Auburn Theological Seminary, one of the first theological institutions in the country to educate women, recently elected its second woman president.
Katharine Rhodes Henderson, the school's executive vice president, was elected Thursday to succeed Barbara G. Wheeler, among the first women to head a theological school.
Wheeler, who has led the institution for nearly 30 years, plans to become the full-time director of Auburn’s Center for Study of Theological Education (CSTE), which she founded 18 years ago.
The CSTE is the only research institute in the nation focusing specifically and comprehensively on theological education. Recent research projects have examined effective fundraising in theological schools and how seminary presidents interact with administrators.
"Theological schools face formidable challenges, both immediate and longer-term, to their stability and educational effectiveness. CSTE’s research and its consulting service have grown rapidly to respond to needs for information and requests for assistance," said Wheeler, who will step down from the presidency June 30.
"I am delighted that Auburn’s board has concurred with my request to turn my full attention to CSTE’s work. And I am deeply gratified that the board has elected Katharine Henderson, my most admired colleague and closest working partner, to succeed me as president."
Henderson, a parish associate at The First Presbyterian Church in New York, was invited by Wheeler to join the Auburn staff 15 years ago.
She holds a masters in divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York and a doctorate in higher education and leadership from Teachers College at Columbia University.
"Building on Barbara Wheeler’s distinguished presidency, it is my vision that Auburn emerges as a premier center for religious leaders to find theological depth, multifaith understanding, media savvy and literacy about the moral dimensions of public issues," said Henderson, author of God’s Troublemakers: How Women of Faith are Changing the World.
As executive vice president, Henderson launched several of Auburn’s signature educational programs, including Auburn Media and Face to Face/Faith to Faith, and built its department of institutional advancement.
Henderson’s longer term vision includes building a virtual campus.
Michael Gilligan, president of the Henry Luce Foundation, which provides funding for the seminary's work, called the board's decision the "best of all possible worlds."
"Auburn will strengthen its current leadership in theological education by focusing Barbara’s full-time efforts on enhancing the CSTE’s notable research and publications; and Katharine will bring strategic leadership, vision and energy to Auburn’s wider work, already well demonstrated in her years as vice president," he commented.
Auburn Theological Seminary was founded by Presbyterian ministers in 1818 in Auburn, N.Y., to train ministers and educators for Presbyterian and other Protestant churches on the American frontier. Following the Great Depression, the seminary moved to New York City to share Union Theological Seminary's campus.
Over the decades, the seminary has shifted its focus from training ministers to religious leaders. Auburn, which is related to Presbyterian Church U.S.A. through a covenant agreement, is also known for hosting programs that promote multifaith understanding and strengthening other theological schools through CSTE's educational research and consulting.