Monday, March 19, 2012

7 Questions: Catherine Upchurch

Catherine Upchurch is the director of Little Rock Catholic Scripture Study and General Editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible. I would like to thank her for taking the time to answer the following 7 Questions:

1)How has Scripture played an important role in your spiritual life? Has it always been that way?

Certainly I was familiar with many Bible stories as I grew up in a Catholic home and went to our parish school in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I enjoyed the stained glass windows of our parish church that depicted some of the biblical scenes, and loved learning songs that helped us to remember the stories and the characters. But in all honesty I am quite sure I was in high school before I had my own complete Bible and began
to read it with any real intent of growing or knowing more about my faith. I attended a local public high school and discovered in the friendships I made there with Baptists and Presbyterians and Lutherans that I was not as familiar with the Bible as I wanted to be. Between my sophomore and junior years in high school I purchased a contemporary translation of the Bible and set out to read it cover to cover. Problem was -- I got stuck at about Leviticus, and without good footnotes or other helps to keep me going, I felt I floundered a bit. By my senior year in high school ('75-'76) Little Rock Scripture Study had begun and made its way down Interstate 40 to our town. The first biblical book I studied was the Gospel of Mark, followed closely by Exodus. I was hooked. I discovered all kinds of meaning, all levels at which my life and our lives together connected with the life of Jesus and his followers centuries ago. I am quite convinced that constant exposure to the Word of God throughout my life has been one of the most significant aspects of my own spiritual growth, and has shaped my perceptions of the world in many ways. Biblical imagery and concepts -- the kingdom of God, covenant, hopeful expectation -- these and many more have really seeped into the way I see the world around me.

2) How long have you been involved with Little Rock Scripture Study? What are your main responsibilities with LRSS?

As a "student" of the Bible, I have been in various LRSS groups since
1975. As a volunteer, I presented informational workshops around the
country in 1987 and 1989. As an employee of the ministry, I have been
with LRSS since 1989, serving as associate director from 1989-1998, and
as director from 1998 to the present. My work with LRSS now is quite
diverse. I write some of the printed materials that are used in small
groups as well as record wrap-up lectures for those sessions; I write
articles for our local Catholic paper on various biblical topics and
serve as an associate editor of "The Bible Today" to which I contribute
occasionally; I have thoroughly enjoyed working with various biblical
scholars both in developing new study materials and in planning a yearly
LRSS Bible Institute usually held in June of each year; I work closely
with our publishers at Liturgical Press to create, edit and market our
materials; I work with a wonderful and dedicated staff here in Little
Rock to manage the program, present workshops, and plan future
directions for our ministry nationally and here in the diocese; I teach
in various programs in our diocese, serve as a presenter at conferences
around the country, and lead days of reflection in various locations.

3) Last year, LRSS published the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible, which
utilizes the recently revised NABRE. Could you talk a little bit about
the process by which the LRCSB was produced? How long of a project was
it? Who were your main collaborators in this project?

This project began as a germ of an idea about ten years ago. We have
always had numerous requests for more information about biblical
translations and tools for Bible study, and had begun receiving requests
for more materials that could assist individuals as well as groups. From
many of those discussions, we believed we were being given a
grace-filled opportunity to produce a user-friendly Bible that could
address needs among adult Catholics for solid Catholic biblical
information and formation. In late 2001 and early 2002, we began to
gather our ideas into various proposals for format and content. But
first on the list was to find the right people to assist in the overall
project design and editing. We invited two biblical scholars who we
knew to be academically and pastorally suited to the task and invited
them to come on board as we laid out all the details. Sr. Irene Nowell,
OSB, served as the Old Testament editor and Fr. Ron Witherup, SS, served
as the New Testament editor.

