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College will soon hire Muslim chaplain

Steven Garcia/Manitou Messenger

For the first time in the College’s history, St. Olaf will hire a Muslim chaplain.

Three final candidates for the position had on-campus interviews last week. The College aims for the chaplain to begin working on Jan. 1.

“We’re really in a new era for St. Olaf,” said Director of the Lutheran Center Deanna Thompson ’89. “Our college ministry staff is becoming multifaith, and I think that it’s going to help St. Olaf become more religiously inclusive.”

The chaplain will provide religious support for Muslim students and the student body at large, foster interreligious activity and function as a spiritual leader, according to the chaplain job description.

“They’ve gotta have good people skills and they’ve gotta be able to relate to and understand and sympathize and empathize with students first and foremost who are going to be coming to them with all sorts of different issues,” said chair of the religion department Jamie Schillinger.

The Lutheran Center will finance the hiring, just as it financed the hiring of Rabbi Shosh Dworsky in January 2019, Vice President for Mission Jo Beld said. The College has aimed to hire a Muslim chaplain since the Lutheran Center’s founding in 2018.

St. Olaf is collaborating with Carleton College in the hiring process. If both colleges agree on a candidate, the chaplain would work part time for both institutions. This is the desired result for St. Olaf and Carleton, though each could hire their own chaplain if their preferences do not align, Beld said.

The chaplain will work two days per week at St. Olaf and three at Carleton, College Pastor Marohl said.

Many different people are involved in the hiring process, including Beld, Marohl, Associate College Pastor Katie Fick, Thompson, Schillinger and Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion staff members, among others.

Beld and Marohl declined to disclose the candidates’ names or their prior work experience, though they said each bring unique qualifications to the table.

“We do have a pool that has some things in common with one another, but ways in which they’re really different, and that’s what you want in a successful application process,” Beld said. “I think it’s fine to say that all of our candidates feel a strong sense of call to this work.”

Schillinger said the hiring marks “a promising development in terms of St. Olaf living up to what it claims to want to be, which is a place where interreligious dialogue and interfaith interaction is vibrant.”

The hiring reflects a growing desire for Muslim chaplains at colleges and universities across the country as those institutions aim to become more inclusive and equitable, Marohl said.

Unless the coming years see a significant growth in students of another faith, the hiree will be the last chaplain St. Olaf hires for the time being, Marohl said.

St. Olaf came close to hiring a Muslim chaplain last spring, but the effort fell through when the favored candidate ultimately declined the offer, Beld and Marohl said.

“I think that this person will plug in in ways that we can’t even imagine yet,” Marohl said. “Hopefully they feel like they’re able to connect with all of campus.”

irwin2@stolaf.edu