A religious thunderbolt at Yale


April 13, 2007|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Yale University went looking for a new chaplain to serve a campus long dominated by Protestants but now filled with people of all faiths. It found what it was looking for in Baltimore, of all places, and New Haven isn't sure it's ready for someone quite so exotic.

The chaplain is a layperson. A woman. And - they're really going out on a limb here - a Catholic! She is Sharon Kugler, who has been chaplain at Johns Hopkins since 1993 and will leave for Connecticut in July.

The 48-year-old married mother of two couldn't make more waves if she were a transgendered Wiccan.

"In a development that would no doubt have astonished Yale's Puritan founders," began the story in the school's alumni magazine.

"How in heaven did it come to this?" Yale grad Mark Oppenheimer wrote in Slate.

The New Haven Register said Kugler "hit the trifecta: first woman, first layperson, first Catholic."

Having a chaplain with Catholic faith and double-X chromosomes probably shouldn't be shocking in 2007, but perhaps we should cut Yalies some slack on the layperson thing. I mean, most people probably assume a campus chaplain is an ordained something or other.

Kugler, who oversaw creation of Hopkins' interfaith center, was the first layperson in the country to hold a major university chaplaincy when she came to Homewood. "I was definitely a pioneer back in '93," she said.

Not everyone appreciates that sort of pioneering, seeing it as an endorsement of hippie free spirits over the Holy Spirit. "[T]hough I'm Jewish, I believe that having a Big Protestant on Campus is at least a bulwark against the sort of touchy-feely `spirituality' in which college students do not need to be encouraged," Slate's Oppenheimer wrote.

Kugler, former president of the National Association of College and University Chaplains, has heard it all before.

"The centerpiece of chaplaincy isn't Sunday morning at 10:30," she said. "It's pastoral care, lending a supportive ear and shoulder in times of joy and sorrow. This is about being there for people in times of great need, helping students to understand how to grow into an adult in their own faith."

Even Oppenheimer, who was "initially horrified by this new conception of the chaplaincy," came around at the end of his piece. He said he likes the idea of shattering the "myth of a unified Protestant audience." That will free Protestant ministers - who will still preach on campus - to offer more than one-size-fits all sermons, he wrote.

"Now, as schools decouple the pulpit ministry from the chaplaincy," he wrote, "the Protestant ministers are no longer responsible for the whole university, and are freed to preach the kind of sermons that might, if we're lucky, inspire and offend in equal measure."

`A handsome dude?'

Bob Ehrlich played professor for a day yesterday in a Towson University class called "Persuasion," and the former guv made his best pitch for Rudy Giuliani.

As a GOP presidential prospect? Nah, as a hottie.

Ehrlich was talking about the role physical attractiveness plays in a politician's success, and Professor Richard Vatz spoke up to say he found Giuliani charismatic but not physically attractive.

Ehrlich, who has endorsed Giuliani for president and mused in a recent Wall Street Journal piece that he might have been a VP pick had he been re-elected Maryland governor, seemed taken aback.

"I think Mrs. Giuliani thinks he's physically attractive," Ehrlich said.

He turned to the class.

"How many women here think Rudy Giuliani is kind of a handsome dude?"

No hands went up.

Just like old times

Ehrlich's appearance at the class was a reunion of sorts. He has spoken to Vatz's students more than 30 times over the past 15 or so years.

Ehrlich was accompanied by former State House communications aides Greg Massoni and Henry Fawell. They sat (Massoni) and stood (Fawell) with Ehrlich at the front of the lecture hall, occasionally piping up to answer questions.

It was just like old times, except these guys see each other all the time. Massoni and Fawell landed jobs with Ehrlich at the Womble, Carlyle law firm.

Which raises a question: Do the bosses back in the North Carolina home office know they all played hooky for the afternoon?

Connect the dots

Harry Potter fans, mark your calendars. Scholastic publishing this week announced its 37-stop Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Knight Bus Tour. The triple-decker bus in the series will stop at two area public libraries, in Baltimore and Cockeysville, on June 15. ... A reader-poet submits this ditty about the school system's flawed budget: "One plus One/Should equal Two/Except, of course,/On North Avenue."

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