The first couple of years consisted of numerous meetings in person and
by conference call to identify writers, lay out an overall plan, design
schema for each biblical book, and determine initial timelines. We
selected writers based on their areas of expertise and their ability to
write in a style that could be understood by adults who are intelligent
but not necessarily scholars and we were pleased when the following
people agreed: Mary Elsbernd, OSF, who focused attention on connections
between the Bible and the church's social justice teachings; Leslie
Hoppe, OFM, whose expertise in geography and archeology was important,
Jerome Kodell, OSB, one of the early founders of LRSS who has a
wonderful sense of biblical spirituality; Irene Nowell, OSB, whose
comprehensive understanding of Old Testament writing and theology
permeates many of the OT inserts; John J. Pilch, who shared his
expertise on ancient Mediterranean culture; Bishop Anthony B. Taylor,
whose own training in biblical theology is found in a concise article on
"Dei Verbum"; Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, who wrote every single prayer
starter that appears throughout the Bible and has a skill for reflecting
on God's Word and inner life; Ronald D. Witherup, SS, whose NT expertise
is second to none and permeates so many of the NT entries; and myself,
contributing reflections on biblical characters, ancient culture, and
practical tips for studying the Word of God.

The writing took place over about a year, which also included the time
needed for our local bishop and his censor, and the USCCB office that
deals with biblical texts to review the work. Thankfully, Sr. Irene was
part of the team of scholars who had been working on the NABRE and we
had some initial sense of what to expect. And then the process involved
some waiting which the USCCB finished their work reviewing the NABRE.
We could have published several years earlier, but knowing that the
NABRE could be released at any time, we did not want our users to buy an
edition with the NAB and then immediately have to purchase a new edition
with the NABRE.

We could not have done this work at all without the editorial and
production assistance of the staff at Liturgical Press. They took our
ideas and directions, our manuscripts and photos, and created a
beautiful and practical layout. That process took another year or so.

4) One of the features of the LRCSB that I find to be outstanding is the
overall look and readability of the text. The single-column format is a
pleasure to read from, there is plenty of space for personal
annotations, and the study helps, maps, and charts are intelligently
positioned in the text. Could you talk a little bit about how you and
the LRCSB editors went about producing such a beautiful volume? Also,
are there any plans in the future to have the LRCSB come in a premium
leather edition?

Thank you for identifying the very things that I love about the LRCSB,
but most importantly the very things we hoped would be attractive and
useful to all those who choose to use this Bible. For many Catholics, a
study edition of the Bible still is not a familiar tool. We have
thankfully become more accustomed to looking at footnotes and reading
articles, but we wanted to provide access to information that could be
found on the very pages where questions might occur or insights might be
necessary or helpful. We hope the layout of the material achieves that.

We do have a premium edition on its way to our warehouse even as I
write. It will arrive in late March or early April and is really a
beautiful edition. A soft leathery cover with a subtle and tasteful
imprint, golden edges to the pages ... lovely and feels wonderful in the

5) It must have been exciting to see Pope Benedict receive a copy of the LRCSB from Bishop Taylor last year. How's the reception been for the LRCSB since its publication last summer?

Bishop Taylor returned from that trip to Rome, there to ordain a deacon from our diocese, and walked into my office with a surprise. He then produced two photos of our Bible being given to Pope Benedict XVI. I appreciated his pride in the work we've done, and his own pleasure in presenting it to the pope. We've had really excellent reception, both from those who are "professionals" in the church, and those "in the pews" who have begun using it regularly. We couldn't ask for more.

6) In general, is there anything else that you would like to tell my
readers about the LRSS or the LRCSB?

We feel very privileged to be stewards of this ministry that began as a
simple and faith-filled local effort in 1974. The staff of LRSS is
completely dedicated to providing the best biblical materials for adult
Catholics who want to continue growing as disciples. I couldn't ask to
work with better people. We have three goals always in our minds: 1.
To help people become more and more biblically literate (not just to
quote the Bible or be able to identify chapter and verse but to
understand how to use the tools of study that can help us to understand
and reflect on its meaning), 2. To grow in an experience of community
(sharing the Word of God with others is the most effective way to create
meaningful and lasting Christ-centered relationships), and 3. To help
people to encounter and grow in their relationship with Christ (know
that the Word of God provides a profound opportunity to encounter

7) Finally, do you have a favorite passage or verse from the Bible?

