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Edgardo Colón-Emeric portrait
Edgardo Colón-Emeric Photo by Chris Hildreth

Edgardo Colón-Emeric

Dean, Duke Divinity School

By EDGARDO COLÓN-EMERIC, Dean, Duke Divinity School

Duke Divinity School is beautiful. This impression weighed heavily on my decision to enroll as a student in 1994 and still lifts my spirit as dean in 2024. Our Westbrook Building includes one of my favorite architectural features at Duke – high praise, considering the genius of Julian Abele that crafted Gothic majesty from North Carolina stone. If you step just inside the threshold of the Westbrook entrance you can see the Pentecost Window, a large wall of stained glass. With vibrant reds, blues and greens it depicts a cloud of witnesses gathered under a white dove representing the Holy Spirit.

I love the Pentecost Window. It radiates beauty and meaning. It offers a vision of rich, reconciled diversity as possibility and promise. Each year we share a piece of this window with our graduating students. We don’t dismantle the stained glass, but we order matching colored glass in the shape of crosses from the Statesville, North Carolina, company that created the window. In our Senior Cross Service, we bless our soon-to-be alumni and give them a stained glass cross. We give them a piece of North Carolina, a tangible symbol that connects them to the family of Divinity alumni who have embodied the Duke motto Eruditio et Religio. We give them a reminder that they belong to a many-splendored cloud of witnesses that includes congregational ministers, military chaplains, denominational leaders, community builders, nonprofit executives, and world-class scholars.

The Divinity School is located at the heart of Duke’s West Campus and the center of Duke’s centennial story. In the Indenture of Trust of The Duke Endowment, Mr. Duke counseled that the courses at the newly minted university be organized “first, with special reference to the training of preachers, teachers, lawyers and physicians, because these are most in the public eye, and by precept and example can do most to uplift mankind.” Since opening its doors in 1926, the Divinity School has considered “the training of preachers” to be not just a historical statement but a living commitment. The scope of the work has grown. Through dual degrees and certificates, we contribute to the training of artists and legal professionals, social workers and health care providers. We train academics, and we still train preachers. Currently, 800 of our alumni serve United Methodist churches and ministries in North Carolina alone. This is remarkable but not surprising. Our centennial story has deep roots in United Methodism and North Carolina. It was from Methodist pastors that the Duke family learned to combine education and faith. It was faith-inspired generosity that moved James B. Duke to transform Trinity College into Duke University.

When I reflect on the history of the Divinity School and its contribution to the mission of Duke University, I find much to celebrate. It was Divinity students who first openly challenged segregation at Duke with a petition in 1948, 15 years before the first Black undergraduate students were finally admitted. Our faculty are internationally recognized scholars. They are equally at home offering a named lecture in Oxford, England, or teaching Sunday school in Oxford, North Carolina. Although as a professional school our educational offerings are centered in the graduate student body, Divinity faculty teach in undergraduate courses that address perennial questions of purpose and meaning and the pressing challenges of environmental justice and food insecurity. Duke Divinity School would not be what it is without Duke University, and I believe the converse is also true.

Several years ago, I visited Assisi in preparation for my first meeting with Pope Francis as part of the Methodist-Roman Catholic International Methodist Dialogue. (I should note this as another example of how our roots in the United Methodist Church have also nurtured ecumenical commitments.) There I found a small wooden cross, which I now wear. It represents the message of St. Francis: paz y bien, peace and well-being, care for the poor and care for the Earth. In this season of celebrating the centennial of Duke University, I’m grateful to reflect on the ways that the “training of preachers” at the Divinity School has embodied this message. As we cross the threshold to our second century, I see visions of the cloud of witnesses dedicated to advancing studies and scholarship for the praise of God and the protection of the vulnerable. I dream dreams of the many who will be wooed by the beauty of Duke Divinity and pursue a kaleidoscope of Christian vocations promoting paz y bien for the uplift of the church, the academy, and the world.