As Amherst’s head librarian, Bryn Geffert has five floors of books under his domain.
Yet he recently spent a three-month sabbatical devoting his time to one single volume: his own.
Geffert returned from sabbatical in April having finished the bulk of the work on his third and latest book, Catholics without Rome, which delves into the history of the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s a topic he has written about before, but this time, the work has an unusual poignance: For this new book, he is completing the work of a scholar who died in 1983.
Geffert’s first book, Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans: Diplomacy, Theology, and the Politics of Interwar Ecumenism (Notre Dame Press) came out in 2010, the same year he assumed the library directorship at Amherst. That book was an adaptation of his 2003 doctoral dissertation in history at the University of Minnesota. It looked at the clerics and academics who fled Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, and the involvement of those cleric in the ecumenical movement that swept the faithful between the world wars.
“The people who were leading it were convinced they were on the verge of reuniting Christendom,” Geffert explains.
His next book, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: The Essential Texts (Yale University Press, 2016), was a collaboration with historian Theofanis Stavrou. While doing that project, Stavrou told Geffert about the unfinished work of a young scholar he’d known.
“He’d had a graduate student who was working on a book similar to my first book, but looking at the 1870s,” Geffert says. “It’s a sad story. This student wrote a brilliant dissertation, and his dissertation committee insisted that he publish it, but before he had a chance to do so, he died.”
Stavrou asked if Geffert would be interested in revising the manuscript for publication.
“It was right up my alley,” Geffert says.
The work basically amounts to a prequel to Geffert’s first volume. The author, LeRoy Boerneke, who was a professor at Dr. Martin Luther College at the time of his death, wrote about the Old Catholics, a group of European Catholics who split from the Church after the First Vatican Council established the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870.
“There's this notion in the 1870s that perhaps the Old Catholics are going to be able to unite with the Orthodox and the Anglicans,” Geffert says. “This book looks at why are they so hopeful that reunion is going to happen, and, like in my first book, why it all fails so spectacularly.”
Geffert said his plans are to submit the manuscript to Notre Dame Press, which has expressed interest in publishing the book.
Geffert is not the only Amherst staffer to publish in recent years. Here are recent books by other members of the College’s staff.
James H. Barnhill, Amherst’s former mock trial coach, wrote Dirt Road to Death (Levellers Press, 2018). This novel tells the story of international entrepreneur Pat Culliney, who was flying high as the wealthy owner of Universe Electronics until teen lovers discovered his body submerged in his Jaguar coupe at the end of a dirt road.
Catherine Newman ’90, the academic department coordinator in the Creative Writing Center, wrote the middle-grade novel One Mixed-Up Night (Random House, 2017), as well as two memoirs, the most recent of which is Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood’s Messy Years (Little, Brown, 2016).
Katherine Duke ’05, assistant editor in the Office of Communications, is the author of the collaborative nonfiction book Kissability: People with Disabilities Talk About Sex, Love, and Relationships (Levellers Press, 2014).
Lisa Stoffer, director of the grants office, takes readers on a culinary tour of early 20th century restaurants and dining, in Repast: Dining Out at the Dawn of the New American Century, 1900-1910 (W.W. Norton, 2013).
Paul Sorrentino, who will soon retire as director of religious and spiritual life, is the author of two books that draw on his long career at Amherst, A Transforming Vision: Multiethnic Fellowship in College and in the Church (Doorlight, 2011) and Religious Pluralism: What Do College Students Think?: A Study at Amherst College (VDM Verlag, 2009).