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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton welcomes new Christian chaplain Mary Perez to campus

When searching for someone to fill the role of Associate Chaplain for Christian and Interfaith life, college chaplain Schuyler Vogel ’07 said that the office was looking for “a deeply faithful Christian person who has a deep experience with campus ministry, with young people and with faith formation.”

Newly appointed associate chaplain, Mary Perez has a lot of what they were searching for. From their experience as a Sister, in campus ministry at both Harvard and Stanford University and in Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (IDE) work at the Science Museum of Minnesota, Perez has had a lot of experience working with diverse communities in faith and education.

For Perez, “What is exciting to me about this role is getting to work with the diversity of Christians and students on this campus, as well as connecting with local Christians in the community, faculty and staff and supporting the spiritual needs of students in general.”

Being able to connect with both the Carleton and wider Northfield Christian community is something that Vogel highlights as being very important for this role. “We haven’t been able to serve our Christian community as intentionally or thoughtfully these last few months without [a Christian Chaplain],” he said.

“We benefited a lot from community leaders in Northfield […] who care a lot about students here.” However, he said, “that’s very different than having someone whose role is dedicated to that. I’d love to see this converge between Christians despite differences.” Vogel thinks that Perez will play a big part in this.

Perez is excited to be joining the campus community, and said that, “In divinity school, I had a number of friends who came to Carleton as undergrads, and I was always struck by their curiosity and deep questioning and engaging with complex issues. Knowing them has made me want to be in a setting that really values curiosity and openness.” These values, she said, are “inspiring to me as a chaplain.”

As Carleton is a secular campus, community members come from a wide variety of experiences with Christianity and religion in general. Associate Chaplain Perez’s own experience is varied as well.

They are excited to engage in the ‘Interfaith’ part of their title for this reason: it “really fits with how I like to live my life. Prior to coming to Carleton, I had been at Harvard Divinity School (HDS) which has people of all religious backgrounds.” For them, HDS was a setting that encouraged “openness and exploration of the ways people create meaning,” whether that’s through community, cultural, and family traditions or finding new meaning for themselves.

“I like being able to support people as they are questioning what they have grown up with, and wanting to understand or questioning their place in the world,” they said.

“I love the diversity of Christianity. Christians are really diverse in their beliefs and expressions, in liturgical settings, in how they worship, in the ways they engage in and read the Bible,” Perez said. “In my experience, I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic schools.” They were involved in Catholicism during their undergrad at Stanford, and were “a Sister for about a decade.” Of her time as a Sister, she said, “I really loved getting to be a part of a community engaged in social justice” and getting to engage with theology. “I loved being a part of a community of Sisters who were guided by ministry and service as well as prayer.”

Since being a Sister, “It was there [HDS] that I brought in my understanding of Christianity as well as a deeper understanding of my own sexuality and gender. I fell in love with my partner, my now wife, and that led me to where I want to be in life. It felt like a continuation of wanting to be a person of love, rooted in the way I understand Jesus as an embodiment of love. Falling in love felt like a continuation of that journey.”

After leaving the community of Sisters and graduating from HDS in 2022, Perez and her wife have moved to the Twin Cities, where they are now part of a Lutheran church near the University of Minnesota. Perez loves engaging in the community there, which they describe as “beautiful, intergenerational, welcoming.” They say that they think of themself as a Lutheran-Catholic, Catholic-Lutheran and that they have “a rich experience to draw from.”

“Christianity, in my experience, offers a vision for radical kinship and hospitality and inclusivity,” they said. “Those things may not always show up in all Christian communities, but that’s the kind of Christianity I want to embody and offer to the Carleton community.”

In their role as the chaplain for Christian and Interfaith Life, Perez wants to offer support to both active Christians and those who might be struggling with their faith. “Queer, nonconforming people have experienced lots of trauma at the hands of the Christian community… That is the reality of Christianity in the U.S,” they said, “and not the whole story.”

They want to be an open door for queer students and anyone struggling with “hard experiences, big questions, or hurt.” As a Chaplain, they “want to be available for those students who want to talk about it or be angry about it, to hear it and say, ‘Yes’ to those experiences. Not just for students who feel like they have a space in Christianity.”

Vogel adds that “Conservatism and judgment can get tied to being Christian. Mary’s role will help with that and make [Christian students struggling with prejudice] feel accepted.” He says that for “folks who have left or stayed or are wrestling with their place in Christianity, the [new] chaplain can speak to legitimate critiques of Christianity.”

“I think Mary can be a source of community, of kindness and also of modeling what it means to wrestle with queerness and Christianity,” Vogel said. In this way, she “is uniquely suited.” He said that oftentimes there’s “a very narrow definition of what it means to be Christian. Realizing that no one else gets to be a gatekeeper of Christianity: that’s a beautiful thing.”

Vogel is excited to see what Perez can do in her role at Carleton, which he says is not just for students but for faculty, staff and the wider community. He said that Perez is “Warm, caring, intelligent… and can hold a space at the pulpit” for a broad Christian community, which they will do on Feb. 14 for Ash Wednesday.

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About the Contributor
Cecilia Samadani, Features Editor
I'm a prospective English major and Middle East Studies minor. I love all things related to art whether that be writing, drawing, music or dance, and am an avid cat person. Cecilia '26 (she/her) was previously a Staff Writer.

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