March 29, 2022

This article is one in an occasional series about the people, offices, and services dedicated to supporting WPI students and our community.

The college years can be a time of intense personal growth in many areas, including those of a spiritual or religious nature. To help provide exploration, guidance, and answers to questions that can arise, WPI has a thriving Collegiate Religious Center which is led by three resolute chaplains deeply invested in the spiritual growth and support of all members of the WPI community.

WPI’s campus chaplains serve as a resource for anyone who wants to deepen their faith or explore or expand their spiritual identity and worldview. The chaplains help support community members through major life changes and challenging times and offer mentoring in faith and spiritual or emotional guidance. Additionally, the chaplains work closely with faculty and staff to educate them on spiritual resources available for students and help the community to appreciate, respect, and embrace the diverse faiths practiced here.

The three chaplains that currently serve the WPI community are Father Alfredo Porras, Reverend Cheryl Leshay, and Rabbi Ahuvah Loewenthal. Each brings a different and valuable background and perspective to how they serve the WPI community.

In his second year at WPI, Fr. Alfredo Porras, ‘13, is a priest of the Diocese of Worcester who serves as Catholic Chaplain and as Diocesan Master of Ceremonies. He considers himself a trusted resource for the WPI community and assists individuals in their pursuit of truth, particularly as they try to understand the world and how they fit into it. He accompanies individuals wherever they are on their spiritual and life journeys and works to help them navigate the difficult questions in life.

The guidance Fr. Porras provides can look different depending on the needs of the individual he’s speaking with. “With some, we may discuss a challenging situation they may be facing and with others, we may pray with Scripture and try to understand how God is at work in their lives. Sometimes we simply talk about movies or food or games.” said Fr. Porras. He believes that challenging times are difficult precisely because they force us to face the deeper questions of reality and in turn challenge our normal approach to life, and noted that faith has to do with finding answers to those deeper questions.

Reverend Cheryl Leshay is a Unitarian Universalist minister who believes her interactions with individuals come from the perspective of an interested person who genuinely wants to know what others believe. “If someone asks me about a particular religion or spiritual experience, I follow their lead and try to help them connect with others of similar experience.” said Rev. Leshay. “If they are looking to find out about a religion or belief system other than their own, I help them find accurate information. I leave most encounters with a referral to a resource and an invitation to chat about it later.”

Rev. Leshay believes faith can help humanity get through the challenges of life, explaining that religions allow us access to time-tested practices that help us get “out of our heads” and into our hearts. She believes that there are guidelines, even rules, for social interaction and morality that vary from religion to religion, but having those guidelines can help us when everything around us is changing and uncertain. “Spiritual practices, like prayer or meditation, help us to focus ourselves,” Rev. Leshay said. “Belief in a deity is optional, but faith in something is essential to helping us keep hope alive even in the darkest times.”

Rabbi Ahuvah Loewenthal helps members of the community explore the Jewish identity and Jewish religious culture and is available to all members of the WPI for consultation and education. She enjoys helping others find beauty and meaning in ancient traditions while imagining ways of practice that are useful in contemporary life.

Rabbi Loewenthal works closely with individuals to help affirm their varied points of connection with Judaism. “Judaism may represent for them a philosophy, a set of values, an ethnicity, embodied ritual practices, a family tradition, or something else. I invite each person to explore how rooting in some way to this ancient tradition might bring meaning and beauty,” said Rabbi Loewenthal. She believes that when facing challenging times, we can benefit from connecting with something larger and more long-standing than ourselves. “For some, this may be connecting with God or Nature or the Universe. For others, this may be connecting with traditions, stories, and values. In connecting, we may feel accompanied and less alone.”

Each of the chaplains offered their advice to the WPI community. “Being an alum myself, I know how easy it is amid projects and deadlines to forget to take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture. It is by taking ourselves lightly that we can learn how to soar!” said Fr. Porras. Rabbi Loewenthal said, “Please feel free to show up as yourself, exactly where you are right now. You matter.” And Reverend Leshay said, “The opportunity to find a deeper experience, a more meaning-filled one, is just a conversation away. If you feel overwhelmed, come give us some of your worries, your sadness, your surprise, your joy.”

The Office of Multicultural Affairs is hosting Dinner with a Chaplain on Sundays during D-Term with Worcester faith leaders and clergy to provide an opportunity for the community to meet and get to know the WPI chaplains. Dinners are provided free; details are on TechSync and the university calendar. Learn more about the chaplains and student organizations of faith advisors here. For information on events happening at the Collegiate Religious Center, click here.