YDS creates first endowed scholarship aimed at Catholic students

A scholarship in honor of the late Henri Nouwen, who taught at Yale Divinity School for a decade beginning in 1971, has been established through a gift of $300,000 from a University benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous.

NouwenThe Henri Nouwen Scholarship will be awarded annually to a deserving YDS student, with preference given to Roman Catholics—the first such scholarship to be created at YDS.  For most of the past two decades Roman Catholics have represented the second-largest denominational grouping at YDS, after Episcopalians, although the entire student population remains overwhelmingly Protestant.

In announcing the Nouwen Scholarship, Harold Attridge, the Rev. Henry L. Slack Dean of Yale Divinity School, said, “As part of our efforts to improve the scholarship aid for our students generally we have recently made efforts to target segments of our student population that have not enjoyed designated support. One such group is our Roman Catholic students, who, ever since the 1960’s, have constituted a sizeable minority of our student body.”

Attridge called Nouwen, a Catholic priest well known for his powerful celebrations of the Eucharist, “a beloved member of the YDS faculty.”  The Henri Nouwen Chapel, located in the lower level of the YDS library, is named in his honor.  In March 2007 the Divinity School hosted a special symposium celebrating the Nouwen legacy 10 years after his death.

Born in Holland and ordained a priest in 1957, the multifaceted Nouwen taught pastoral theology at Yale Divinity School from 1971 to 1981. A prolific writer—he wrote close to four dozen books—he is remembered for the many personal friendships he cultivated, his affinity to the poor and powerless, and his connections with the peace movement.

For many years, the representation of Roman Catholic students in the School was negligible, with just twenty-four graduates on record between 1943 and 1969. Their numbers increased significantly after Vatican Council II, which encouraged ecumenical relations between Protestants and Roman Catholics. The appointment of two Roman Catholic scholars—Nouwen and Margaret Farley, a young Sister of Mercy who went on to become one of the most popular teachers at YDS—to the faculty in the early 1970s accelerated the influx of Roman Catholic students, whose numbers grew from ten students at the beginning of the decade to fifty-eight by the end. From the early 1990s onward, the number of Roman Catholics has held steady as the second largest denomination in the school after Episcopalians. Roman Catholic faculty representation in the school has also expanded in recent decades.

Roman Catholic students choose Yale Divinity School for a variety of reasons, even though training at YDS does not qualify them for the priesthood.   Like most students, they come seeking to be challenged intellectually and spiritually in an ecumenical setting that fosters dialogue and individual faith formation. Many appreciate Yale’s international focus and engagement with the complex issues of globalization, which is reshaping the Roman Catholic Church. The majority of Roman Catholic students are members of the laity who are committed to a life of service in the Church or affiliated organizations.

Catholic students, faculty, and staff participate fully in school-wide worship in Marquand Chapel and gather throughout the academic year for Mass, meals, and lectures. Some Roman Catholic students take advantage of a supervised, stipend-funded internship through the Saint Thomas More Catholic Chaplaincy at Yale, where they contribute to the religious life of the University while gaining valuable field experience. In addition, students often establish small groups committed to prayer or volunteer work in poor areas of New Haven.

Click here to read about some Roman Catholic graduates of YDS.