New Chaplain of Yale is a Catholic Laywoman
From Yale Alumni Magazine: (HT: America magazine).
New chaplain will minister to all faiths
by Mark Alden Branch ’86
In a development that would no doubt have astonished Yale’s Puritan founders, the university has appointed Sharon Kugler, a Catholic layperson, as Yale’s seventh University Chaplain. Kugler, who has served as chaplain at Johns Hopkins University since 1993, will start at Yale this summer, succeeding Rev. Frederick Streets ’75MDiv.
The fact that a non-ordained Catholic — and a woman — could assume a post that has always been held by Protestant clergymen suggests just how much Yale and the chaplaincy have changed. Over the years, the university has welcomed increasing numbers of Catholics, Jews, and, more recently, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others. “We now have 30 or more active religious groups on campus, a number of them from non-Western religions,” says President Rick Levin. “It was a strong view of mine and the search committee’s that the new chaplain needs to minister to that entire community.”
That is just the kind of chaplaincy Kugler has run at Johns Hopkins. A graduate of Santa Clara University with a master’s degree in religious studies from Georgetown, she “virtually created the multi-faith chaplaincy at Johns Hopkins,” says Yale Divinity School dean Harry Attridge, who co-chaired the search committee. “She built up that program and the interfaith center there virtually from scratch.”
Kugler says that interfaith dialogue has been her mission as a chaplain. “We’re living in a world where people kill each other over religion,” she says. “I feel that my call is to be in young people’s lives when they are expanding their horizons and their brains and their hearts — and to get them to engage with people who might scare them.”
And while some may imagine interfaith dialogue to be, as Kugler jokingly describes it, “Let’s all sit at a round table, put a topic in the middle, and see how everybody comes at it,” she says she prefers a subtler approach. The interfaith center at Johns Hopkins features an ice-cream maker, a bubble machine, and occasional Crock-Pots of “Chaplain’s Chili” to bring students together — first to play, then to talk.
In announcing Kugler’s appointment, Levin made a point of affirming Yale’s roots in the “Protestant tradition.” He said that a Protestant chaplain will be appointed to lead services at Battell Chapel and to minister to Protestants “in much the same way that Father Robert Beloin serves as chaplain for the Catholic community and Rabbi James Ponet ['68] serves as our Jewish chaplain.”
For her part, Kugler says her Catholic faith is central to her personally but not to her job. She sees her non-ordained status as an advantage in her effort to work with people of different faiths. “As a layperson,” she says, “I’m everyone’s chaplain and no one’s clergy.”