National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  October 24, 2003

Fr. Roger Karban
-- Liz Quinn
Priest feeds Catholics' hunger for scripture

Roger Karban is a bearded, chunky, 63-year-old priest with a friendly manner, a ready laugh and a breakneck schedule. Since the late 1960s he has been teaching scripture to groups in the sprawling Belleville, Ill., diocese, which covers the bottom third of the state of Illinois. Currently attendance at each of his weekly, semi-weekly and monthly classes ranges from 15 to 60. “It’s amazing,” he said, “how hungry people are for the Bible. They just keep coming.”

All this wasn’t Karban’s plan when he was ordained in 1964 and assigned to a parish in Belleville. He thought his parishioners needed a better understanding of the new Vatican II liturgy. And to teach it well he thought he needed a better understanding of the Bible. He read widely and was especially impressed with the approach of Passionist Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, who combined new biblical research and a penchant for practical application in his writings. “I got into scripture in a big way,” said Karban, “and I just never got back to liturgy.”

When he later taught religion at several diocesan high schools, Karban continued his research and began teaching small scripture groups on the side. In the 1970s he was given permission to work for a doctorate at St. Louis University. “I finished all the prerequisite courses,” he said, “but I still haven’t got my thesis written because teaching classes has taken up so much time.”

Karban said there is no magic to his method. He keeps up on the best scholarship available from people like Fr. John Meier and Sr. Diane Bergant and constantly tries to relate the message to the lives of ordinary people. The column he writes for the diocesan paper reveals his approach. He never talks down to his audience, freely using terms like parousia, pericope and Deutero-Isaiah. He also frequently analyzes an original Greek or Hebrew word to show that its deeper meaning goes beyond what the English translation reveals.

When he’s not on the road, Karban is at the tiny parish he has pastored in Renault, Ill., for the past 15 years. “The people there have been wonderfully supportive,” he said. “They know what I’m doing, and after all this time they’re a pretty sophisticated themselves in the Bible.”

-- Robert McClory

National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 2003

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