I wish I could identify just one. I can say that the overarching truth I
have discovered in the Bible is that God says profoundly over and over
"I will be with you." And probably my favorite sections of the Bible are
the Prophets and the Gospels.

In addition, I find that there are a number of passages that have been
life-giving and challenging to me, (though I'll admit I want to get used
to them in the new translation) such as:

Gen 1:31 "God look at everything he had made and found it very good."

Isa 9:1 "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."

Lam 3:22-24 "The Lord's acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion
is not spent; They are renewed each morning -- great is your

Micah 6:8-10 "You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the
Lord requires of you ..."

The canticle of Mary (Luke1)

I think you get the idea.


rolf said...

Very interesting on the premium edition mentioned. I E-mailed Little Rock a little whole back and asked them if there was going to be a leather edition of the Bible published in the near future, and they replied no. Catherine Upchurch mentions a "leathery soft" premium edition which sounds like a synthetic cover, which many of the other publishers are using today. That ok (if that is true), because many of them are very good (like Fireside), better than bonded leather and in some cases softer the genuine leather.

Diakonos said...

I have the paperback in a leather cover but am eagerly awaiting the "soft leatherly cover"....any ideas when it will show up on Amazon?

Timothy said...


I was told by Catherine that once they are in their warehouse, which will be in late March/early April, the listing will appear on Amazon. So, not too long from now!

Chrysostom said...

The pleather (Ultrasoft/Trutone/Duotone/etc.) covers on modern Bibles are far better than bonded leather, and the only real leather that comes close is goatskin. Morocco, calfskin, calf split, etc. aren't as nice, let alone "genuine leather".

The only problem is that leather Bibles are durable. Bonded leather Bibles not quite as much but the binding will still outlast the paper. Pleather (I'm guessing it's polyurethane soft foam [a version of the same material they make top-line bowling balls out of] on fabric backing from its wear characteristics) starts falling apart or flaking within a year of heavy use. Armor-all helps (as it does with all polyurethane), but leaves a weird look and feel on the pleather.

The ESV Study Bible I have in "natural brown trutone" or something like that feels as nice in the hand as my New Cambridge Paragraph Bible rebound with goatskin. The pleather is also softer and feels better to start with, as all leathers need to be broken in.

Chrysostom said...

Allan's goatskin, at that.

Timothy said...

That is some helpful info on the different styles of covers. I have yet to use a Bible with a pleather cover on a consistant basis, perhaps that will change with this LRCSB edition.

Theophrastus said...

Somewhat off-topic,

But the question of study Bibles reminds me that I've been meaning to ask if you might ask your Oxford contacts about their progress towards making a corrected version of their Catholic Study Bible.

I just received today my copy of Oxford's catalogue "New & Noteworthy Titles Religion Spring 2012." They list a number of academically oriented titles, including the large print edition of the NABRE, the NOAB, the Jewish Annotated New Testament -- but no mention is made of the NABRE Catholic Study Bible. This suggests to me that they are aware internally that they laid an egg on their NABRE Catholic Study Bible.

I like the layout of the Little Rock, but it is aimed at quite a different audience than Oxford's Catholic Study Bible.

Timothy said...


Different audience to be sure, but it is an impressive volume which I enjoy reading from greatly. I am going to give it a proper review once I get a hold of the deluxe leather edition.

Anonymous said...

I believe the NABRE Catholic Study Bible was released last fall or winter, which would explain why it's not in the Spring new titles catalog.

By the way, has anyone yet noticed the numerous factual errors that appear in some of the essays in the LRCSB? Or at least one essay: Nowell's essay on Bible versions is filled with mistakes and seems to have been written at least ten years ago -- it makes no mention of recent translations. I hope the rest of the study material is better than that!