December 20, 2000:
turn from the material world to ministry
by Kathryn Federici Greenwood
Today a Princeton degree
is more expensive and perhaps more respected than ever before. Recruiters
flock to campus, offering students big bucks and important jobs
at the tender age of 22. Its hard to imagine anyone turning
down the money and the prestige that come with a high-powered career
at an investment bank or dot-com to take on Gods work as a
member of the clergy, a job with long hours and modest pay. Yet
many Princetonians have done just that in the last 10 to 15 years.
and rabbinical students tend to be older than they were a generation
or more ago; some enroll after holding down jobs in the secular
world. Unlike their predecessors, they arent looking necessarily
to change the world. Says Sue Anne Steffey Morrow, associate dean
of religious life, who was ordained in 1975, Part of our motivation,
part of the vocation, was radical, political change through religious
institutions. Many young clergy today, in contrast, embark
on their missions primarily as a means of helping people along personal
spiritual journeys while at the same time fulfilling some
yearning of their own and only secondarily as a means of
changing society. All Im aiming to do is to touch individual
people, says Michael McClane 01, who will enter Catholic
seminary next year.
Deciding whether to
enter religious life is more difficult than it might have
been 40 years ago, says Frederick Borsch 57, bishop
of the Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles (and a Princeton trustee),
because the churchs influence in society is smaller.
Adds Mark Orten, Princetons Presbyterian campus minister,
Theologians had national status. That doesnt happen
Although the role clergy
members play in society might have shifted in the last 30 years,
the call to service remains the same, and the five alumni profiled
here have responded to an overwhelming sense that this is what they
are meant to do.
Still, why would a would-be-clergyman
choose an expensive school like Princeton? Says Father Raymond Harris
89, God deserves the best.
Raymond Harris, Jr. 89
Pilgrimage of faith
once thought he might be president, today he says, I cant
imagine myself doing anything else other than being a priest.
At one point, Ray Harris,
the chaplain and director of campus ministry at Mount Saint Marys
College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, would have welcomed a letter
from God, saying, This is exactly what I want you to do
or the heavens to unfold and hear a big booming voice. But
neither the letter nor the booming voice ever came. Instead, God
spoke through the encouragement of other people friends,
priests, and parishioners to let Harris know that he could
best serve others through the Catholic priesthood.
When he applied to Princeton,
he thought he would one day become either President of the United
States or a priest. By his junior year, he had decided. How did
he know? In terms of all the things a priest does [teaching,
preaching, celebrating the sacraments, spiritual counseling], I
wanted to do that. So I saw that as a sign, says Harris, who
majored in religion. I cant imagine seeing myself doing
anything else. And its not because I cant do anything
He graduated from St.
Marys Seminary and University in Baltimore and was ordained
a priest for the archdiocese of Baltimore in 1994. Like most seminarians,
Harris, who dated a little bit at Princeton, had to
address celibacy during his training. He learned how to live out
his promise of celibacy through a strong prayer life and by maintaining
close friendships with men and women. The promise of celibacy,
he says, is not a promise to be isolated from other people.
After seminary, Harris
served in two parishes before moving to Mount Saint Marys
in August. Whether as a parish priest or a campus minister, Harris
doesnt minister from on high. When in the pulpit, I
usually remind myself that Im preaching to myself as well.
I tell people Im on a pilgrimage with them. I have not reached
the top of the mountain. And Im not calling them to come up
with me. At Mount Saint Marys, Harris is charged with
ensuring that the college, whose student body is 85 percent Catholic,
stays true to its Catholic identity. He celebrates the sacraments,
provides spiritual counseling, works with student leaders, and oversees
prayer groups, community service, and retreats.
Raised in a Catholic
family in Baltimore, Harris understands the spiritual doubts many
college students experience. His own faith was tested as a young
adult: His father died suddenly when Harris was in high school,
and later so did two Princeton students, leaving him to ponder life
after death. I said I believed, but did I really believe?
I wondered as I struggled with those things, how would I be able
to comfort others? But, to his surprise, comforting the sick
and the grieving has strengthened his own faith in eternal life.
Indeed, Harris knows
there is some greater force behind his work. A year ago, when he
was asked to preach before a group of newly ordained priests in
Baltimore, he didnt know what to say, even though he had about
two weeks to write a sermon. Finally, with just hours to go before
the Mass, the words started flowing. God allowed some of that
to happen to remind me that Gods in charge, that its
not just about my gifts and talents, that I have to depend upon
God to help me.
