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Satellite Network Pioneer Dies

SCOLA Founder and Satellite Network Pioneer Dies

The Rev. Leland “Lee” E. Lubbers, S.J., founder of SCOLA, an international satellite network based in McClelland, Iowa, died Friday, June 27, 2008. He was 80.

The network transmits television news and entertainment broadcasts from more than 105 countries in 95 languages to colleges and universities throughout North America.

A native of Stoughton, Wis., Lubbers was ordained a priest in 1959. He earned a doctorate in fine arts at the University of Paris – Sorbonne in 1963 and in 1964 he established the fine arts department at Creighton University in Omaha. As an artist he generated a great deal of discussion in the art world by using objects from junkyards in his large kinetic sculptures, which he believed revealed the comic dimension of life. His work was influenced in part by his reading of French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Lubbers’ avant-garde work was displayed in museums across the country.

Drawn to a satellite dish antenna show in 1981, the Creighton University art professor and sculptor was attracted to the satellite’s ability to instantly connect to programming in foreign countries. He bought a display model from the show, installed it on the roof of his sculpture lab at Creighton, connected it to a computer and began tracking satellites. Within a year Creighton students could watch live Russian broadcasts.

In 1984 Lubbers began selling the broadcasts to Russian language departments at major universities across the country and SCOLA was born. In 1993, SCOLA outgrew its space at Creighton University and moved to a farm near McClelland, Iowa. The “antenna” farm is now home to more than 20 satellite dishes and 40 employees.

“Besides being a language learning tool, what we’re doing allows glimpses into other cultures,” Lubbers said in a 1999 interview. “By knowing more about other peoples and cultures, we see that they, too, are God’s people.”

He felt a particularly strong connection to China. His efforts to understand Chinese culture included an appearance on a Chinese network television program panel. “If we’re going to have a better world, we have to start with a better China,” he said.

In 2007 Lubbers established a language immersion program called FLIO (Foreign Language Immersion Opportunity), where students, sponsored by various businesses, would immerse themselves in the country of the language they wish to learn.  Lubbers said there is a critical shortage of business level language experts and this program would greatly impact that need with very little investment.

Until 1989, Lubbers continued his scholarly studies as a professor at Creighton. In 2007, he received an honorary doctoral degree from Marquette University.

A Memorial will be held  Monday, June 30, 2008 at 6 p.m. followed by a Memorial Mass at 7 p.m. in St. John's Church.

An online memorial book has been established under the Guestbook link at: http://flio.org/