to have influence here.”

With the support of the distinguished professorship, Johnson will continue his exploration of various dimensions of the Spanish/Franciscan missions in what are today termed “The Spanish Borderland.” This is the region that extends from the Caribbean and Florida across wide swaths of Mexico and the United States to California. He will also continue his work positing seventh-century Spanish missionary Fray Francisco Pareja as the first theologian of the United States, whose work includes the first written examples of the Timucuan language. Timucuan is the earliest indigenous language of the United States. 

Transatlantic Collaboration

In addition to his regional focus, Johnson’s work has also encompassed an international perspective. His work on medieval Franciscan texts has developed into a multi-year, tri-national project to identify, translate and comment on the neglected stories of the “prayed Francis” — the performed-prayed celebration of Francis of Assisi. For this study, Johnson is collaborating with scholars in France and Italy. The transatlantic collaboration will produce a volume of texts and commentaries that will appear in English, French, and Italian. Johnson wrote the extended theological-anthropological introduction last year while he was a research fellow at Cambridge University. Last summer, he continued work on this volume as a visiting fellow at Dresden University.

“The greatest part of this new position, for me, is watching the effect it will have on the students I’ve had the pleasure to work with” he said. “My students and I work on ideas in class that I later see having an impact through their own work in scholarship, graduate studies and teaching. It’s very gratifying to be able to continue this experience with the support of the endowed professorship.”

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