This article was previously published in Envoy Magazine.
Diplomatic Corps Erin Broestl
The founder of NewAdvent.org brings Catholic reference and news into the Digital Age
Cue the Mission: Impossible theme song, and zap that popcorn. You’re in for hours of fun when you surf NewAdvent.org, a news and info website that may be more engrossing than the life story of your favorite celebrity. Kevin Knight, the genius behind the scenes, has been working for years to get the “top-secret” data from his computer to yours, courtesy of an online version of the entire Catholic Encyclopedia.
Converts and Catholics alike will benefit from de-mystifying the verbiage and vernacular of the Faith. Tricky Latin phrases, obscure Doctors of the Church, ancient documents of the early Fathers — it’s all there on the New Advent website. (Note to secular journalists: there are no longer any excuses for misquoting Church documents or being misinformed on the tenets of the Faith. It’s all online in the Catholic Encyclopedia, word for word, pixel for pixel.)
The original Catholic Encyclopedia was first published in 1913, with supplements following in 1922, and again in the 1950s. The Catholic University of America updated it to a 17-volume New Catholic Encyclopedia, which was published first in 1967, and again in 2002 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia).
Enter Kevin Knight, age 26, who attended World Youth Day in Denver in 1993. He was inspired by Pope John Paul II of blessed memory, who encouraged the youth to participate in a new evangelization. “Dear young people, with a spirit of generous self-giving, recognize that you are directly involved in the new evangelization, which demands the involvement of all of us. Proclaim Christ, who “died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who for their sakes died and was raised up” (2 Cor 5:15).”
Kevin then decided to update and republish the 1913 version of the encyclopedia. He organized over 400 people from around the world to update and transcribe the original, which he published on the Internet. It took a few years to complete this project. Some volunteers would submit one or two articles, and others would submit many. Kevin would then code them into HTML, add extra characters in Latin or Greek, and put the finished piece in the online Encyclopedia (www.NewAdvent.org/cathen/00002a.htm). Then he added The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas to New Advent.org, plus the writings of the Church Fathers, the Bible, and a Catholic Library of Church documents, along with links and a search feature.
As if this doesn’t make New Advent one of the Super Catholic Websites of all time, Kevin then plunged into the daily grind of news reports, and created a news service for his website, too. As he succinctly states, “My purpose in doing this was to take that firehose of information, and make it a bit more manageable.” He’s been doing the news service, filtering out trash and posting current articles of interest since January 2009.
Kevin chose the name, “New Advent” for his website from the icon that Cardinal Stafford commissioned for World Youth Day. Our Lady of the New Advent is patroness of the Archdiocese of Denver. Pope John Paul II used the phrase, “new advent” in his encyclical, Redemptor Hominis. He was referring to a new outpouring of grace for the New Evangelization of the third millennium of Christianity. Kevin felt this call for a “profound conversion of mind and heart,” which fueled his desire to put a great deal of Catholic information on the Web where many more people could read it.
Yet, who is this masked hero? (Okay, not masked, but definitely a behind-the-scenes, behind-the-computer kind of guy.) Kevin Knight was born in Laramie, Wyoming. He attended the University of Colorado, Boulder and earned a degree in Chinese. Then he continued with a degree in meteorology from Metropolitan State College in Denver. Today, you can often find him in the front row of Broncos games, where he and his dad have season tickets. Kevin even attends in the snow like any hardy Coloradan. He also enjoys road trips, which he declares are his favorite activity. “After hours and weeks of working on a computer in the basement, there’s nothing better than packing the car and heading west, or east, or wherever else a coin toss sends us. I mean that literally…we often base our travel plans on coin tosses and other spontaneous cues, just for the fun of it.”
And it’s not groovy road-tripping all alone, hence Kevin’s trusty partner: his wife, Kenna. “I met my wife when I was living in a residence for young Catholic men. I was rushing out the door to an important engagement, just as she was arriving at our house for dinner. As soon as I saw her, I knew there was no way I could risk letting one of my roommates get to her first. So, I quickly cancelled my other plans, eventually worked my way around to a marriage proposal in St. Peter’s Square, and the rest is history.” Ah, how romantic!
Kevin also loves to explore the mountains, and the scenery in Colorado “ranges from pretty to stunning. Every hike can become an adventure,” says this long-time outdoor enthusiast. Many people have felt closer to their faith in the Rockies, and the dichotomy between the technical world and the natural is not lost on our intrepid, yet mild-mannered hero. When asked about the incredible time drain that life on the Web can be, Kevin states, “I have to limit it to a couple of hours per day. If I set aside a block of time, I can get certain things done, but it can be overwhelming. It can be a ten-to-twelve-hour day, and very draining. Internet addiction can happen easily, so you must prevent burn-out.” He mentions that since he has no other employees for New Advent.org, he is aware of how much time he spends on the computer, and tries to get away from work whenever possible. His son Christopher, age six, makes the getaway worthwhile.
In the early days of the Internet, Kevin found himself working for a weather research facility. It was one of the first institutes that got on the Web, and he was able to learn the UNIX operating system. Many web servers were, and still are on UNIX. This gave Kevin a boost into the digital age, and he taught himself from online tutorials. There were no books about the Internet at his local bookstore when he was learning, so he was very much on the forefront of this technology.
