The first chapel service for Northeastern University students was held in October 1927 in the Church of the Messiah, on the corner of Gainsborough and St. Stephens streets. The weekly mid-day service was instituted by Charles W. Havice, the advisor to the Student Union. The services were "non-denominational worship periods at which visiting representatives of different faiths gave ethical and moral talks to students" (Marston 124). In 1940, Dr. Havice resigned from his duties as the advisor to the Student Union and was named the first Dean of Chapel. When the new Student Center was opened in 1947, it housed the Bacon Memorial Chapel, a gift from Chandler and Co. and dedicated to the memory of Charles F. Bacon, a long-time employee of the company.
In 1960, President Knowles allowed denominational religious activities, which had previously been forbidden, on campus: "The University is interested in encouraging all students to affiliate with religious organizations of their choice in their own parishes or in Boston. The University sponsors non-sectarian chapel services on a voluntary basis which are open to students once a week in the Bacon Memorial Chapel. The University does not charter student organizations which establish separate student groups on nationalistic, racial, political or religious bases" (Frederick 59). With growing enrollments leading to a more diverse student body, Knowles acknowledged the need for a unifying structure within which religious activity could take place (Frederick 60).
This challenge was met in part by the formation of two supervisory bodies in 1966 that served alongside the Dean of Chapel, The Interfaith Council and the Faculty Committee on Religious Life. Prior to Dean Havice's retirement in 1974, the Interfaith Council (now named the Chaplain's Association ), stepped up to support the administrative functions of the office, as the University transitioned from a Dean of Chapel to the more collective Office of Religious Life. Management of religious life on campus continued to occupy the second floor of Ell Building. The chaplains were not paid by NU, but offered pastoral care to its faculty, staff, and students; delivered the convocations at graduation; offered university services; and organized campus religious programs. There have been varying numbers of chaplains at NU over time, representing many faiths. Episcopal chaplain Colin Gracey served full-time at NU from the mid-1960s until his retirement in 2004.
The Faculty Committee on Religious Life (renamed the Advisory Board on Religious Life in 1971) worked as a liaison between NU and the chaplains. Composed of faculty and staff, the Board acted as a resource for chaplains and helped in programming and planning events with other NU units. In 1977, the chaplains activities were removed from the oversight of the Dean of Students and placed under the Vice President for Administration. At this time, a full-time administrative secretary was hired, Alice Scott, and the Office of Religious Life became a formalized entity.
In October 1983, a Reaffirmation of Faith Service was held to celebrate the newly renovated Charles F. Bacon Memorial Chapel. The chapel renovation was led by the Religious Advisory Board to create a more inclusive space for the growing variety of faiths held by the student body. In particular, the pews were unbolted so that Muslims could worship in the space.
In 1992, the Office of Religious Life became the more inclusive Office of Spiritual Life. In 1993, NU architecture professors Monica Ponce de Leon and Nader Therani were commissioned to design a new layout for the Bacon Memorial Chapel. After several meetings in 1992, President Curry and the chaplains agreed that a more inclusive sacred space would better cater to the growing diversity of faiths in the student population. The pews were removed permanently. The design of the Sacred Space won the Boston Society of Architects award for unbuilt architecture in November 1996. When a fire destroyed the chapel in December 1996, the insurance money was used to expedite the building of the new Sacred Space. The Spiritual Life Center was finished and dedicated in 1998.
In 2000, Michael Woodnick filled the new position of Director of Spiritual Life, after having completed a three-year term as Chair of the Spiritual Life Advisory Board. The Director assumed the administration of the Spiritual Life Center and helped coordinate the work of the chaplains. Also at this time, the Spiritual Life Advisory Board was expanded to include students and served as an important means of communication among the NU community, the Chaplain's Association, and the Office of Spiritual Life. In 2004, Shelli Jankowski-Smith replaced Michael Woodnick when the directorship was expanded to a full-time position. As a result, the Spiritual Life Advisory Board was phased out in 2005. In 2007, the Spiritual Life Center's administrative offices were relocated to the second floor in Ell across from the Sacred Space.
In 2012 the Spiritual Life Center was expanded and reimagined as the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, with Alexander Levering Kern as Executive Director. The Center builds partnerships across University departments and disciplines, and with religious communities and public service agencies locally, nationally, and internationally to help students become engaged citizens, peace builders and equipped as leaders to tackle pressing global problems. The work of the Center is organized into two mutually reinforcing spheres. The Sphere of Spirituality and Interfaith Engagement offers students, faculty and staff opportunities to explore their personal spirituality, diverse religious traditions, learn ethical reflection and decision-making, and develop interfaith appreciation and competence. The Sphere of Service and Social Action, Coordinated by the Social Justice Resource Center (SJRC), serves as an inclusive hub of innovative justice-minded thinking, collaboration and action that empowers students, faculty and staff to help enact a society that is equitable and peaceful.
Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service Website: http://www.northeastern.edu/spirituallife/
Feldscher, Karen. Northeastern University, 1989-1996. The Curry Years: Smaller but Better. Boston: Northeastern University, 2000. LD4011.N22 F45 2000
Frederick, Antoinette. Northeastern University: An Emerging Giant: 1959-1975. Boston: Northeastern University, 1982. LD4011.N22 F7x
Gracy, Colin. Telephone interview with Michelle Light, December 2002.
Marston, Everett C. Origin and Development of Northeastern University, 1898-1960. Boston: Northeastern University, 1961. LD4011.N22 M3
Northeastern University Student Handbook, 1966-2004. Boston: Northeastern University.
Spiritual Life Office Website: http://www.neu.edu/spiritual_life/