The Peace Maker

Dean Susan Henry-Crowe leaves a legacy of religious pluralism and reconciliation

By Mary Loftus

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Susan Henry-Crowe

Bryan Meltz

With her bright copper hair, warm smile, soothing voice, and wise words, the Reverend Susan Henry-Crowe 76T has been a fixture at Commencement, worship gatherings, and prayer services for more than two decades as Emory’s dean of the chapel and religious life.

But beneath her calm demeanor is a fierce advocate for social justice. “I was honored and surprised when [President] Jim Laney invited me to take the position,” says Henry-Crowe. “He knew me from my days as an Emory student and an activist.”

One of the first female university chaplains in the South, Henry-Crowe has championed interreligious dialogue, pluralism, and worship space at Emory for all—Muslims and Christians, Hindus and Jews, the devoutly religious and the spiritually searching.

She led trips of students, alumni, faculty, and staff, through the university’s Journeys program, to Israel, the Palestinian territories, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Cuba, and other places of oppression or conflict, supporting the work of peace and reconciliation. “Journeys is about listening to people’s stories in the midst of suffering and joy,” she says.

She has comforted medical students as they cut into their first cadavers, parents as they learned about the death of their child at college, students struggling with their own religious convictions and traditions, and the entire Emory community during times of national crises, fear, and uncertainty.

Bobbi Patterson 94PhD, who was associate university chaplain when Henry-Crowe was hired as chaplain in 1991, says, “I’ve watched Susan draw a group of people struggling to move through a contested question toward understanding, as if her very presence were a light.”

And Mark McLeod 82PhD, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Emory, says the rich collegial relationship between the counseling center and Religious Life has provided “a very firm safety net for our students.”

Henry-Crowe sees her place as “affirming both particularity and universality on a richly diverse campus. Part of the way I do this is by being a companion and walking with people where they are. Another way is by creating spaces, both literal and metaphorical, that are undefined, open, safe, inclusive, and roomy enough to include everyone,” she says.

One of the most flexible of these sacred spaces, Henry-Crowe says, is Cannon Chapel, a place originally designed and since renovated to be multireligious.

Henry-Crowe began an Inter-Religious Council (IRC) to help students understand religious practices and beliefs other than their own through education, service, and socializing. She sought out religious leaders from other faiths to serve with her as staff, scholars, and interns in the Office of Religious Life.

Reverend Lisa Garvin, who has been named acting dean of the chapel and religious life, says pastoral care is part of Henry-Crowe’s identity. “She sees deep into the soul—of the individual and of the institution. With a gleam in her eye, she offers profound peace in the midst of conflict or chaos,” Garvin says. “I’ve learned from her that everyone has a place at the table, and that the table is large and round, yet intimate.”

Henry-Crowe made sure that Emory not only acknowledged the religious life of students outside a Western context, but championed it, says former Hindu religious life adviser Harshita Mruthinti Kamath 12PhD, now assistant professor of religion at Middlebury College.

“Through her pioneering vision,” she said, “Emory began to incorporate [multiple] religious prayers into its university-wide ceremonies, such as freshman convocation, baccalaureate, Commencement, and even presidential inaugurations.”

Founder of the Muslim Student Association, religious life adviser Isam Vaid 93OX 95C 98PH says he found a kindred spirit in Henry-Crowe from the beginning. “Her emphasis has consistently been that mutual respect should be the prevailing standard—we can’t settle for tolerance,” he says.

An ordained United Methodist elder and the first female president of the United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council, Henry-Crowe will become general secretary of the General Board of Church and Society— the United Methodist Church’s main arm for social justice and advocacy, education, and international outreach, based in Washington, D.C.

At Emory, Henry-Crowe was named one of the university’s 175 Makers of History, and has served as adjunct faculty at Candler School of Theology, where in 1995 she received the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

“Susan Henry-Crowe has left an indelible stamp on religious life at Emory. Indeed, she has built a national model for how to care for the spiritual needs and longings of the students, faculty, and staff on a university campus,” says President James Wagner. “Perhaps her most lasting contribution will be the ways she has helped reinforce Emory’s vibrant Methodist heritage while leading an interfaith ministry that nurtures both authentic expression of one’s own faith and respect for the many religious traditions in our diverse community.”

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