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A child called "Charity"

Bill and Katie Bell have four children: Mark, Timothy, Elizabeth, and the child they like to call “Charity.” But Charity isn’t any ordinary child. In fact, she isn’t a human child at all. After the Bells divided their estate four ways—to represent all four children—Charity became the $1 million donation they gave to Yale Divinity School in October 2007.

The BellsBill Bell came to Yale in 2004, after a lifetime of living in the South and a successful career as a pathologist. He and Katie spent three years in New Haven while Bill pursued his Master of Divinity degree to enter the Episcopal priesthood, and both settled in as members of the YDS and Berkeley Divinity School at Yale communities. Bill, who is now curate at Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in Panama City, FL, served as a chapel minister for Berkeley, while Katie sang in the chapel choir.

“Yale is a place with fruitful diversity and a yearning for the nearness of God’s Kingdom,” Bill wrote in a brief reflection about his time at YDS upon graduation. “I benefited from the Annand Program for Spirituality as much as I did from rigorous academics. Much of the real learning came from worshipping and conversing with people from an array of ages, backgrounds and faith traditions.”

Indeed, the Bells formed a number of close relationships, beginning the moment they set foot on campus. Katie remembers their first visit to Yale, when she met Jan Attridge, the wife of YDS Dean Harold Attridge, in the hallway where she was looking at a Navajo art display put up by the Institute of Sacred Music. “May I help you?” Jan asked, followed by an invitation to her home, where the two shared a cup of tea. That was the kind of hospitality Katie and Bill Bell constantly found at Yale.

But as they grew closer to many members of the community, the Bells began to notice something troubling: many students graduated with heavy debt that would be difficult to pay off when they entered the professional world. “To a lot of students at Yale, it’s a huge financial commitment and sacrifice,” Katie Bell said. “We saw that happen to people of all ages, and then we saw how someone donated money to the Music School that let every student there receive a full scholarship, we thought that was a great idea.”

So when Bill graduated in May 2007, degree and ordination date in hand, he and Katie decided to give something back to the community that had welcomed them so warmly: the $1 million charitable remainder trust that was announced during the official launch of the YDS “Gift of a Lifetime” planned gift initiative. The money will be used to provide scholarships to Yale Divinity School students in BDS’s Anglican Studies Program, reducing reliance on loans that in many cases add to substantial debt burdens—often amounting to tens of thousands of dollars—shouldered by graduating students.

But if students at YDS and Berkeley feel grateful, so do Bill and Katie Bell. Bill said that he and Katie decided to make the donation in the spirit of “thanksgiving for the time we spent there and the education I received.” That offering of thanksgiving promises to be appreciated not only by the Bells but also by students for years to come.