Kate Smanik

This week I had the opportunity to meet with Kate Smanik, one of DePauw’s chaplains. Kate is an ordained minister trained in chaplaincy, and she shared a lot about the offerings of spiritual life on campus. Kate also talked about her life and by the end of the interview, we were having a fun conversation about college, religion, and being Kates.

Her Campus: Hi Kate! To start this interview, do you have an official title?

Kate Smanik: I am ordained, so I am officially the Reverend Kate Smanik. I can do weddings and baptisms and funerals and all those Christian ceremonies, but here on campus I am Chaplain Kate or just Kate. I don’t always like all of the connotations that come with “Reverend." I am ordained in the United Church of Christ.

HC: What do you do on campus?

KS: I oversee the Hartman Center; I keep this ship moving forward. I keep us thinking about our mission of this center and how we can serve our community. The Hartman Center for Civic Engagement is our full title and we do spiritual life, community service, and social justice, broadly. So, what the Hartman Center has done is take three existing programs and put them together. We are charged with thinking about how we work and how we can collaborate and do meaningful work with DePauw students in new ways for social justice. And, because of the work we do, while we exist for students in a lot of ways, a lot of what we do focuses on faculty and staff and the community, as well.

HC: How did you end up at DePauw?

KS: I am a chaplain by training. I knew I wanted to be a chaplain because my college chaplain had what I think to be the coolest job ever. For four years, I was the director of spiritual life here at DePauw, and then I was invited to do what I do now and sort of create this program. I took an existing service program and civic engagement and brought them together in an authentic place to be rooted in faith and a care for this community. Also, I love Midwestern liberal arts colleges. This is a cool space.

HC: What services are offered through this office that students might not know about?

KS: Well, first of all, chaplains are completely confidential. Maureen, Sami, and I are all completely confidential. Another thing is that spiritual care or pastoral care is all about walking alongside someone. So sometimes that comes with prayer, and a lot of times, on college campuses, it doesn’t. And that’s what I do, I want students to know that I am here to be that confidential resource if they feel comfortable and that appeals to them.

HC: Is spiritual care available for students who are not religious or even areligious?

KS: Yes, a former student used to joke with me that pastoral care is for everyone, even atheists. Yes, an atheist student can come talk to me about the deep, meaningful questions of life, and those can be sacred questions, and you don’t have to have God in your life for them to be sacred and important. For me, sacred doesn’t always mean “of God," or relating to a specific religious tradition. These questions can just be about where you are in the world, and that is important.

HC: So now, just in case students still have hesitations about spiritual life, are there any cool facts about you that you would want to share? 

KS: I am not cool, maybe that’s a fact. I’m a big nerd and I love books. I read a lot of fiction just for fun, I love to read for fun. I knit, I’m a knitter. I have a five-year-old son named Zach. I think he’s pretty cool, but I’m his parent. You are a Kate, have I talked about the Kates in my world? My wife is named Kate; I think God has a real sense of humor that way. So, because we didn’t want to hyphenate our last names, our son is Zachary Kates, because he’s the Kates’ kid. I think that’s kind of fun. She’s a Kathryn, k-a-t-h-r-y-n, though. We have that debate a lot. K-a-t-h-e-r-i-n-e is the superior spelling.

HC (Kate, also a Katherine): Oh yes, of course! Well, it was great to meet you, Kate! Thank you so much for your time!