Rev. David O'Leary

The Rev. David O'Leary
© Mark Morelli

Father O'Leary named university chaplain

The Rev. David O'Leary has been appointed university chaplain, marking what is believed to be the first time a Roman Catholic priest has been named the spiritual leader of a private, nonsectarian institution of higher education.

Previous Tufts chaplains—including O'Leary's predecessor, the Rev. Scotty McLennan, the chaplain at Stanford University since last year—have reflected the university's foundation as a Unitarian Universalist institution. When the charter was issued to the Trustees of Tufts College in 1852, it marked the Universalist Church's first venture into higher education, and the first four presidents of Tufts were Universalist ministers.

"It's a pleasure to promote someone from within our university chaplaincy team," said Sol Gittleman, senior vice president and provost. "We couldn't ask for a more committed spiritual leader than Father O'Leary."

Gittleman said that the Rev. Patricia Budd Kepler, who has served as interim chaplain since McLennan's departure, "has been absolutely terrific. She always was very sensitive to the needs of Tufts. However, she has always made it clear she did not wish to be a candidate for this permanent position."

O'Leary, who has served as Tufts' Catholic chaplain and director of the university's Catholic Center for four years, will resign from these posts when he becomes university chaplain on July 1. He will continue to instruct undergraduates in the department of comparative religion and teach medical ethics at the schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine on the Boston campus.

"He will remain a priest, but he now takes on responsibility to the entire university," Gittleman said. "He brings catholicity with a small 'c' because he serves everyone, regardless of religion. This also is consistent with the Universalist origins of Tufts. The founders of the university stipulated in their bylaws that there would never be a religious test for employment. That also extends to the chaplaincy."

O'Leary said he's thrilled with his new assignment. "It's truly an honor to serve as university chaplain at a university that is home to people of so many different faiths," he said. "I'm also pleased to represent the Church as the first Roman Catholic chaplain at a private, nonsectarian university."

Reached at Stanford, McLennan said, "I'm glad to see he's been chosen as my successor. As a human being, he is wonderfully warm and friendly. He has been engaged in outreach to the many constituencies on the Tufts campus, which is critical for a chaplain."

O'Leary holds a Ph.D. degree in philosophy from Oxford University and undergraduate and graduate degrees from St. John Seminary College and School of Theology. He earned his licentiate in sacred theology from Weston Jesuit School of Theology.

He has written several books, including Roman Catholic Beliefs and Prayers: A Handbook for Those on a Spiritual Journey, and articles on spirituality, economic justice and end-of-life issues. As a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, O'Leary taught ethics at the Air Force Academy in Denver and at Air University in Alabama, holding the rank of major.

For more information on O'Leary's latest book, click on this link: