Washington: America's prestigious Georgetown University has appointed its first Hindu priest - that too a woman - to serve the religious needs of its Hindu students, whose number has increased in recent years.
Pratima Dharm, who recently retired as the first Hindu chaplain in the US Army, has been appointed as the first Hindu chaplain at the Georgetown University, a move welcomed by the Hindu students of this top private research university here.
Founded in 1789, it is the oldest Jesuit and Catholic university in the US.
Dharm began her new assignment at Georgetown on October 1, the university said in a media statement.
Previously she served on Army bases and hospitals around the world, including a yearlong deployment in Iraq.
A native of Mumbai, she came to the United States in March 2001, only months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“War can dehumanise you and I was watching the dehumanisation of my soldiers, so I was fighting to give them a sense of family,” says Dharm, who began her stint with the Army in 2006.
“Army ministry has touched me so deeply and it has made me a better chaplain and a better human being,” said Dharm.
Trained in the Vaishnav Hindu tradition and endorsed by Chinmaya Mission, Dharm will lead the weekly Hindu pujas or prayer services, now attended by about 100 students.
She would also look at programs that could better Hindu education on campus and work closely with other religious groups on campus.
She said, “For these students, it means a lot to be able to practice their faith away from home, and many of them have traveled from far away to attend this great university.”
“The addition of Chaplain Dharm to the Campus Ministry staff is a big achievement for Georgetown and it will truly aid the university in fulfilling its mission of cura personalis by providing an outlet for students to deepen their understanding of Hinduism and to explore their personal faith connection,” said Smiti Mohan, president of the university's
Hindu Students Association (HSA).
Dharm earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey University in Mumbai.
She also holds a master's degree in psychology from Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu, and a master's degree in theology
from Ashland Seminary, a Christian seminary in Ohio and Michigan.
“The creation of a Hindu chaplaincy is another significant moment in this history,” said Rev. Kevin O'Brien, the vice president of mission and ministry and others at the university.
Georgetown was the first Catholic university to hire a rabbi to serve as a chaplain in 1968.
Three decades later, it became the first American university to hire a Muslim cleric to serve as a full-time chaplain.