Next chaplain will be Catholic

Yale will welcome its first female, non-Protestant and non-ordained chaplain since the position was created 80 years ago, President Richard Levin announced Friday.

In an e-mail sent to the Yale community, President Richard Levin announced that after months of searching for a successor to current University Chaplain Rev. Frederick Streets, the University will appoint Sharon Kugler, a lay Roman Catholic and the University Chaplain of Johns Hopkins University, as its next chaplain. Kugler will assume the chaplaincy in July when Streets steps down after 15 years of service.

Students and religious leaders on campus largely hailed Kugler’s coming as a sign that the administration is interested in supporting the University’s growing diversity and multifaith ideology in the face of a long-standing Protestant tradition.

Yale Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge, who headed the search committee, said the committee looked at over 60 candidates in its search for someone with a combination of specific skills. The requirements included a demonstrated ability to foster religious life across a wide range of denominational traditions and faiths, a strong public presence, and a proven “pastoral sensitivity” to students, faculty and staff. Attridge said Kugler was frequently recommended to the committee as a promising candidate.

“This is a great day for religious life at Yale,” he said.

Attridge said the committee did not narrow its search to persons of particular religious faiths, and the candidate pool included Muslim, Protestant and Jewish applicants.

Kugler said she made the decision to accept the position last week because she was interested in becoming a part of what she saw as the University’s efforts to enliven its religious community by encouraging interaction between people of various faiths.

“There was a certain tug on my heart as I explored in more detail where Yale wanted to take its chaplaincy program,” she said. “I was particularly impressed with the solid commitment that has been made from the highest level of the administration to truly strengthen and enhance the richly diverse religious communities at Yale.”

Kugler, who graduated from Santa Clara University and holds a master’s degree from Georgetown, became the University Chaplain at Johns Hopkins in 1993. In addition to overseeing the opening of the university’s interfaith and community center, she served for two terms as the president of the National Association of College and University Chaplains and traveled to the Vatican in 1999 to visit the Pontifical Council on Interreligious Dialogue as part of an American delegation of chaplains.

Since the Yale Office of the Chaplain was created in 1927, the office has been consistently headed by chaplains from various Protestant denominations, and the University Chaplain has traditionally served as the leader of the Protestant University Church.

But in 2005, the church severed its ties to the national United Church of Christ — to which it had been connected for almost half a century — to better devote its attention to the ecumenical and interfaith commitments demanded by the University’s religiously diverse student population. Although the church currently draws on multiple Christian traditions, Kugler’s appointment means that the administration may have to begin a new search for a Protestant chaplain, since a Yale Corporation stipulation requires that the University President appoint a separate chaplain to serve as pastor of the church that worships in Battell Chapel if the University Chaplain is not Protestant.

Campus religious leaders said they were pleased to hear of Kugler’s appointment, with some saying that her arrival has been long overdue.

Rabbi James Ponet, the Jewish Chaplain and director of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, said he looks forward to working with Kugler.

“Her appointment signals the beginning of a new age of religious life on this campus,” he said.

Grace Kim ’07, a founding member of the Student Mission Society, said she is not sure what to expect from the new chaplain, but she hopes that the office will be used effectively to foster interfaith dialogue. Kim said she would approve of a decision to establish a separate Protestant chaplain position on campus because both positions would be better served if filled by different people. Since the University Chaplain is responsible for all religious life on campus, she must hold a somewhat religiously neutral position, and a separate Protestant chaplain could focus more on the campus’ Protestant students, Kim said.

Kugler arrived on campus a few weeks ago to meet with the student subcommittee as part of the interviewing process. Edeli Rivera ’09, a member of the committee, said she was impressed by Kugler’s “pastoral care to students” and “intelligence, humor and warmth.” Rivera said the incoming chaplain is well-known on the Hopkins campus for keeping a fully stocked ice cream cart at the university interfaith center and regularly inviting students to sample her homemade chili.

Outgoing chaplain Rev. Frederick Streets said he contacted Kugler on Friday to congratulate her on her appointment.

“She’s a wonderful person and I think she’ll fit in quite well,” he said.

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