Corey Brennan 96
Humbled in seminary
Brennan says, was "incredibly trying on my spirits," in part because
of the process of transforming herself into a servant of God.
Over the phone, Corey
Brennan doesnt sound like a minister. Shes bubbly and
laughs a lot. It could be that shes just really happy with
her work and knows that shepherding people is what shes supposed
to do. I have been called [to ministry] since I was about
13, says Brennan, who was ordained in October and has been
an associate minister at Community Congregational Church in South
Pines, North Carolina, since July.
been active in the Congregational Church since she was a child in
Wellesley, Massachusetts, she took a hiatus from churchgoing during
her college years. I played hard in college, says Brennan,
a religion major who joined varsity squash, the Tigerlilies, and
Tower Club. Most of my friends are shocked Im a minister.
There was too much else for me to do, she says. That
stuff was much more fun to me and much more interesting. I guess
somewhere in the back of my mind I decided I had the rest of my
life to do ministry.
A year after graduating
from Princeton, she entered Duke University Divinity School, which,
she says, was incredibly trying on my spirits, in part
because of the very process of transforming herself into a servant
of God. The three-year program is designed to humble students and
then rebuild them. A lot of people come into divinity school
and I was one of them thinking that they are very
important people and that theyre going to be the best ministers
ever. And that they have so many gifts that no one can touch them
and no one can hurt them.
responsibilities are teaching youth, visiting the sick and shut-ins,
and preaching. Throughout her day-to-day duties, Brennan says, I
feel God with me all the time. Sometimes when she prays, she
says, It feels like its not my words.
Of all her responsibilities,
she finds counseling married couples particularly difficult and
peculiar. Being a single person and trying to provide marriage
counseling is really sort of funny and comical to me, says
Brennan, who acts as a sounding board and refers couples to someone
who can better help them. Theres an understanding out
there in the world that ministers are people who know about marriage.
. . . [But] ministers are notoriously bad at marriages.
Her new job has taken
getting used to. Besides the long hours, the biggest adjustment
has been learning to live in a fishbowl and getting other people
to respect her personal time and space. Her congregation wanted
her to live in town, but she insisted on buying a house 20 minutes
away. I did that intentionally, says Brennan, because
there are some parts of my life that the congregation cant
see. Everything a minister does is examined, she
says. And everyone has an opinion about how she dresses,
how she lives, what she says. But Ive learned to let
it roll off my back. God calls me as I am.
Pablo Gadenz 88
enjoying his job with Bell Labs, Gadenz struggled "to find how it
was God wanted me to serve."
An electrical engineer
like his father, Pablo Gadenz worked for Bell Laboratories in Middletown,
New Jersey, for three years after graduating from Princeton. He
earned a healthy salary and liked his colleagues and his work on
computer chips for data-communications products. But, he says, he
experienced a certain restlessness in trying to
find how it was God wanted me to live and to serve. Gadenz
quit his job and entered St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia in
1991 and was ordained a diocesan priest five years later.
extraordinary about my vocation, says Gadenz, who was born
in Chile to Italian Catholic parents. God calls all people to a
life of holiness, he says. Im not going to change the
world, but I can at least help the people I see wherever I happen
to be. That can be as simple as touching someone through a
sermon or as complicated as counseling a distraught woman with an
Gadenz served as parish
priest at St. Anns parish in Keansburg, New Jersey, for two
years before taking on his current assignment as priest secretary
to Bishop John M. Smith of the diocese of Trenton. At his office
in Lawrenceville, he helps the bishop with his daily administrative
responsibilities and conducts theological research. He keeps his
hand in typical priestly duties by helping out at a local parish.
Of the three promises
a diocesan priest makes obedience, celibacy, and poverty
the last is the easiest for Gadenz to live out. I always
thought it was best to travel light in life, he says. Diocesan
priests earn a salary and pay bills like any layperson. Each month
after his bills are paid Gadenz gives away whatever is left, though
hes not required to do so. Free from any material extras,
he feels he can better serve others.
And serve he does. Sometimes
seven days a week, though he is supposed to get Mondays off. Any
drawbacks to being a priest? Smiling, he says, Too much work.
Priesthood seems to
suit Gadenz, who appears patient and thoughtful. I love being
a priest, he says, because a priest is a man chosen
to help other people draw closer to God. And I get great joy if
I am able to do that even in just a little way. He adds, I
cannot imagine not being a priest, because its not just the
work, its my whole being.
