Filling Gomes' Shoes

New minister Jonathan L. Walton aims to integrate religious population into the greater Harvard community

“There is a lot to say about his faith, but also about things that extend far beyond faith,” Katz says. “He left an impression not just on me and my colleagues, but also on the students.”

Indeed, as a scholar, Walton says he relates to students’ anxiety about academic achievement.

“Students are anxious about grades and papers; I am anxious about my papers being accepted to a journal,” he says. “They are anxious about graduating and getting a job; I was anxious about getting tenured and keeping a job.”

Beyond his scholarly life, Walton is also a family man. His eight-year-old twins are named Elijah Mays and Zora Neale, after two admired figures: former president of Morehouse College Benjamin Elijah Mays and author Zora Neale Hurston. Walton says that he and his wife, Cecily, have decided to name their third child after novelist James Baldwin.

Having young children around changes the dynamics of his work and personal life, Walton says.


One Sunday, while shaking hands with the congregation after church, Zora was standing next to him, playing and ducking under his robes. In another incident, Walton and Katz went to a Harvard men’s basketball game against Brown in February, and Elijah tagged along.

“He is a great dad,” Katz says. “I would certainly love to have a dad like him.”


Following Gomes’ death last year, President Drew G. Faust assembled an committee to search for a new minister. Walton originally served on the committee before he stepped down following his nomination for the post.

On April 25, Walton received a phone call from Faust asking him to come to her office. Walton thought that they were going to discuss someone else’s candidacy and that Faust was seeking his advice.

But Faust announced that he had been chosen for the position, and Walton’s mind just went blank, he says. “My face had to be like something from the Publishers Clearing House.”

In a statement, Faust said that Walton would “bring new life to spirituality and religion at Harvard.”

“He is among the country’s foremost scholars of African American religion, a powerful preacher, a thoughtful pastoral presence, and a wonderful human being,” Faust wrote. “His scholarly and ecclesiastical callings are mutually enriching in the best traditions of campus ministry.”

Katz echoed Faust’s sentiments about Walton enriching the church.

“I was tremendously pleased that he was ultimately selected,” Katz says. “Professor Walton is interested in finding ways to place the Memorial Church at the heart of campus life.”


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