The Internet has become more and more efficient at delivering information, and the U.S. Postal Service, with losses in the billions is having a hard time keeping up. Shipping anything in hard copy is expensive; finding rare books is fun, but when you can read them online, it really puts a dent in the motivation of publishers to print anything. The Catholic Encyclopedia can be condensed onto one CD-ROM; it would take up several feet of shelf space in book form. Kevin plans to keep New Advent.org going for as long as possible, and says, “It is an ongoing project. The most important things are the links between the articles, the Church Fathers, and the Bible. We have all these materials, and I want to make sure that they are as linked and interwoven as possible to show the unity of the site.”
Kevin’s favorite saint is Our Lady. He says, “For nineteen years, I’ve prayed the rosary every day, and I owe everything to her constant intercession. I also feel close to St. Thomas Aquinas and the Church Fathers, because I’ve spent so much time soaking in their words.” His favorite authors are Frank Sheed and G.K. Chesterton, and his favorite band is the Beatles. (Does anyone else sense a pattern here?)
Kevin’s conversion story reads like many others: boy grows up Catholic, boy goes to college, boy falls away, young man grows up and reconverts to the Faith. “Falling away isn’t nearly as fun as it looks, and thanks be to God, He brought me around to a deep (and sudden) reconversion. After that, my biggest challenge was working up the courage to go to confession. I tried to take the easy way out — confessing to God in my heart, anonymous penance services — anything that would help me to avoid sacramental confession. Of course, when I finally got the guts and the grace to go, I regretted having struggled against it so hard and so long. Coming out of the confessional for the first time, I felt like I was walking six feet above the ground.”
Our hero’s home parish is Holy Trinity in Westminster, Colorado. Kevin admires the devout, working-class Joes there who, in his words, “keep the adoration chapel humming.” His hope for all of us is that, “more and more, we strive to become attractive witnesses to the Faith — and to be able to speak about the Resurrection of Christ as if we were surprised eyewitnesses to it ourselves.
New Advent.org can help anyone to do this, and to grow in the Faith with the beauty of roses in winter. Kevin’s next big project is a new Bible for the website. He hopes to launch the first stage of this soon, as well as some commentary from all of the Church Fathers and Doctors. There may also be some surprising new features, but our elusive hero doesn’t want to let all his secrets slip. Who knows, Mr. Knight — you may soon be getting scads of well-deserved fan mail addressed to the Catholic info guru who put all of the answers at our fingertips. Well, except from the kid who wanted you to do his homework for him. Kevin mentions the following comic anecdote:
“Once, a high school student sent me a massive file that contained an entire chapter scanned from his textbook, along with his apologies for giving me so little time to work on his assignment before it was due. Needless to say, I think I went on a road trip that weekend, instead.”
That student should have read the sections in the Catholic Encyclopedia about the English martyrs, which are some of Kevin’s favorite articles. The martyrs were amazing, self-sacrificing people, and Kevin enjoys the writers’ flair and understatement.
“Here’s a good example, from the article on Hugh Green: “After his martyrdom, the Puritans played football with his head, a barbarity happily not repeated in the history of the English martyrs.” Sounds like a good entry for another potential New Advent project: the game of Catholic Profound Pursuit. (Losing one’s head isn’t trivial, is it?)
Kevin intends to help everyone gear up for the next big thing with as much techno-savvy as he can muster. With an average of 100,000 hits a day, New Advent.org is a formidable ally in the fight against ignorance. And you can do the social networking dance with New Advent, too — on Facebook, (http://www.facebook.com/pages/New-Advent/18864182864) FeedBurner, (http://feeds.newadvent.org/bestoftheweb) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/newadvent). New Advent has 1,815 fans on Facebook, which is slightly better than a page for Keith Richards. Respect the classics, right? Classic literature, rock guitar, Church documents, everything. You can have it all, and carry it all with you: the entire contents of NewAdvent.org are available for purchase on a single CD-ROM, minus the home page news feed. The cost is around $30.00, depending on sale price, and free shipping worldwide was being offered as of this printing. From the New Advent website, (http://store.newadvent.org/caencd.html) here are the descriptions of each section of the CD-ROM:
The Catholic Encyclopedia: Originally published in 1913, this incredible reference work contains 11,600 articles on every Catholic topic imaginable. Revived on the Internet in the 1990s, it is still widely considered to be the best Catholic reference work in the English language.
The Church Fathers: The ancient Christians come alive in this classic 38-volume collection.
The Summa Theologica: St. Thomas Aquinas answers 4,000 questions about God and the universe.
The Holy Bible: in Douay-Rheims (English) and Vulgate (Latin) versions.
And much more . . . including papal encyclicals and other resources.
Kevin enjoys reading the articles from the Catholic Encyclopedia, weeding out the good from the bad in world news, searching for new, talented writers, and giving those writers, in his words, “another shortcut to their popularity” online. He wants to help them get discovered, while giving a Drudge Report-like news feed from a Catholic perspective. Hours of reading fun await the visitor to New Advent.org, with a generous and soft-spoken hero behind the coding.