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Don Doll, SJ, gifts 54 years of photos to Creighton Archives

Nov 8, 2023
3 min Read
Eugene Curtin
Don Doll, SJ

The Rev. Don Doll, SJ, isn’t letting up. Just one month past his 86th birthday, on Aug. 12, he photographed nine Jesuit novices taking their first vows. His cameras await further duty. His trusty bicycle, on which he continues to travel thousands of miles, is part of his office furniture.

It is a can-do attitude that for more than a half a century has seen him recording Jesuits in mission while building a vast photographic record of native peoples and cultures. This extensive collection, numbering tens of thousands of photographs, has been inherited by Creighton University. It is a major gift from the Society of Jesus, and from Fr. Doll, to the University he has served for 54 years.

“We are excited to have Fr. Doll’s photography collection,” says Pete Brink, University archivist.

“First of all, our mission is to ensure that his work is not only preserved for posterity but also made available to our University’s faculty, staff and students, as well as the broader community. We will also work with Fr. Doll on exhibits and other projects that may develop from the collection.”

Fr. Doll’s work as a photographer has won national and international acclaim, not least of all in the pages of National Geographic magazine, a fact that bears sufficient testimony to the importance of his work. The Kodak Crystal Eagle Award for Impact in Photojournalism followed in 1997, and then the Artist of the Year award at the Nebraska Governor’s Awards luncheon in 2006, followed by the International Understanding through Photography Award of the Photographic Society of America in 2014.

Thank-you notes rest here and there throughout his Creighton Hall office, sent by grateful friends and former students after photographing various life events. His shelves are filled with folders containing the negatives and contact sheets of many thousands of photos beginning in 1962 and concluding in 2001 when the advent of digital photography made negatives obsolete. Many of these images record major events in the history of Creighton.

Published books of his photographs lie one on top of another, memorializing the people and cultures of their time.

Fr. Doll’s emphasis has been to photograph, and thereby to honor, native cultures. The Lakota people have been a special focus, though the Yupik and Athabascan people of Alaska, too, wresting a living from the Yukon River and icy Bering Sea, have seen Fr. Doll at work.

Our mission is to ensure that his work is not only preserved for posterity but also made available to our University’s faculty, staff and students, as well as the broader community.
— Pete Brink, University Archivist

So have native people of many African nations, of South America, Central America, Australia, South Korea, India, Nepal, Thailand and the Philippines, where Fr. Doll has recorded the mission work of Jesuit Refugee Service. There are photographs from Italy, Russia, Romania, Lithuania, Ireland, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, among others. Three times, Fr. Doll recalls, he reluctantly turned down opportunities to travel to China.

There are portraits of presidents and popes.

In addition to his photography, there is his videography, preserved like the rest of his work at, where he displays documentary footage of Jesuits battling injustice globally.

While a major acquisition for Creighton, the collection is also a natural one. Fr. Doll arrived in 1969 after completing his theology studies and ordination. Before that, he had spent three years teaching seventh- and eighth-grade students at St. Francis Mission School on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota. While there, he felt a call to study photography.

It was there, he once recalled during celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, that he heard that quiet internal voice that has inspired so many.

“I took a walk on the prairie one evening and asked myself, ‘What am I going to do as a Jesuit?’” he remembered. “And a voice came to me and said, ‘Stay with the photography. Stay with the teaching. And if it takes 10 years, it takes 10 years.’

“That’s a voice I’ve listened to a lot in my life and the voice we pray about in discernment, asking ourselves, ‘Is this really the Holy Spirit nudging me to do these things?’ And it usually is.”

Fr. Doll came to Creighton hoping to teach his newfound passion. Instead, he was told that no funds were available to establish a darkroom. Nevertheless, after a little persistence, funds were found and he later served as the Charles and Mary Heider Endowed Jesuit Faculty Chair and professor of journalism, today professor emeritus.

Fr. Doll is eager that the images of people, cultures and events that he captured during five decades should be properly preserved for posterity. The agreement transferring his collection to Creighton requests that all funds generated by his photos and videos be used to manage and maintain what will be known as the Don Doll, SJ Photographic Collection.

Revenue generated from the Fr. Doll collection will not only be used to manage and maintain his 50-plus years of work but will also benefit Native American students. Half of the proceeds from the sale of photos and videos will be added to the perpetual endowment of the Joseph and Marie Doll Vision Quest Scholarship Fund, which Fr. Doll helped establish to support scholarships for Native American students.