Paul Rorem, PhD ’80, is an ordained Lutheran minister and Princeton Theological Seminary professor known for introducing hymn texts to help students delve deeper into church history, and for bringing students a greater appreciation for the many women leaders of the medieval church.
Rorem, who received his PhD at Princeton Seminary, is retiring on June 30 after 27 years, along with his wife, Kate Skrebutenas, the Seminary Library’s former director of research and public services. He was originally drawn to Princeton Seminary for its high scholarly standards and the fact that PhD students study alongside ministerial students.
“I tried to intersect parish ministry perspectives with my teaching, and I hope the students and my departmental colleagues appreciate the balanced overlap of scholarly studies with ministerial preparation and formation,” says Rorem, the Benjamin B. Warfield Professor of Medieval Church History.
He often used hymns in his teaching to connect church history and ministerial preparation, and got immense satisfaction from introducing his students to women authors and theologians with whom they were unfamiliar in his course, "Women Leaders of the Medieval Church."
“There were dozens of women in the early and medieval church who were clearly leaders, whether preachers, theologians, or authors, whose stories need to be known and lifted up,” says Rorem. “It’s a happy surprise for students when they see how many women were recognized for their writing and influence at that time, and the struggles and barriers that had to be negotiated.”
“I had the good luck to have Paul as my preceptor, where I experienced his rare mix of pedagogical clarity and pastoral kindness,” says Elaine James, PhD '13, ThM '08, MDiv '07, associate professor of Old Testament. “I loved learning about Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim and other women leaders, whose contributions Paul consistently emphasized, expanding my sense of diversity and possibility within the church’s traditions.”
One of Rorem’s most popular courses, "St. Augustine: His Confessions and His Influence," focuses on the life and thought of St. Augustine of Hippo. Students appreciated the opportunity to read the entire work slowly over time and to discuss each section in small groups.
“For many students, the course profoundly affected their spiritual growth and became quite personal for them because Augustine is good at pulling you into his story,” says Rorem.
Rorem has been particularly gratified to have served as a mentor to his students, and in helping his Lutheran students in their vocational and educational journey, taking an active role in their activities and courses.
“It is clear that Paul cares for his students’ education and formation, and is aware of their spiritual needs while encouraging them to be active in their denominations and churches,” says former student Jeremy Wallace, PhD ’13, MDiv ’06.
One of the things Rorem will miss the most is the direct interaction with all his students, particularly those outside the classroom.
“I often went to chapel and had lunch in the dining hall, and I would designate a day to be in dining hall with no agenda except meeting students, talking about coursework, their future plans, or maybe the Yankees versus the Mets,” says Rorem.