Cover photo for Rev. Dr. Svante Bernhard Erling's Obituary
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1922 Rev. dr. svante bernhard 2016

Rev. Dr. Svante Bernhard Erling

April 15, 1922 — July 1, 2016

The Rev. Dr. Svante Bernhard Erling died July 1, 2016 in Saint Peter, MN at the age of 94.

Born April 15, 1922 in Underwood, ND to Swedish immigrants – the Rev. Svante Anderson and Edla Mathilda (Larson) Erling – he spoke Swedish until he started school. After completing degrees at Gustavus Adolphus College (B.A. 1943), Augustana Seminary (B.D. 1946), and the University of Chicago (M.A. 1946), he met his future wife, Marilyn Marie Siersbeck, on a hike in the Rocky Mountains. A wedding in 1954, a Fulbright scholarship year abroad, and further degrees from Yale University (Ph.D. 1955) and the University of Lund, Sweden (Th.D. 1960) followed.

Bernhard was ordained on June 13, 1948 in Rock Island, IL and served the Augustana congregations of Bethany Lutheran Church in Des Moines, IA (1948-1953) and St. Paul Lutheran Church in Ansonia, CT (1953-1954). He served as Chaplain and Assistant Professor at Upsala College (1956-1957), and taught theology, Bible and Reformation studies at Gustavus Adolphus College (1957-1988), where he was honored with Professor Emeritus status upon retirement.

Among his published works are two books: Nature and History (a study in theological methodology with special attention to the method of motif research found in the work of Swedish theologians Anders Nygren and Gustaf Wingren) published by Lund, 1960; and A Readers Guide to Dag Hammarskjöld’s Waymarks (a translation with commentary of the spiritual journal of Dag Hammarskjöld) published online in 2011 by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala, Sweden as part of its 50th anniversary commemoration of Dag Hammarskjöld’s death. These book-ended a career enlivened by connections with Sweden.

Bernhard spent sabbatical periods abroad in Germany, Sweden, the Holy Land, Japan and Nigeria. He fostered connections as Class Agent for his Gustavus Class of 1943, and sent annual Christmas letters to family and friends that included hymns he translated from the Swedish Psalmbok. He loved to tell jokes, argue a point, grapple with an idea, and sing with his rich baritone. Daily jogs every day but Sunday continued into his late 80s.    

Bernhard is survived by his wife Marilyn, sister Corrinne Dahlgren, sister-in-law Jane Berthilson, children Maria Erling (John Spangler), Paul Erling (Lise Sveen), and Anne Erling (Dominic Colafati), and grandchildren Marta and Johanna Spangler, Sam and Luke Brodax, Elsa, Erik and Eli Erling, and Amelia and Ingrid Colafati, in addition to cousins, nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his daughter Birgitta Erling Brodax in 2003 and his brother Loren Berthilson in 2015.  

In lieu of flowers, gifts in memory of Bernhard may be made to First Lutheran Church, 1114 Traverse Road, St. Peter, MN 56082, to Gustavus Adolphus College, 800 W. College Ave., St. Peter, MN 56082, and for scholarship funds to Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1100 E. 55th St., Chicago, IL 60615.

A funeral for Bernhard is planned for 1:30, Friday, July 8 at First Lutheran Church, St. Peter, with a committal afterwards at Resurrection Cemetery, St. Peter. Visitation will begin at 12:00 noon at the church.

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