Dear Friends: A Message from President Joel N. Lohr

May 13, 2024

There is a path in front of me. I don’t know where it leads, but I know that God is calling me to it.

It has been almost six years since we as a family arrived in Hartford. I still remember greeting student Ramy Marcos and his wife Amira upon arrival, who lived next door on campus. They greeted us so warmly. I remember Rose Lezak picking us up from the airport, at 5am no less, making sure everything in the house we’d soon call home was perfect. It had to be the most humid day I’ve ever experienced. I remember our movers, who unloaded things that same day, nearly fell over with exhaustion by sunset.

A few days later we hosted faculty and staff in our backyard, just prior to my first day in the office. Jim Robertson was then Chair of the Board, and he was roaming around campus between Heidi Hadsell officially retiring, on June 30, 2018, and me taking up my role, on July 16. I was struck by the wonder of it all. It was a special time. I knew then, and still know now, that I was joining something sacred. Coming to Hartford was a gift. Six years later I say that all again, only more so. Serving at Hartford Seminary, now Hartford International University for Religion and Peace, has been a gift, an immense privilege.

We’ve accomplished a lot together. When I met people early on as the “new President,” people would ask me: “What’s your vision for Hartford Seminary?” My response was always the same. I came here because of a vision that was already here. I did not come to create or bring something new. I came because I was interested in “Exploring Differences, Deepening Faith.” Despite changes – whether in name, degrees, new centers, or programing – I have remained committed to that vision. I’ve always thought my job is to reflect back to the community what it already did so well, and build upon that.

And build upon it we have.

We do have a new name, new degrees, new centers, new buildings, and some new people. Not only did we make it through Covid but we came out strong with new and redesigned degrees to meet today’s pressing challenges, from interreligious leadership to international peacebuilding.

We’ve raised millions of dollars for scholarships, research, and buildings, $3M last year, and over $13M since I arrived. We established the Howard Thurman Center for Justice and Transformational Ministry, and secured a beautiful building in which to house it, named in honor of esteemed alum Rev. Ambassador Andrew J. Young.

We’ve hired some of the nation’s leading religion faculty, to complement our already strong roster, including Amy-Jill Levine, Walter Fluker, Mona Siddiqui, Cheryl Gilkes, and Janet Fuller, to name a few. Structural changes to leadership have also brought dynamism at the top in the talented Lorraine Ryan, Vice President of Operations, and Deena Grant, Vice President of Academic Affairs.

We also just completed our decennial accreditation process, coming out as strong as ever. We’ve been fully reaccredited for another ten years as a university by the New England Commission of Higher Education and the Association of Theological Schools.

These things don’t scratch the surface when it comes to how we have rebuilt internal systems, handbooks, faculty structure, and operating procedures, which are strong to the core. This 190-year-old institution is now ready for another 190, and I am immensely proud of what we have together accomplished, and what HIU will accomplish in the future. With that, however, I need to share news today about my future as HIU’s president, and a decision I have made together with my family, and a few trusted friends.

Earlier this year I shared news with our Board Chair, Clare Feldman, and our Executive Committee of the Board:

I believe that God called me here to do the good work that we have done together. Now I believe that God is calling me to go forward on a new path, even though the destination is not yet clear. I need to surrender to that call.

This new path I feel God is calling me to coincides with, but is not necessarily because of, several significant life milestones and transitions.

This year I will turn 50. That means I’ve lived some 17 years longer than I ever could have imagined as a cancer survivor who was given a 50% survival rate when diagnosed and treated in late 2006 and 2007.

Two weeks ago, Teresa and I quietly became US citizens, something that is a blessing and honor, but also a huge leap of faith and act of surrender.

This fall our daughter will leave for Canada to begin her higher education, and we could not be prouder of her – though we will miss her dearly. That she will return to our native land having spent 12 years in the American educational system still seems impossible to believe, and yet how blessed she has been as a result.

Indeed, how blessed we as a family have been. That Teresa has now worked in the US for the same number of years, faithfully supporting our family and me while doing so, thousands of miles from her family and mine, startles me. As a tight family of three, we live in a close circle of deep love and support. I am so profoundly loved, supported, and cherished, all of which is a gift beyond measure. It may be the most important thing, in fact.

So having shared all that, and after a long process of thought and prayer, I am convinced that now – or at least soon – is the time for me to depart and for a new president to lead this great institution into an even greater future. God willing, I intend to serve until a new president is found, likely until June 30, 2025. Chairs have been appointed for both search and transition committees, and I hope you will all help in these processes. I am committed to assisting in the transition and ensuring that leadership at HIU remains strong until that new, dynamic leader is in place.

I also want you to know that I have not sought out or secured future employment, intentionally so. As I’ve already mentioned, I do not know what the path ahead holds. That feels uncertain and unsecure. Yet, at the same time, I also feel a deep sense of call in that. I am reminded of our ancient foreparents, Abraham and Sarah, who were called to leave their home to go to a land God would eventually show them. I am also reminded of Jesus who prayed three times that God might keep him from having to take the path ahead but ultimately submitted to God’s will.

For some of you this news may be hard to hear. It is hard to share it. I would have preferred to call each of you personally to tell you. Do not hesitate to reach out to me. Many of you have my cell phone number, and I will pick up your call. Also, on Tuesday, May 28, from 4-6pm, Teresa, Aviyah, and I will host an informal reception at our home on campus, an open house of sorts, in order to spend time with you celebrating some of the good work we’ve accomplished together, while also giving you an opportunity to say good-bye to Avi as she heads to college. She will be busy lifeguarding all summer, in Rhode Island, and is already packing up her Hartford belongings, which as parents feels oh so bittersweet.

For now, thank you, from the depths of who I am, for the work we’ve been able to do together, and for all your love and support. May God bless you, and HIU.

Sincerely yours,


Press Release: Hartford International University President Announces Plan to Step Down

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