Catholic university reportedly becomes first U.S. college ever to hire Hindu priest as chaplain

Posted September 7

Georgetown University just became the first college in the U.S. to hire a Hindu priest as a full-time campus chaplain — an intriguing move for a Jesuit school rooted in the Catholic tradition.

Brahmachari Vrajvihari Sharan is, indeed, the first-ever Hindu priest to serve in such a role, though monks, who have less training, as well as laymen, have reportedly served as campus chaplains at U.S. colleges in the past.

Before Sharan's arrival, the weekly "puja" service was hosted by Hindu students because there was not a faith leader on campus to oversee the religious tradition, The Washington Post reported.

But this past Sunday, Sharan hosted his first service, with some of the students who attended expressing excitement over both his handling of the ritual as well as his full-time staff appointment.

"It means a lot," sophomore Priyanka Dinakar told the outlet. "It means the university cares enough to bring a Hindu chaplain for us."

Sharan, 31, has a plethora of religious training as well as an advanced education. In addition to training in India to become a priest, Sharan holds a doctorate in Sanskrit, The Washington Post reported.

He also taught in the U.K. and advises more than 20 temples across the globe, previously serving as "honorary Hindu chaplain" at the University of Edinburgh.

As for anyone who might be surprised that Georgetown has hired a Hindu priest in light of its Catholic heritage, school officials had a message: The college wants every student to grow spiritually during his or her time at the university.

"Part of our mission and our ethos is our desire to form the whole person," Rev. Greg Schenden, a Catholic chaplain, told The Washington Post.

Sharan, too, said that the college wants students to gain a "deeper understanding of their spiritual self and their place in an interreligious society."

Rev. Howard Gray, S.J., interim vice-president for Mission and Ministry, mirrored these sentiments earlier this month, writing in a blog post that Sharan was drawn to the university's "commitment to interreligious student formation."

"From its foundation in 1789, Georgetown, the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university, has been open to students of every religious tradition," Gray wrote. "The Second Vatican Council ... deepened the Catholic Church’s commitment to vibrant and substantive interreligious engagement, and inspired Georgetown to develop what is now the largest interreligious campus ministry in the country."

Sharan's hiring came amid a felt need at the university, as 300 Hindu students are currently enrolled in graduate and undergraduate programs.

A look at the staff listing on Georgetown's campus ministry website showcases the diversity of religious staff, with listings showing directors and chaplains who represent the Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

In addition to his role as director for Hindu life, Sharan will also work as a chaplain-in-residence for first-year students at Georgetown.

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