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Leaving a Legacy

February 17, 2016

Just as Liberty University President Jerry Falwell was about to go on stage to introduce the Rawlings family — longtime friends and supporters of the university — to the student body at Convocation on Nov. 4, his guests handed him an envelope. Inside was a gift of $5 million.

The Rawlings brothers — Harold, Herb, Carrol, and George — had not been to campus in many years, but their family has strongly supported Liberty over the years, contributing greatly to the fulfillment of its vision to become a world-class Christian university.

The surprise gift reflected their continued confidence in Liberty’s mission.

“They believe in you, and they believe in this school,” Falwell told the student body in Convocation, noting that generous support is what helps keep Liberty’s tuition among the lowest for private institutions.

Falwell explained that the father of the four brothers, the late Dr. John Rawlings, was a mentor to his own father, the late Jerry Falwell Sr., Liberty’s founder.

On the same day, Falwell announced that Liberty’s School of Divinity had been named the Rawlings School of Divinity, in honor of the family.

“The Rawlings School of Divinity couldn’t be a more fitting name, given your father’s mentorship to my father and the years of support from your family,” Falwell told them. “John Rawlings was a mentor all the way through my father’s career, from college until his death. Your family has played such an important role in what has happened here, and this is a way to honor our roots.”

During a private meeting, the family viewed a presentation of the building plans for the new home of the Rawlings School of Divinity. The university broke ground on the Freedom Tower project in August, which will be a part of the Rawlings School of Divinity. The 275-foot tower and the two-and-half-story building around its base are set to open in Spring 2017.

In December, the Rawlings School of Divinity also received a donation of rare books and Bibles valued at over $1 million from Dr. Harold Rawlings’ personal collection.

The donation of Bibles was presented during a faculty meeting. The collection includes a first edition of a 1539 Great Bible, the first English Bible authorized by King Henry VIII; a 1561 Tyndale New Testament, the first English Catholic Bible, and a 1560 first edition Geneva Bible, the Bible brought to America by the Pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1620. It also includes a first edition 1537 Matthews Bible, a first edition 1568 Bishops Bible, two first edition 1611 King James Bibles, two first editions of 1563 “Fox’s Book of Martyrs,” and a number of other artifacts.

“This collection will be a tremendous help to the school; it will draw visitors, and it will also be a source of help to you as professors as you research for your classes,” Harold Rawlings said. “This is a great place to permanently house the Rawlings collection of Bibles and artifacts.”

Dr. Ed Hindson, dean of the School of Divinity, said that one of the passions that the Lord laid on Dr. Rawlings’ heart was to collect these historic Bibles as a testimony to the documents of the Christian faith.

“I think another indication of the Lord’s blessing on what we are doing right now in the School of Divinity is something we would have hoped for, dreamed for, and prayed for, and the Lord moved Dr. Rawlings’ heart to make this decision and to contact me and say ‘I think the Lord wants me to do this,’” he said. “We are blessed to have one of the finest and most significant collections of the Bible at Liberty.”

The Rawlings artifacts will be housed in a scriptorium inside the Freedom Tower once construction is complete.

The late Dr. John Rawlings served in leadership roles at Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Mo., where Jerry Falwell Sr. attended college in the early 1950s. Dr. Rawlings served as a pastor for over 70 years, including many years as senior pastor at Landmark Baptist Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was an advisor to Jerry Falwell Sr. in his ministry and in the establishment of Liberty University and preached often in Lynchburg over the decades. Dr. Rawlings served in his later years on the Liberty University Board of Trustees. He died at age 99 in 2013. Under his oversight, his family launched The Rawlings Foundation in 1995, helping to fund youth camp facilities and Bible institute campuses around the world.

Liberty announced in March that the undergraduate School of Religion was joining Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary to form the new School of Divinity. With both programs experiencing continual growth — approaching a total of 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students studying on campus and online — the decision resulted in the world’s largest accredited school for religious studies and ministerial training.

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