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Chaplain, professor Don Rogan dies at 85

Chaplain, professor Don Rogan dies at 85

Photo courtesy of Lynn Rogan

Rev. Donald Lynn Rogan used to tell a joke: “Four rabbis are sitting in a synagogue. The first rabbi gets up and says, ‘Oh God, I am nothing.’ The next guy gets up and says, ‘Oh God, I am nothing.’ They were professing how small they were compared to the greatness of God. Finally, the lowliest rabbi with the least esteem gets up and says, ‘Oh God, I am nothing,’ and they all turn to him and say, ‘Oh, look who thinks he’s nothing!’”

Rogan, College chaplain for 12 years and professor of religious studies for 27, died on Friday at the Ohio Eastern Star Home in Mount Vernon. He was 85.

Though Professor of Religious Studies Miriam Dean-Otting described Rogan as a “sage” and Royal Rhodes, the Donald L. Rogan professor of religious studies, called him a “lifesaver,” Rogan was never comfortable with these kinds of proclamations.

“He would never agree to be portrayed … as a self-sacrificing person, even though that’s who he was,” Rogan’s daughter, Lynn, said. “It wasn’t a mantle that he wore.”

In 1965, Rogan became Kenyon’s chaplain and an assistant professor in what was then called the Department of Religion. After resigning as chaplain in 1972, he continued as a faculty member for another 27 years.

Despite Rogan’s retirement in 2001, he remained anchored to the Kenyon community through seminars, dinners and a poetry group he hosted in his home.

“So many of the things that we now consider a given at Kenyon — its focus on the interdisciplinary, its global curriculums, the number of people who now go abroad — Don played a crucial role in all of that,” Professor of Religious Studies Vernon Schubel said.

Rogan was raised in West Virginia and often wrote pieces about this rural upbringing. He earned his bachelor of arts, magna cum laude, at Morris Harvey College and then earned a bachelor of sacred theology at the General Theological Seminary in New York City. Several years after he was ordained as an Episcopal priest, Rogan came to Kenyon as chaplain and professor.

Before he began teaching at Kenyon, the Department of Religion was biased in favor of Christian theology, according to Dean-Otting. Rogan, though faithfully Episcopalian, focused on creating a religious studies department that treated all religion as valid, important and instrumental to total human empathy.

“He always insisted that the religion department have a global scope,” Rhodes said. “That influenced the way that other departments then began to have that global perspective.”

Rogan is also remembered as a teacher who fostered deep connections with his students. Joseph Wun ’14 said Rogan’s seminar on the Book of Job changed his life.

“It was a course, to me, that felt like how school ought to be,” Wun said. “It was never about being right, or clever, or profound. It was about sharing with each other our readings and our questions with authenticity and honesty.”

Rogan’s students often talked to him about what was troubling them, even after he resigned as chaplain. During the political and social turbulence in the U.S. in 1960s and 1970s, Rogan unofficially took on the role of therapist for many students.

Muhammed Hansrod ’17, Rogan’s final student, studied exile and pilgrimage with him this past summer.

“His intellectual sharpness in the days and weeks before his death will continue to inspire me for many years to come,” Hansrod said. “To me, Don Rogan represents the apex of the human-centred education that Kenyon aspires toward.”

Rogan is survived by his wife of 61 years, Sarah “Sally” Larew Rogan; daughter, Lynn Rogan; sons Edward Rogan, John Rogan ’83 and Peter Rogan; 10 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and his sister, Jane Rogan Hoy. His funeral will take place on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 11 a.m. in the Church of the Holy Spirit. Rogan will be buried in the College cemetery.

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