HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council Announces 2014 Gomes Honorees

March 4, 2014
HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council Announces 2014 Gomes Honorees

The HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council is pleased to announce the 2014 recipients of the Peter J. Gomes STB '68 Memorial Honors, inaugurated last year and given annually to a small group of graduates whose lives and work exemplify the mission and values of Harvard Divinity School.

The council honors four accomplished alumni this year: Scholar and international human rights leader Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, MTS '84; fashion mogul and peace advocate Simon Xavier Guerrand-Hermès, MTS '93; accomplished minister and leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Elizabeth A. Eaton, MDiv '80; and organizer and activist against clerical sexual abuse Peter J. Isely, MDiv '88. The council will also honor former HDS Dean William A. Graham, AM '70, PhD '73, for his long and distinguished service to the School.

"We are absolutely delighted to honor these five individuals on behalf of the School and all HDS alumni," remarked Julia Whitcavitch-DeVoy, MTS '94, chairperson of the Alumni/Alumnae Council for this academic year. "I can't think of more worthy recipients of our highest alumni accolades, or better exemplars of the unique spirit of HDS and, of course, of Peter Gomes."

"Screening the many nominations was an incredible privilege and a deeply meaningful form of service to the School and the alumni community," said S. Joshua Thomas, MTS '02, a member of the council who chaired this year's Gomes Honors selection committee. "Reading through all the nominations is a very humbling experience. You get a concrete sense of the truly remarkable ways HDS graduates are leading and serving across an impressive range of personal and professional paths. The committee is confident that those we have selected this year are models we can all emulate."

Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe is the director of global affairs for Human Rights Watch. She recently served as the first United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Appointed to the post by President Obama in 2009, Donahoe focused her work on ensuring that human rights defenders in conflict zones around the world were properly protected.

By working with cross-regional coalitions, she helped build successful U.N. resolutions on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, internet freedom, freedom of religion and belief, LGBT rights, freedom of expression, the empowerment of women, and many other important issues.

A lawyer by training, Donahoe has vast experience working with tech clients on intellectual property issues in Silicon Valley. In addition to her MTS degree, she holds an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College, a law degree from Stanford, and a PhD in ethics and social theory with a focus on human rights issues from the Graduate Theological Union at UC Berkeley.

"It is wonderful to be chosen as a Gomes Honoree at this stage of my life, in part because it highlights the importance of early opportunities to explore foundational values," said Donahoe. "The questions I explored as a student at Harvard Divinity School remain with me today as guiding parameters for my work. Those early questions are the ones that define us and provide enduring meaning in our lives. Although I did not take a linear path, it is satisfying to see the sense of continuity that runs from my days as a student to my life today."

Simon Xavier Guerrand-Hermès is highly involved with his family's luxury fashion business as director and vice-chairperson of Hermès of Paris, Inc., and a member of the Board of Hermès International. But his long-standing interest in issues of religion and spirituality led him to HDS at the age of 50 and, following his graduation from the School, he went on to found the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace.

The foundation is an international think tank and research institute that conducts studies and hosts programs aimed at promoting interreligious dialogue and the development of peace. Guerrand-Hermès is the treasurer of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (a United Nations–affiliated international organization), an honorary fellow of Harris and Manchester College in Oxford, a chevalier in the French Legion of Honor, and a commander of the Moroccan Wissam Alaoui.

Guerrand-Hermès said of being selected for the Gomes Honor: "It was a wonderful surprise to learn that I am being honored by the HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council with the Peter J. Gomes STB '68 Memorial Honors alumni award. During my important and stimulating years spent at Harvard Divinity School, I had the good fortune to meet so many extraordinary people and teachers. It was in this unique environment that I was inspired and started reflecting on the establishment of what has now become the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace. I am forever grateful for this special time I spent at Harvard Divinity School."

Elizabeth A. Eaton is the first woman to serve as the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). She was elected in the summer of 2013 and was installed on October 4, 2013.

An ordained minister in the denomination since 1981, she spent the majority of her career serving several parishes in Ohio as pastor or as an associate before being elected bishop of the ELCA Northeast Ohio Synod in 2006. She was re-elected to this post in 2013, a few short months before being elected presiding bishop.

She is a member of the Lutheran Episcopal Coordinating Committee and also serves on the Conference of Bishops Domestic Ready Bench. She also has roles with the ELCA Malaria Campaign, the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, PORTICO Philosophy of Benefits Task Force, Ohio Council of Churches, and Lutheran Planned Giving in Ohio.

Peter J. Isely is a founding member, international spokesperson, and longtime Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the world's oldest and largest organization of victims of childhood sexual assault by clergy, founded in 1989 with over 14,000 members in chapters across the globe. 

A psychotherapist in private practice in Milwaukee, Isely established and directed the only inpatient treatment program for victims of clergy sexual trauma at Roger's Memorial Hospital. He is currently cofounding a new organization, the Survivors and Clergy Leadership Alliance, an activist partnership of ordained clergy and survivors of church-based sexual violence.

He is the 2012 recipient of the Public Service Award of the National Association of Social Workers and the 2010 Thomas Canon Equal Justice Award of the Legal Aid Society.

"My journey of recovery from the catastrophe of childhood sexual assault by a Roman Catholic priest began during my wonderful years at Harvard Divinity School, which was for me a sanctuary and place to begin to say the unsayable," explained Isely. "It was at the Divinity School that the conviction was planted in me that the Christian tradition contains not only the centuries-long justification for sexual violence, but also its principle means of resistance."

In addition to these four alumni, the council has chosen to honor former HDS Dean William A. Graham, who is now Distinguished Service Professor and Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard and a member of the Faculty of Divinity.

Graham served as dean of HDS from 2002-12, one of many leadership posts in his long Harvard career that has included serving as director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, master of Currier House, and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on the Study of Religion, and the Core Curriculum Committee on Foreign Cultures.

During his time as dean of the Divinity School, Graham oversaw a vast expansion of financial aid to students, over 30 faculty appointments, the renovation of Rockefeller Hall and the addition of the campus green, and the curriculum revisions of both primary master's degree programs.

A widely published and highly regarded scholar, Graham focuses his work on early Islamic religious history and textual traditions (Qur'an and Hadith), and on topics in the global history of religion.

On receiving this recognition, Graham said: "The Gomes award is a special, if unexpected honor because, first, I am only a former dean, not an alumnus. Second, I am among such a distinguished group of alumni honorees. Third, selection by the Alumni/Alumnae Council is a particular honor. And fourth, the award honors my longtime friend Peter Gomes, whom I met when he was a BD 'middler' nearly 50 years ago."

The 2014 Gomes Honors recipients will be honored in a ceremony at noon on Thursday, April 3, in Andover Chapel, after which they will form a panel of speakers for a third installment of the year's "Divinity Dialogues: Conversations with the Alumni/Alumnae Community" series. This distinguished alumni speaker series featured M. Brinton Lykes, MDiv '73, Jeff Seul, MTS '97, and Cornelia Cannon Holden, MDiv '03, earlier this year.

The Gomes Honors was instituted by the HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council last year, when the group honored an inaugural cohort of graduates that included Reza Aslan, MTS '99, Susannah Heschel, MTS '76, The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi, MTS '03, and Sarah Sentilles, MDiv '01, ThD '08, as well as former Dean and professor Ronald Thiemann (posthumously).