CFJ to absorb Interfaith activities

Center for Interfaith and Community Engagement will close after spring term

A team of full-time chaplains and new work on leading interfaith initiatives are among the changes to come as a result of the decision to close the Center for Interfaith and Community Engagement and have the Center for Faith and Justice (CFJ) absorb all Interfaith-related activites.  The decision was announced earlier in the semester and will take effect in the fall.

The framework for this plan was put into place last summer when Father Michael Graham, president, asked the CFJ to oversee the daily operations of the Center for Interfaith and Community Engagement after its executive director, Rabbi Abie Ingber, announced his retirement.

After a semester of joint work, students and faculty, with approval from university leadership, decided that merging the two organizations would strengthen future religious work on campus.

Members of the Center for Interfaith and Community Engagement will begin working as part of the CFJ team, focusing specifically on interfaith dialogue on campus.

Joining and leading this new staff will be a team of full-time chaplains on campus. These positions include a new Jewish chaplain as well as full-time Muslim and Baptist chaplains. Currently, the transition team is discussing whether or not the current part-time Muslim chaplain and gospel choir director will be taking on full-time roles.

Stephanie Renny, the program director for the Center for Interfaith and Community Engagement, said she hopes that, with these new positions, more students will find where they belong on campus.

Senior Director of the CFJ Greg Carpinello said this new cohort will work in conjunction with the CFJ to be more present on campus in leading interfaith initiatives.

“Our hope is to engage students around religious difference and to help prepare them to go into a world where religious difference is something that they celebrate, that animates their curiosity and ultimately informs the way they seek the common good both here at Xavier and beyond,” Carpinello said.

He added that another critical part of this transition will be a group of diverse student leaders who will form a temporary Interfaith Advisory Task Force. This group will work directly with the new team of chaplains during the summer to help develop specific interfaith programs that work to increase interfaith dialogue on campus.

Abby Anderson, the Assistant Director for Retreats in the CFJ, echoed Carpinello’s words about the importance of this work on campus.

“Interfaith work is critical for us as a university and particularly as a Catholic university,” Anderson said. “…We can ground people who are both Catholic and of different traditions within a Church atmosphere that helps people learn.”

Ultimately, Carpinello said, they hope to reach a wider audience and to build relationships across the differences of faculty, staff and students thanks to the merge.

“This is all really just the start of what is going to be an even more intentional plan to process interfaith in the future,” he said.

This is not to say that interfaith dialogue was not already present on campus. Senior Lauren Dencker, who served on the Interfaith Cabinet, said that there were frequent events to facilitate this dialogue but that it was sometimes difficult to get students to show up.

“This merger has a lot of potential,” she said. “It could serve as a way to make everyone more aware of the different belief systems that are within our student body.”

Similarly, Renny expressed hope for the plan, saying it has “potential for a lot of great things” and is “guided by good intentions.”

She added that though the center will officially close, its rich history will remain. For the last 10 years, the center has existed as a place to create dialogue among faiths, which is important to Xavier, part of the Jesuit charism and part of what Catholics are called to do, she remarked. It has been active in forming a community, promoting tolerance and celebration through events such as the Wall of Expression and the Interfaith Retreat.

Renny’s position will no longer exist after the center closes in May, and she will be leaving the university. However, she hopes that interfaith work on campus will continue to provide invaluable skills and experiences for students.

More details about the merge will come in the next few months. For now, Carpinello said, the focus is on building the staff and team that will serve the newly combined centers.

Applications for the task force are currently available on the CFJ Leadership Application, found on the Xavier website.

By: Alex Budzynski | Staff Writer