Monday, October 28, 2002

Louisville seminary president resigns

Man who brought Presbyterian headquarters to city cites health woes

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - The man credited with helping bring the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) headquarters to Louisville has resigned, citing chronic health problems.

The Rev. John Mulder, president of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary President, is stepping down after 21 years.

He said in his resignation that he had recently suffered some mild strokes. Mr. Mulder said his health problems have kept him away from work for several months.

He said he could not continue as president but hoped to recover and conduct research.

Mr. Mulder is credited with leading the seminary in a growth period and helping bring his denomination's headquarters to Louisville.

"I have so much more I want to accomplish in service to God and I want to devote more time to my dear family," said Mr. Mulder, 56, the second-longest-serving president in the seminary's 150-year history.

"I am resigning my current responsibilities for health reasons, not retiring from God's work."

Mr. Mulder is best known in Louisville for his leading role in persuading the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to move its headquarters to the city in 1988, kick-starting the revitalization of the city's waterfront.

"John Mulder was the leader who energized this community to believe in itself that we could compete with New York and Kansas City and Atlanta and Cincinnati," said former Mayor Jerry Abramson, who traveled with Mr. Mulder and other local civic and religious leaders to a Presbyterian assembly in Biloxi, Miss., in 1987, where they persuaded church delegates to move to Louisville in spite of a search committee's recommendation of Kansas City.

Mr. Mulder's resignation stunned faculty, students and others at the seminary. "John's leadership of the seminary, and indeed of theological education generally, has been remarkable," said Dorothy Ridings, chairwoman of the board of trustees.

Ms. Ridings, who broke the news to a gathering of students and teachers, said trustees have launched a search for an interim president and would also form a search committee to seek a permanent replacement.

"I'm deeply saddened," said W. Eugene March, a professor of Old Testament. "It's always tough when you lose a leader of his caliber."

The seminary is officially affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, and although a majority of students are from that denomination, it trains students from 18 denominations.

The school has 226 students this semester, studying for degrees such as a master's in divinity - the standard clergy-training program - and a master of arts in marriage and family therapy, a degree program started under Mr. Mulder's auspices.

Mr. Mulder, who often joked that the seminary "robbed the cradle" when it appointed him president at age 35, has had a role in appointing most of the seminary's faculty.

The number of full-time teachers grew from 11 to 22 during his tenure, and Mr. Mulder also sought to diversify the ranks of the professors, one-third of whom are women and three of whom are African-Americans.

As president, Mr. Mulder oversaw the seminary's purchase of the historic Gardencourt mansion - which was regularly used for classrooms. And while he vowed never to lead a building project, he ultimately led the construction of a retreat and conference center.

A native of Chicago, Mr. Mulder is an ordained Presbyterian minister, a church historian and author of several books, including a series on seeking ways for the Presbyterians and other Protestant denominations to reverse their declining numbers.

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