A stroll down Memory Lane: alumni take guided tour of Sterling Divinity Quadrangle

By Luanne Panarotti ’13 M.Div.

For alumni attending Convocation and Reunions 2011, a guided tour of the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle was both a stroll down memory lane and a chance to walk the walk of current YDS students. 

About a dozen alumni and spouses, many from the 40th and 50th reunion groups, enjoyed the enlightening introduction of tour guide and Admissions Administrative Assistant Jan Fournier ’06 M.A.R. to the various structural and programmatic changes that have taken place over the years.  The group explored former dormitory spaces turned classrooms, and reminisced about the wonderful aromas that used to waft up from next door at The Culinary Institute of America (now Betts House, home to the Yale Office of International Affairs and the Yale World Fellows Program).  One particularly appreciated switch?  The sacrifice of the old basketball court to make way for the Institute of Sacred Music (since relocated elsewhere on the Quad), and all the richness that collaboration has subsequently brought to both academic life and worship at YDS.

TourAlong the tour Susan Garrett ’69 M.A.R. and Dan Garrett ’71 M.Div. shared memories of the place that would so significantly shape who they would become, both personally and professionally.   Susan and Dan met at YDS, were married in Marquand Chapel and had their reception in the Common Room.  Susan remembers their first year at the school as the best of her life, because of the opportunity to address “the cross-currents of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement in a place where the intellectual level was so amazing.“   Now retired as director of connectional ministries for the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, Susan had considered other seminaries; among the things that sold her on YDS was the beautiful campus (which, as Dan noted, was modeled in part on the quadrangle at the University of Virginia – though deist-leaning Thomas Jefferson’s plan placed a library, rather than a chapel, at its heart).

The group ventured into the recesses of the library’s lower level to visit the Henri Nouwen Chapel.  While enjoying the peacefulness of the place, they remembered the charismatic Nouwen, a priest and YDS professor known for his affinity with the poor and his efforts toward peace – issues that have always galvanized YDS students.  The group gathered around the triptych commissioned in Nouwen’s memory, identifying the various people of faith depicted in the painting, and taking pictures with cameras and cell phones.  Paul Harris, ’70 M.Div. recalled evening prayer in the chapel, a place where Nouwen himself often celebrated candlelit ecumenical Eucharists.

Stepping into the cavernous emptiness of Niebuhr Lecture Hall, one alumnus commented that the space was rather plain, as compared to the complex man after whom it was named.  Philip McKean, ’61 B.D., who as a student had been touched by the profound insights of then-Professor H. Richard Niebuhr, offered another perspective.  Having attended Professor Willis Jenkins’s morning lecture on “Climate Change and the Future of Christianity” held in that very room, he found that Jenkins “had the soul and wit of Niebuhr.”

Clearly, one thing remains the same, despite many changes to the physical plant: it’s not the buildings, but those who inhabit them, that make YDS the vibrant institution it is today, and was before.

Posted: 11/06/2011