Faith on Campus

Multifaith Council at MHC from Mount Holyoke on Vimeo.


Dierdra Clark ’89, a divinity student working toward ordination in the Evangelical Covenant Church and minister at New York Covenant Church in New Rochelle, says that Mount Holyoke’s “openness and tolerance of different faith traditions provided a safe place for me to grow and bring clarity to my own understanding of faith.”

Today, with students hailing from forty-six states and almost eighty countries, MHC’s population is as diverse as it’s ever been. Contributing to that diversity are women from many of the world’s faith traditions whose time on campus challenges and enhances their spiritual practice. Jennifer Sanborn, Interim Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life, notes that “many students come from a religious background that is essential to who they understand themselves to be” and feels it is critical that the College offer them a place “to claim and practice that, to grow from within that, and to encounter others of faith on neutral, peaceful territory.”

Eliot House, the home of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, offers one such space, supporting nine faiths—Baha’i; Buddhist; Catholic; Hindu; Jewish; Muslim; Earth-based, Pagan/Wiccan; Protestant; and Unitarian Universalist. An especially popular event is the weekly Interfaith Lunch, at which dozens come together, according to Kristine Rose ’14, a frequent attendee, “to find inclusion, acceptance, and similarities in religious faiths . . . in a space and time dedicated to proving we are more alike than different.” The Multifaith Council (MFC) is a more formal collaboration of MHC’s faith groups chaired by Kate Lowry ’15, who says the experience has helped her “realize how much faith is an individual thing, that it’s OK to craft it to fit your personality, and . . . not to have all the answers.”

Being at MHC has given Bahia Marks ’15 the opportunity to “understand how education is a tool for opening the mind, heart, and body to new ideas and perceptions” and to forge ties with “the surrounding Baha’i community.”

Paige Schonher ’15, president of the Newman Catholic Organization—a group College Chaplain Annette McDermott says has been revitalized by Pope Francis’s “message and acts of love”—calls her membership “a source of strength and comfort during the many challenges and stressful times here.”

For Audrey Lehrer ’15, MHC is a safe space where she can “learn more about Judaism and not be judged for what I did not know.” Lehrer now keeps kosher, attends weekly Shabbat services, and plans to apply to rabbinical school to follow in the footsteps of women teachers who showed her that “part of faith is discovering who you are and how you want to change the world.”

Current MHC students are poised to join the ranks of alumnae already leading religious communities. Elizabeth McManus ’14, who calls herself a “feminist in faith,” is already a published author. Her chapter “Sex, Shame, and Scarred Knees” appears in the recently released book Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith. Writing it allowed her to “puzzle through the tension [she] felt between feminism and Christianity.” Although McManus did not enter MHC with the intention of studying religion, she says, “Growing and learning in this school, where we are pushed to lean into our discomforts and discern what it is that makes us tick, I just couldn’t stay away from exploring my faith academically.” She’ll continue to do so this fall when she matriculates at Duke Divinity School to pursue a divinity degree and a certificate in gender, theology, and ministry.

» Read more about alumnae and faith.

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