The college years can be a time of intense personal growth in many areas, including those of a spiritual or religious nature. To help provide exploration, guidance, and answers to questions that may arise, WPI has a thriving collegiate religious center that is led by three purposeful chaplains deeply invested in the spiritual growth and support of all members of the community. WPI.
WPI’s campus chaplains serve as a resource for anyone wishing to deepen their faith or explore or expand their spiritual identity and worldview. Chaplains help support community members through major life changes and difficult times and offer faith mentoring and spiritual or emotional counseling. Additionally, chaplains work closely with faculty and staff to educate them about the spiritual resources available to students and to help the community appreciate, respect, and embrace the diverse faiths practiced here.
The three chaplains currently serving the WPI community are Father Alfredo Porras, Reverend Cheryl Leshay and Rabbi Ahuvah Loewenthal. Each brings a different and valuable experience and perspective on how they serve the WPI community.
In his second year at WPI, Fr. Alfredo Porras, 13, is a priest in the Diocese of Worcester who serves as Catholic chaplain and diocesan master of ceremonies. He considers himself a trusted resource for the WPI community and helps individuals in their quest for truth, especially when trying to understand the world and how they fit into it. He accompanies individuals wherever they are on their spiritual and life journeys and works to help them navigate difficult life issues.
The direction Fr. Porras provides may look different depending on the needs of the person he is speaking with. “With some we can discuss a difficult situation they may be facing and with others we can pray with the scriptures and try to understand how God is at work in their lives. Sometimes we just talk about movies, food, or games. said the Father. Porras. He believes that difficult times are difficult precisely because they force us to confront the deeper questions of reality and in turn challenge our normal approach to life, and noted that faith has to do with search for answers to these deeper questions.
Reverend Cheryl Leshay is a Unitarian Universalist minister who believes her interactions with individuals come from the perspective of a self-interested person who truly wants to know what others believe. “If someone asks me about a particular religion or spiritual experience, I follow their lead and try to help them connect with others with a similar experience.” said Reverend Leshay. “If they are looking to learn about a religion or belief system other than their own, I help them find accurate information. I leave most encounters with a reference to a resource and an invitation to discuss it later.
Reverend Leshay believes that faith can help humanity overcome life’s challenges, explaining that religions allow us to access time-tested practices that help us “get out of our heads” and into our hearts. She thinks there are guidelines, even rules, for social interaction and morality that vary from religion to religion, but having these guidelines can help us when everything around us changes and is uncertain. “Spiritual practices, like prayer or meditation, help us focus,” Reverend Leshay said. “Belief in a deity is optional, but faith in something is essential to help us maintain hope even in the darkest of times.”
Rabbi Ahuvah Loewenthal helps community members explore Jewish identity and Jewish religious culture and is available to all WPI members for consultation and education. She enjoys helping others find the beauty and meaning of ancient traditions while imagining useful practices in contemporary life.
Rabbi Loewenthal works closely with individuals to help them affirm their various points of connection with Judaism. “Judaism may represent for them a philosophy, a set of values, an ethnicity, embodied ritual practices, a family tradition, or something else. I invite each person to explore how rooting in one way or another in this ancient tradition could bring meaning and beauty,” Rabbi Loewenthal said. She believes that in the face of difficult times, we can benefit from connecting with something bigger and older than ourselves. “For some it may be related to God, nature or the universe. For others it may be related to traditions, stories and values. By connecting, we can feel accompanied and less alone .
Each of the chaplains offered their advice to the WPI community. “Being an alumnus myself, I know how easy it is to forget to breathe deeply and see the bigger picture in the midst of projects and deadlines. ‘You can learn to get high!’ said Fr. Porras. Rabbi Loewenthal said, ‘Please feel free to present yourself as yourself, exactly where you are right now. You matter.’ ” And Reverend Leshay said: “The opportunity to find a deeper experience, a richer experience of meaning, is just a conversation away. If you feel overwhelmed, come share with us your concerns, your sadness, your astonishment, your joy.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs hosts a Sunday Chaplain Dinner during D-Term with Worcester church leaders and clergy to give the community an opportunity to meet and get to know WPI chaplains. Dinners are provided free of charge; details are on TechSync and the university calendar. Learn more about chaplains and religious counselor student organizations here. For more information on the events taking place at the Collegiate Religious Center, click on here.