St. Lawrence University's Chaplain's Office seeks to engage students in conversation about spirituality and create a welcoming space for any University member to explore, grieve, be vulnerable, and more
[Note: In January 2020, Rev. Kathleen Buckley passed away. The campus has honored her work in diversity and inclusion by designating Sullivan Student Center Conference Room 336 as the Kathleen Buckley Room. Learn more.]
“Personal spiritual development is supported in whatever framework the students, faculty, staff, or alumni find themselves,” explains St. Lawrence University Chaplain the Rev. Kathleen Buckley. “In other words, we meet their needs; it’s not about us.”
In discussing spirituality and its misconceptions, Buckley explains it is often misunderstood as a sole reference to religion. However, spirituality is a practice not just limited to a sermon in the chapel or a prayer at home. Rather, spirituality comes in all shapes and sizes. In its most raw form, it can be defined as the presence of one’s concern with one’s inner being and values.
At St. Lawrence, the University supports the expression of spirituality primarily through the Chaplain’s Office, staffed by Buckley and the Rev. Shaun Whitehead, who both support various curricula and provide resources to complement support services for the community in times of need. The Office has developed a variety of programming designed to engage students in a conversation about their own beliefs.
One of the programs is appropriately titled, BYOB—Build Your Own Beliefs. It is an invitation to gather and explore one’s spirituality—whatever that might mean to them.
“The goal of BYOB is to provide an opportunity each semester for a small group of St. Lawrence students to carve out time to integrate who they are with what they are learning and what they believe,” according to the program summary. Beyond its specific goals as a program, the title “Bring Your Own Beliefs” serves as a conceptual illustration of the work that the St. Lawrence University Chaplain’s office does on a day-to-day basis.
“It’s not like we have a script,” says Buckley. “It’s about where people are at and how we can meet their needs.”
For the campus and community the chaplains provide spaces for meditation and reflection along with a gospel worship service led by Whitehead each Sunday during the academic year. Gunnision Memorial Chapel is also home for annual traditions from convocation and Moving Up Day to the Blessing of the Animals.
“We have had memorials for international students who couldn’t go home when a loved one died, memorials for students who have passed” says Buckley, “along with rituals of saying goodbye to unhelpful habits. I have even baptized twins with family abroad tuning in through live feeds from Ireland and England—both at pubs, I am quite sure,” she adds.
Although Gunnison Memorial Chapel serves as home base, the work of the chaplains extends far beyond 23 Romoda Drive. Buckley says they often have alumni reach out with requests. “We have performed every configuration of wedding ceremony, been part of many family milestones, and remain connected to alumni all around the world,” Buckley says. “I once even blessed a goat barn!”
Passionate about what they do, and eager to aid in the process of spiritual practice and self-exploration, the Chaplain’s Office provides all members of the community with a place to be vulnerable. “I love the questions of searching hearts and minds,” Buckley attests.
When asked about her experience as University Chaplain, Buckley says, “I have to tell you, it’s been the greatest gift of my life. I have the privilege of working with you all. Some of the brightest folks on the planet—asking deep and important questions, and I get to journey with you. It doesn’t get any better.”