Georgetown will welcome its first Hindu chaplain, army captain and chaplain Pratima Dharm, in October. After Dharm retires from active duty, she will begin working part time with students, professors and the Office of Mission and Ministry.
Dharm currently serves as the first Hindu chaplain in the U.S. Army and has worked at army bases and hospitals around the world for eight years, including a yearlong deployment in Iraq. She is the head conflict resolution/resiliency and suicide prevention chaplain at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Dharm will join Campus Ministry’s staff of Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox and Protestant chaplains.
According to Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., a group of students and administrators helped select the new chaplain from a competitive pool.
“We’ve been looking for a Hindu chaplain for a couple of years now, and we’ve been talking with students about identifying a Hindu chaplain and the type of chaplain they want,” O’Brien said. “It was a competitive open search, but she was identified because of our contacts with the local Hindu community.”
The selection committee included three of the past presidents of the Hindu Student Association, including current president, Smiti Mohan (MSB ’15) and former president Ronak Parikh (MSB ’12). According to Mohan, the administration strongly valued student input during the decision-making process.
“We are the individuals with the most working knowledge about the process, the needs of the Hindu community and what the role of a Hindu chaplain would look like at Georgetown,” Mohan wrote in an email. “However, HSA boards have been discussing the hiring of a chaplain since my freshman year. It was very exciting and we were thrilled that Campus Ministry valued and placed such an emphasis on including our student feedback in their decision process.”
O’Brien said that Dharm is the best candidate for the job because of her multicultural and multi-religious background.
“She brings a unique mix of religious sensitivities to the position. She is a woman steeped in her own Hindu tradition, yet she has also been engaged deeply with other religious traditions, first as an Army chaplain, which serves all traditions,” O’Brien said. “She has had deep engagement with Christians and Muslims and Jews, so she brings a really unique set of experiences, which makes her sensitive to our interfaith engagement on campus.”
As a chaplain, Dharm will provide counseling, Hindu worship services and blessings to any member of the Georgetown community who seeks her guidance.
“[I will] help the students understand and be in touch with their faith traditions and their culture,” Dharm said.“The Indian culture and Hindu culture is very deep and very ancient, and to be able to have some continuity, even on a campus, is very important.”
Dharm said that her experience with young people in the army has prepared her well for helping students with the stresses they face on college campuses.
“On active duty, the actual population that we take care of and administer to are the young soldiers. The issues are pretty much the same,” Dharm said.“There are issues of identity that we deal with and issues of suicide, which is very rampant in the Army. … There’s a lot of stress related to starting a new career in the army, and here too, with the academics. … [We are] bringing them the grace of God, the aspect of faith and the aspect of grace in all of our counseling and guidance.”
Mohan said Dharm will provide the HSA with a figurehead and role model in the years to come.
“I’m very excited for the HSA community to have a mentor and role model,” Mohan wrote.“I’m also excited to increase the awareness and presence of Hinduism on campus as the number of Hindu students grows exponentially each year.”
As the first Hindu chaplain, Dharm will add a new facet of religious diversity on campus, O’Brien said.
“From its founding, Georgetown has committed itself to service of students of different faith traditions,” O’Brien said. “We are proud of our Catholic heritage, but to be Catholic in the world today is also to engage in substantial interreligious dialogue, and our hiring a Hindu chaplain to serve on our staff reflects this age old commitment to the service of students of all faiths and to interreligious dialogue.”
Dharm said she is pleased to help the university on its way to a more diverse and culturally eclectic community.
“It is very important to note that Georgetown has a tradition of diversity and celebrating diversity, and I think that this is a step forward in that,” Dharm said. “You couldn’t go more into diversity, you have to always only step forward. Each step that we take is a lesson for us all as a community. There will be many more steps that I am confident Georgetown will take.”