Slow process in hiring new Chaplin

Roger Williams University has yet to post the job of university chaplain, a position left vacant after Rev. Nancy Soukup retired last November. That leaves a void in meeting the spiritual needs of students. 

“A lot of Reverend Nancy’s responsibilities have actually been divvied among other staff,” Assistant Vice President and Dean for Student Life Lisa Landreman said.

Soukup was hired in September 2011 as the university’s part-time multifaith chaplain. She became the full-time director of spiritual life during the 2012-2013 academic year. Before coming to RWU, Soukup worked at Brown University as an affiliate chaplain. Students referred to Soukup as Rev. Nancy.

In an all-student email sent out on Nov. 4, 2019, Landreman said Soukup was leaving “to pursue her passion for ministry.”

The university is in the process of assessing how to proceed with replacing Soukup — or if  it will do so at all, according to Landreman.

“We aren’t sure whether we want an actual minister or simply someone who will support faith development,” Landreman said, citing RWU’s non-religious affiliation.

Soukup’s responsibilities included supporting students in their faith development, supporting faith-based clubs on campus (such as the Christian Student Fellowship or the Muslim Students’ Association), hosting Catholic Mass on Sunday nights and supporting students who are dealing with loss.

“In my opinion, only a minister is able to provide pastoral or spiritually based counseling, while both a minister and a faculty member or professional staff member are capable of supporting faith development and religiously related programming,” Vice President of Student Life Dr. John King said.

Andy Costanzo, who leads Zen Buddhist Meditation sessions on campus, said Rev. Nancy exemplified everything RWU needed in a spiritual leader and hopes the next person will be as open and understanding as she was. 

Shane Carvalho, Christian Student Fellowship chaplain from Mt. Hope Church in Bristol, believes it is vital for the new chaplain to spread the importance of freedom for students to practice their faith.

“One who is able to realize that though respective faiths may differ, they can still work freely to help the overall experience at RWU be a great one,” Carvalho said.