Divinity Exemplified

March 10, 2015
Gomes Honors

The 2015 recipients of Harvard Divinity School's Peter J. Gomes STB '68 Memorial Honors include a diplomat, a chaplain, an activist, an advisor, and a scholar. While these individuals—and their professions—may seem disparate, Dean David N. Hempton says that the group embodies HDS's effort to "illuminate, engage, and serve."

"The Gomes Honorees exemplify Harvard Divinity School's mission to educate leaders who bring to every field resources that flow from the study of religion," said Hempton. "These include first and foremost intellectual rigor and deep knowledge of the beliefs and practices that shape the lives of people around the world. But they also include compassion, humility, courage, and perhaps most of all, a commitment to work for a better world. I'm delighted that they will join the ranks of the School's honored graduates."

Selected annually by the HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council, the Gomes Honorees represent the diversity of personal and professional paths that the School's graduates follow. This year, the council recognizes Shaun Casey, MDiv '83, MPA '89, ThD '98, the special representative to United States Secretary of State John Kerry for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives; Charles Collier, MTS '73, a longtime philanthropic advisor at Harvard and an advocate for Alzheimer's Disease research and treatment; Janet Cooper Nelson, MDiv '80, the long-serving chaplain at Brown University; and Rakesh Rajani, MTS '91, an international activist dedicated to improving education and civil society in East Africa.

The awards were established in 2013 in memory of the Rev. Peter Gomes, a scholar, author, and longtime minister of Harvard's Memorial Church. Casey said that he was honored to receive an award named after the man who was his first academic advisor at HDS.

"Peter Gomes encouraged me in ways that made my transition from the plains of west Texas to Andover Hall very smooth," he said. "He taught me early in my academic career that religion was a powerful public force, a lesson I carry into my work each day. I am deeply grateful for his example and honored to be selected as a 2015 Gomes Honoree."

Cooper Nelson was moved to receive an honor that bore the name of her "beloved friend and dear colleague, whose loss still makes my heart ache." She said that her HDS experience has resonated throughout a long career, during which she has come to be known as the "senior stateswoman" among the nation's college and university chaplains.

"Nothing in our 1977 orientation in Andover Hall prepared me for the many blessings that continue to emerge from the unlikely convergence of students, alumni/ae, and faculty that made HDS my home for a season," she said. "Many, many, thanks and blessings to God and to the Divinity School family."

As it has in the past, the Alumni/Alumnae Council will also honor a member of the HDS community who is not a graduate of the School. This year, the AAC will recognize Leila Ahmed, the School's Victor S. Thomas Professor of Divinity, and an award-winning scholar of Islam and gender. Ahmed said that she was "thrilled to find myself alongside such a distinguished set of alumni."

"It was a truly tremendous honor to learn that I'd been named a Gomes Honoree," she said. "It is particularly wonderful that this is an honor memorializing the Rev. Professor Peter Gomes, a good friend of many years and someone that I, like so many of us, deeply appreciated and admired."

The HDS community will mark the 2015 Gomes Honors in a ceremony at noon on Thursday, April 16, in the chapel of Andover Hall on the HDS campus. From there, the recipients will convene in the Braun Room for lunch and to participate in the year's final installment of Divinity Dialogues, an annual series of conversations with distinguished alumni. The panel discussion—to which all faculty, students, and staff are invited—will stream live on the HDS website and conclude at 2 pm.

AAC chairperson the Rev. Sarah Taylor Peck, MDiv '07, said that she looks forward to the celebration. She praised this year's cohort of honorees and said that the Gomes awards are a chance for Harvard Divinity School to highlight the diverse and meaningful impact of HDS graduates and affiliates in the world.

"HDS empowers people to shape their communities through advocacy, ministry, paradigm shifts, and activism," she said. "This year's honorees represent the deep tradition of HDS graduates to shine a light and give voice to their neighbors on college campuses, through Alzheimer's research, through interfaith dialogue, through politics, and through global ministries."

—Paul Massari