On to the next chapter- retired UAlbany honors college director begins the journey to priesthood
By Nick Muscavage
Senior Staff Writer
Jeffrey Haugaard has quite the academic brag sheet.
He holds a bachelor’s in psychology and political science from the University of California in Santa Cruz, a college 30 minutes away from his hometown of San Jose. From there, he received his master’s degree from the University of Virginia in May of 1990 and began working that September at Cornell as a professor in the Department for Human Development under the College of Human Ecology, a position he held for 16 years.
While there, he penned a few books and also worked as a clinical psychologist, seeing two to three patients per week. But he never let this work distract him from his role as an educator. In fact, he received many awards for his teaching, such as the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Merrill Presidential Scholar Award. He was also named a Weiss Presidential Fellow, the most prestigious award for teaching at Cornell. In 2006, he came to the University at Albany to direct the Honors College, which he did until he retired in May of 2015.
As a clinical psychologist, Haugaard talked to patients and helped them figure out where they were at that point in their lives. He explained that there are theories that can help the person better themselves, and as a clinician, you help move those people towards that. As Director of the Honors College at UAlbany, he sat down and spoke to students about what they felt was best for their lives, never assuming what was best for them but rather talking to them to help them figure it out on their own.
“But what I really want is to help them. If I can help them figure out at this point in time what the best thing is for them then that’s what I want to do. And I think that’s what you do as a clinician, that’s what you do as a priest, its what you do in a lot of these roles,” he said.
Now, at 65, Haugaard is going to start a new chapter of his life. He’s becoming a priest.
The urge to become a priest is often referred to as a calling from God.
“That call for me was probably about 15 years ago. I remember, actually, I remember when it happened: I was sitting out in my backyard, I think it was after church on Sunday one time, just sitting there, and I was getting a sense of, ‘Oh, I could be an ordained ministry. I could do that. Even me,’” Haugaard said while sitting behind his desk in the Honors College office. He sat cross-legged, his hair and beard both long and gray, with a face that showed his life’s hard work.
That day was like any other day, he explained. “It was not, I mean, like thunder and lightning. It was more just a sense of, ‘Oh, maybe that’s for me.’ It was more subtle.”
Haugaard wasn’t always devoutly religious. Although he was born into an Episcopal family, and, like many children who grew up in the 1950s and ‘60s, he went to church with his family on a regular basis, he became more distant with the church as he grew older.
“When I went off to college I stopped going to church, and other than going occasionally when I went home to please my mother, I didn’t go to church again until my mid-40s — certainly not on a regular basis,” he said.
By then, he was living in Ithaca, New York at Cornell when he began to get a feeling that something was missing in his life, and thought that it might have been church. So, in his mid-40s, he resolved to attend a small rural parish in Slaterville Springs near the outskirts of Ithaca called St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
“I decided that I would go four times before I decided whether or not to continue rather than just going once, and by the end of the fourth time I felt very much a part of the small parish. There was maybe 10 people there each Sunday,” he said.
He said it felt inclusive. He described the people of the parish as eager to have him return. Now, with his faith restored, he notices small differences in his own demeanor.
“I think that over the years even almost without trying, I became a kinder person. I try to be more tolerant—well, tolerant is the wrong word because that sounds like you’re a bigot which generally I don’t think I’ve ever been. I just tried to be a nicer person. Not letting little things bother me as much. Trying to see other people’s perspectives more clearly. Trying to be more inclusive in the words of the church, trying to be more loving with other people, although that word kind of freaks people out,” he said.
Although his personality may have changed in a positive way, he is certain that religion has never affected his behavior while in a classroom or at work. “I’ve never felt the need to bring my religious beliefs into the kind of social science of clinical psychology,” he said.
Even as his religious beliefs flourished, it would still be some time before he knew he wanted to go into the priesthood. The road to this decision was very slow,and, according to Haugaard, filled with contemplations of why he would become a priest.
“To decide whether this is something that I would do in order to serve versus this would be a groovy thing for me, right? You get to wear this collar, and you get to marry people, and, you know, you get to do all that stuff. Was I doing it for that or for a way of serving other people?”
This was something he struggled with for years, saying that it was the first matter he needed to resolve.
Life interrupted, and he thought about it again, then went another six months without thinking of it. The process repeated off and on like this. But it seemed to be something he just couldn’t shake. It would just pop back up in his head again, he said. Then he moved to Albany, without informing anybody to start his new job as the Director of the Honors College. He began attending St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
“The rector there, the priest there, asked if I would like to just have breakfast some morning so we went and had breakfast at the Madison Café just down the block. And at one point she said to me, ‘So, are you thinking about retirement?’ and I just kind of blurted out that I was thinking about ordination as part of retirement,” Haugaard said. That was six years ago.
Mary White was the priest that met with Haugaard that morning for breakfast. She was the very same priest presiding over him during the discernment process, or the process of deciding if priesthood is the right choice for someone, and later on she was the priest during his ordination ceremony.
The ceremony took place on May 9, 2015, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on North Main Avenue in Albany. The church had a beautiful cathedral on one side with high stonewalls arching three stories above, with dark wooden supports stretching across the ceiling. There were stained glass windows of various saints and Jesus as well as other evangelical scenes down the halls. On the other side was a more modern and open room with tables and a kitchen to the far right, like a cafeteria. Food, a selection of finger sandwiches and sweets, was offered here after the ordination.
During the ceremony, there was a typical mass. Bishop Skip Adams gave a speech quoting Marvin Gaye, asking people, “What’s going on?” Halfway through the mass, Haugaard’s ordainment to diaconate began, as he kneeled in front of the ministries and was read his duties. “Today with Jeff we are allowed to invest in God’s great vision,” said the Bishop. He was now a Deacon.
Six months from now, if all goes to plan, he will become a priest.
Haugaard looks back on the day he believes was his calling and recalls a conversation he once had.
“I have a spiritual director, a wonderful woman, an 85-year-old catholic nun, and we were talking about, I guess, God’s influence on people’s lives and the word that she used is that God can give you a glimpse into something and then you have to follow that up. And I really liked that word and I think that in many ways that was that experience I had, kind of a glimpse.”