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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

40,000 miles to peace

Noltner’s photographs and stories displayed on multi-sided boards (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

John Noltner’s pictures of peace in America.

St. Joe’s welcomed award-winning photographer John Noltner to display his exhibit “A Peace of My Mind” on Jan. 22 and Jan. 23.

For Noltner, this project is a way to use his career in photography and his interest in storytelling to address the need for compassion in today’s world.

“We live in perhaps one of the most connected and interconnected times in history, but we continue to struggle with the way that we connect with one another on a human level,” Noltner said.

Noltner’s project took him all over the country to ask people from diverse backgrounds the question, “What does peace mean to you?” His exhibit features pictures of the individuals he interviewed and a description of their unique story of peace.

The exhibit invited St. Joe’s students and faculty to engage with Noltner’s work by reading his subjects’ stories and quotes, displayed in the North Lounge in Campion Student Center. Noltner also gave a presentation titled “Lessons on the Road to Peace,” in which he gave more insight into his journey throughout the process.

Noltner began this mission in 2009, when he faced a financially difficult point in his career. During the recession, Noltner struggled to find jobs, but realized he did not feel spiritually fulfilled with the work he was doing.

“In my house, we’ve embraced a saying that you might be familiar with,” Noltner said. “Some jobs feed the belly, and some jobs feed the soul. And if you’re really lucky, your job can do both.”

This expression gave him inspiration to start a project that would feed his soul and help him appreciate the good in the world. After reflecting on the common human experience and the values of his Lutheran background, Noltner arrived at his question of peace.

“A Peace of My Mind is not a story about faith, but it is a project that’s rooted in my own faith,” Noltner said. “I continually come back to Jesus’ call to love one another, and I’ve looked for the loopholes, and I’ve looked for the exceptions to that. It doesn’t say love the ones who look like you, and it doesn’t say love the ones who live like you. It says love one another, period.”

The project has taken Noltner 40,000 miles across the country, meeting individuals from Santa Fe, Nashville, Philadelphia and towns in nearly every state. While his exhibit is on tour, he continues conducting interviews as he travels. He spends at least five hours with his subjects, listening to their story, following their daily life and learning their view on peace.

Noltner has worked to meet a wide variety of Americans, representing different races, religions, social classes, sexual orientations and more to demonstrate how everyone’s definition of peace is different.

The goal of the project was to inspire more people to join the conversation. To achieve this, viewers of the exhibit were asked to consider their own perspective on peace. Noltner invited 40 members of the St. Joe’s community to share their ideas in response to the question, “What is the unique challenge of talking about race at this moment in history?”

Noltner took portraits of those who participated and recorded their insights, which he tied into his presentation. These ideas called Noltner to reflect on the message of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If we can find the way to listen to one another, to recognize the humanity, especially in our adversaries, I think we’ll get a little closer to the beloved community Dr. King talked about,” Noltner said. “We’ll move towards a world of peace and justice.”

Candace Hightower ’18 was one of the students who visited the exhibit and was delightfully overwhelmed with the amount of stories that were highlighted.

“Once I read one [story], I needed to read everyone else’s,” Hightower said. “There was almost this sense of urgency, and being able to hear these stories that aren’t always told was super important to me.”

All of the profiles have been collected in Noltner’s book “A Peace of My Mind, Exploring the Meaning of Peace One Story At a Time,” which is now in its third edition. The stories are also accessible on Noltner’s website,


*Amber Denham contributed to this article

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