Dr. Bob Fowler teaches class at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome

Dr. Robert Fowler taught at the premier Roman Catholic center for biblical studies in the world and even attended vespers with Pope Francis.

Religion professor honored to teach at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome

September 27, 2017

Dr. Robert Fowler teaches class at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

As a biblical scholar, BW religion professor Robert Fowler has studied the Gospel of Mark for more than 40 years, digging into both ancient tradition and modern interpretations of how Mark came to be. "It's a tangle of fascinating, conflicting stories," Fowler explains.

Despite his four decades of exploring the Gospel, Fowler was nonetheless surprised when the Pontifical Biblical Institute—the premier Roman Catholic center for biblical studies in the world—invited him to come to Rome to teach a graduate course in his specialty in fall 2016.

Fowler was both "honored and humbled" to share his knowledge with a younger generation of clergy and scholars.

Teaching a Gospel in its birthplace

"To be invited to teach the Gospel of Mark in Rome was all the more poignant because ancient church traditions suggest that the Gospel might actually have been written in Rome," Fowler says. "I was being invited to teach the Gospel of Mark in the very city in which it might have been written."

"In my class I had 28 students from 13 countries, most of them from the global south, particularly countries in Africa and Asia," he explains. "Thus, the students came from many different cultures."

Attending Vespers with Pope Francis

Fowler attended a vespers service presided over by Pope Francis and Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury (not pictured).Outside the classroom, Fowler and his wife, Debbie, soaked up the sights of Rome, Pompeii, Venice and Florence, but a close encounter with Pope Francis is among the most profound experiences.

"We had several opportunities to witness Anglican and Roman Catholic cooperation, including a vesper service presided over by Pope Francis and Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury," he recalls.

Sharing with gratitude

For Fowler, who battled and survived a life-threatening diagnosis a decade earlier, the sabbatical in Rome was all the sweeter. 

Fowler and his wife Debbie at Rome's Trevi Fountain"In 2006, I was hospitalized five times, and underwent surgery three times. I'm lucky even to be alive today, to say nothing of still teaching full time," he reflects. "When Debbie and I were strolling down a street in Rome, making our way to visit a historical site that we had not visited before, or debating which restaurant to check out for dinner, we had so much to be thankful for."

Since returning, Fowler has shared his experience in the classroom and out, including a noon "Pizza with the Prof" event at BW on September 28 and a series at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland in early 2018.