Amy Ebeling McCreath 87
Lessons on life
major, McCreath found "what really gave me energy was not discussion
of political systems but the silence of the chapel on a cool day."
When I arrived
at Princeton, I wanted to become Secretary of State someday. I headed
straight for the politics department, studied Russian, and eventually
took the foreign service exam, says Amy Ebeling McCreath,
now priest-in-charge at St. Christophers Episcopal Church
in Milwaukee. I enjoyed my studies and did well in them, but
as my time at Princeton continued, I found that what really gave
me energy was not discussion of political systems but the silence
of the chapel on a cool day, [and] discussions of grace on Wednesday
nights at Proctor House, the Episcopal manse.
In search of more life
experience before heading to seminary, McCreath taught history,
politics, and philosophy at several high schools and earned a masters
in American history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, after
graduating from Princeton. But she found that what her students
some of whom struggled with depression, eating disorders,
and low self-esteem really needed were lessons on life, not
lessons on the Civil War or Plato. One classroom discussion on the
Beatitudes (as part of a course on Western philosophy) baffled her
charges. They couldnt begin to understand why God would
favor the meek, and why God would bless the poor and why being humble
was seen as a good thing, says McCreath, raised an Episcopalian
in Dayton, Ohio. So she headed to Seabury-Western Theological Seminary,
in Evanston, Illinois, hoping to learn how to explain such concepts.
She was ordained in 1998.
As a minister to some
450 members, McCreath helps her congregants come to some of the
same realizations that she did in seminary: that life is not about
being successful and we dont need to be perfect. Many
of them have been frantically trying to live up to social standards
they see promoted all around them and play the game
at work, but they find that it is sapping them of spirit and, sometimes,
literally making them sick, says McCreath. Many of her parishioners
are hungry for a spiritual life, a deeper understanding of
themselves, and a way of life that is grounded in something with
deeper roots than the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living or Vogue.
job to help her parishioners claim their identity . . . as
beloved children of God, and to build a life that is grounded in
that identity, she says. McCreath shows them that by establishing
priorities and values, they can carve out time for silence and prayer
and time for themselves. People want the OK to do that,
Janine Schloss 88
known since high school that she wanted to be a rabbi; still, she
says, "I'm searching for how to define God."
Janine Schloss wouldnt
say God called her to go into the rabbinate. The
God I believe in isnt as active as that, says Schloss,
who was ordained a Reform rabbi in 1993 after attending Hebrew Union
CollegeJewish Institute of Religion and studying at its sites
in Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York City. In fact, I wasnt
always sure that I believed in God, she says. Today,
when people ask me, do I believe in God, I say yes.
But Im still searching for how to define that God. Our
God belief, says Schloss, reflects who we are and where
we are in life. As Schloss matures, she expects her God belief
will change. It will be an ongoing process, she adds.
Her flock finds her
sincerity and honesty helpful as they navigate their own way. For
me, the cultural, ethical, and moral issues that revolve around
religion are much more central to my faith than the theological,
the God stuff.
Since high school, Schloss
has known that she wanted to be a rabbi, because she loves everything
about being in temple. One of four rabbis at Congregation Shaare
Emeth in St. Louis, Missouri, she performs baby-naming ceremonies,
bat and bar mitzvahs, funerals, and weddings; leads prayers; reads
and interprets the Torah; counsels people; and teaches. Its
such an honor to be allowed into peoples lives in such intimate
ways, says Schloss, who grew up in Palo Alto, California,
and majored in religion.
Rewarding as a rabbis
work is, it can also be draining. After working 80 hours a week
for five years, she cut back when she was pregnant with her first
child, Rachel, now two. Schloss is expecting her second child in
April. It is very difficult to balance the pressure of work
and the pressures of being a mom and a wife, says Schloss,
who says she is no longer willing to put in such long hours. Today
she works about 50 hours a week as director of education for the
temple, overseeing the religious school, Hebrew school, preschool,
summer day camp program, and family education department.
Schloss says she often
has experiences that give her a sense of some greater presence.
They are often simple, everyday happenings: observing preschoolers
run a relay race, singing in worship services, watching a flock
of geese. She didnt always have a name for these experiences,
but now she does God moments.
Kathryn Federici Greenwood
is PAWs staff writer.