Greg McGonigle departs from Tufts, Jennifer Peace named interim chaplain

Reverend Greg McGonigle and the head of the Fletcher Islamic Society Mariya Ilyas sit in the new meditation room on Feb. 23, 2017. (Max Lalanne / The Tufts Daily)

Former University Chaplain Reverend Greg McGonigle left Tufts to serve as University Chaplain and Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., according to a July 2 email from McGonigle and University President Anthony Monaco. McGonigle served as the chaplain at Tufts since 2013. 

In an emailed statement to the Daily, Catholic Chaplain Lynn Cooper praised McGonigle’s ability to integrate student ideals and social justice in his programming and vision as chaplain.

“Greg brought to Tufts an expansive understanding of what it means to be an interfaith chaplaincy in contemporary higher education,” she said. “From day one, he focused on student energy and social justice, approaching his leadership from a place of deep listening and compassion.”

According to Michael Baenen, chief of staff in the office of the president, McGonigle expanded support for various religions at Tufts.

“Some of the major accomplishments of [McGonigle’s] time here included establishing new Chaplain positions supporting Buddhist and Humanist traditions as well as overseeing the development of prayer spaces to meet the needs of Muslim students,” he said in an email to the Daily.

McGonigle worked with the other chaplains to strengthen the university as an interfaith community, according to Baenen

“We want to continue to build on what Greg accomplished during his time here,” Baenen said.

Before leaving Tufts, McGonigle sent an email to the student body reflecting on his time at the university, crediting various organizations and bodies on campus, from student affairs to faculty and alumni, for making the chaplaincy what it is today.

“We have built, I believe, one of the finest university spiritual life programs in the country,” McGonigle wrote. 

McGonigle cited several reasons for wanting to join Emory’s chaplaincy, including building a multifaith program like the one at Tufts.

“This opportunity [to join Emory University] arose unexpectedly, but it will offer me an exciting opportunity to engage more deeply with my longstanding passions for human and civil rights and peace, while helping Emory to build the kind of global, multifaith spiritual life program we have been developing at Tufts,” he wrote.

McGonigle also stressed that his decision to leave Tufts did not come easily and held an open house at Goddard Chapel on July 10 to say goodbye to members of the community.

“Because I love Tufts, this was a difficult decision, and I will miss the students, faculty, staff, alumni, families, friends, and neighbors whom I have been blessed to become close with over these past six years,” he wrote.

McGonigle did not respond to the Daily’s requests for comment at press time.

An Aug. 16 email from University President Anthony Monaco announced that Jennifer Howe Peace would serve as the chaplain ad interim in the coming year. 

Peace said in an email to the Daily that McGonigle reached out to her when he found out Tufts would need an interim chaplain. According to Peace, McGonigle introduced her to Michael Baenen, who will also chair the search team for McGonigle’s replacement.

“I first met Greg many years ago when he attended an interfaith event hosted by the interfaith center I co-directed with Or Rose from Hebrew College and Celene Ibrahim (the same Celene who served for many years as Tufts Muslim chaplain),” she said. “I have always been impressed with his work at Tufts to develop a distinct model of multi-faith chaplaincy.”

According to Monaco’s email, students, staff, faculty and others will have the chance to be involved in the search process, which is set to begin at the start of the academic year.

Overall, Baenen expressed hope that his search committee would be able to fill McGonigle’s position with a qualified candidate long-term.

“Given Tufts’ standing as a university, and the strong position in which Greg has left the Chaplaincy, we believe the position will be attractive to a range of outstanding candidates,” Baenen said.

In the meantime, Peace said she is excited about working at Tufts and applying her experience as a faculty member at Andover Newton Theological School and co-director at the Center for Interreligious and Communal Leadership Education.

Peace first met McGonigle many years ago during an interfaith event that she co-hosted with Celene Ibrahim, the former Muslim chaplain at Tufts, according to Peace. Since then, Peace has also visited the Tufts campus to attend different events hosted by the chaplaincy during McGonigle’s time as university chaplain including the Russell Lecture on Spiritual Life, conversations on models of interfaith studies, and visits to the Interfaith Center with students from her classes, according to Peace.

 “Much of the work I have done as associate professor of interfaith studies and co-director of an interfaith center, dovetails well with the work of university chaplaincy,Peace said. 

During her time as interim chaplain, Peace said she hopes to continue to build on the work that McGonigle was doing before he left, including continuing processes to strengthen support for both Hindu and Africana spiritual traditions.

 “I think that students will find in [Peace] someone who cares deeply about their experiences, and whose personal values and commitments align with the university’s own spirit,” Baenen said. 

Cooper echoed Baenen’s sentiment, saying she was excited to work with Peace.

 “Like Greg, she brings a unique expertise and spirit to Tufts and it will be a joy to continue this critical work with her and our chaplaincy team,” she said. 

Peace is working with the members of the chaplaincy to understand the different values and priorities currently in place so that she can effectively serve as interim chaplain. 

“My first week on the job has involved a series of warm welcomes and insightful conversations about the values and priorities of the Chaplaincy team. I see my job as both continuing to build on the momentum of good work already underway while offering my services in areas where I have expertise,” Peace said.