Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Visiting a Geometer Priest

:: visiting Father Magnus Wenninger ::

David Koski had visited Magnus before, as St. John's Abbey is only about 1.5 hours from Minneapolis where he lives and, in our little world of polyhedrons, he's a super star. He wanted me to share this experience and graciously hosted my visit to Minneapolis so I might do so.

David was especially concerned that Father Wenninger's life was not well-documented enough and wanted us to explore making a documentary of some kind. As it turned out, at least one short biographical DVD has been produced. He's also one of the most cited authors in polyhedral geometry books.

Magnus received us in the Great Hall, formerly the main church on this campus, before an architect named Breuer changed everything.

Magnus has been connected to this place since his young adulthood and perhaps even his teen years, having trained here for the priesthood from a young age. His mother had suggested he become a priest, and he was ordained in the 1940s.

He later went to Canada for more training in mathematics (as it turned out) and then to Columbia University for a masters in mathematics teaching. He was assigned to the Bahamas by his abbot and spent many years in the monastery and high school there. He later returned to St. John's and has been there ever since. He is now 91 years old.

Magnus took us to his quarters. He navigates stairs rather easily. We got a campus tour, taking in the library, which is due to expand, and seeing the patch of grass where perhaps, if sufficient funds are raised, a bronze version of Order in Chaos, one of his sculptures, will be rendered in an 11 foot high version. It's made from multiple copies of three pieces. We visited the brass version (smaller) in the monastery recreation room, down the hall from the cafeteria (where we ate lunch together).

Another high point was touring the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, which is exhibiting a newly completed St. John's Bible, hand lettered and illustrated by a creative team headed by Donald Jackson.

St. Joseph University and Abbey is quite a headquarters, in a beautiful setting overlooking some lakes.

Father Magnus is cheerful and is relaxed about sharing about his spiritual leadings, thoughts on divinity, on life, on death, on life after death. We joined him for the mid day worship service, where a congregation of visitors and monks went through a programmed liturgy. I sat next to Father Wenninger who guided me in which hymnals and prayer books to pull out, and how to use them properly.

A high point for David was finding a certain pattern of triangles tiled into the floor of the science building that is used to generate the 59 stellations of the icosahedron. He had just been using that pattern the night before to show me how he quickly develops stellates in vZome. Finding it on the floor, with Magnus our guide, felt very "Da Vinci Code".

A highpoint for me was looking at the book called Divided Spheres, as yet unpublished, but ready to be. The bibliography is extensive and I was able to find my name in it. My friend Kenneth Snelson wrote a blurb on the back. The tome also talks quite a bit about Waterman polyhedrons, which I named for Steve Waterman, their conceiver.