Section: Features

Parish House office renovations preserve professor’s legacy

Parish House office renovations preserve professor’s legacy

Photo courtesy of Rachel Kessler

Parish House isn’t just home to Friday Café — it’s a slice of Kenyon history.

The building recently underwent a seemingly minor renovation. The front room of Parish House was converted, by the simple act of adding doors, into a comfortable chaplain’s office for Priest-in-Charge of Harcourt Parish and Chaplain Reverend Rachel Kessler ’04.

The funds for the renovation came from former students, friends and family of the late Reverend Donald Lynn Rogan, professor emeritus of religious studies and former chaplain at Kenyon, who died Sept. 18, 2015 in Mount Vernon at the age of 85.

Following Rogan’s death, students, faculty and community members donated nearly $2,000 in his memory to the Parish House. They wanted to preserve his memory as one that honors both religious and student life.

Programs Director of the Kenyon Review Anna Duke Reach found the doors in former Kenyon Professor of Physics Franklin Miller Jr.’s attic in his house on Wiggin Street, which the Millers then donated. Carpenter’s Sons, a Gambier-based contractor, re-painted and fitted the doors for the Parish House’s front room. The renovation itself cost $1,800, and the remaining $200 will be used for student activities as well as general upkeep of the chaplain’s office. 

Rogan came to Kenyon in 1965 as both a chaplain and an assistant professor in the newly-formed Department of Religion. In 1972, he left his position as chaplain but continued in the department for the next 27 years, during which he held the department chair for 15 years.

When Kessler interviewed for the position of chaplain, Rogan was a part of the process. By the time Kessler arrived on campus in Nov. 2015 as the new chaplain, Rogan had died.

“I miss that he’s not here as a resource,” Kessler said. “I was really looking forward to having him as someone to talk to.”

During his time at Kenyon, Rogan was known for implementing what was considered an unorthodox world religion structure in the department. He wanted professors to teach every aspect of religious studies, from Judaism to Hinduism, which concerned some of the administration at first, as none of Kenyon’s peer colleges had similar programs.

Most students and faculty, however, remember Rogan for his draft and drug counseling during the tumultuous 1960s and 70s. He offered advice — both spiritual and practical — to students struggling with the violence and political turmoil of the period. While this counseling was sometimes met with disapproval from the administration, the students loved Rogan’s realistic yet kind guidance.

“He saw [the students] as searching for meaning,” Charles P. McIlvaine Professor of English Adele Davidson ’75 said.

Davidson’s favorite memories of Rogan are of the many dinners and parties he hosted at his house, from those for young professors, to retirement parties, to John Green’s ’00 mock-graduation, since he graduated a semester behind his class but wouldn’t officially walk until the end of the school year.

“It’s such a legacy to Don that the same home to Friday Café will also host his memory as chaplain,” Davidson said. Rogan and his wife were known for hosting food-related events whenever possible.

Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92, who took an introductory religious studies class with Rogan her first semester at Kenyon, remembers being invited to the house for apple cider, popcorn and class discussion. “It was the quintessential Kenyon experience, and Don was always so warm and welcoming,” Bonham said. 

Although he retired in 1999, Rogan never stopped inspiring students — he continued to educate part-time through weekly seminars at his home. “He taught his ‘last class ever’ a few times,” Kessler said. Rogan never fully committed to retirement, often stepping in to teach classes as the College needed.

In 2002, former students Myer S. Berlow ’72 and Caroline “Coty” Sidnam ’74 donated funds to create the Donald L. Rogan Professorship in Religious Studies. This chair includes a supplementary fund that can be used to support student activities.

Donald L. Rogan Professor of Religious Studies Royal Rhodes currently holds that professorship; he relates receiving the position to “inheriting Isaiah’s mantle,” with a tremendous amount of pressure conferred to him. Rhodes first met Rogan in 1979 at the airport, when Rogan came to pick him up for his Kenyon interviews. “When Don retired, outside evaluators told us we’d need four individuals to replace him,” Rhodes said.

Kessler said, so far, more students have come to see her new Parish House Chaplain’s office than visited her former office in the basement of the Church of the Holy Spirit.

“I’m supposed to be the chaplain for all students, not just those who identify as Christian,” she said. Kessler is also the Chair of the Kenyon Board of Spiritual & Religious Life, which started last year. “This gives students a neutral, yet well-known, space to visit.”

Kessler’s office hours in the Donald L. Rogan Chaplain’s Office are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.


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