The Reverend Whit Soards (Whit Stodghill; Big Ten Champion 1979, Tennis, #3 singles, #2 doubles) graduated from the Program in American Culture in 1981, where her work in the AC major taught her “how to read and write and understand the world in which I live and work.” From American Culture, she went straight to the Yale Divinity School, and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1985. Only the second woman ordained in the state of Kentucky, Reverend Soards remembers, during the first fifteen years of her work, being one of the youngest priests in the crowd and one of the very few women breaking new ground in the Church. Despite the lack of mentors and guides along the way, she persevered, eventually moving in 1996 to a local parish in her hometown of Louisville.
With the birth of her first son, Lloyd, Reverend Soards shifted her emphasis to hospital work in order to find a more regular schedule. What she found was new challenges and excitement, working among “all kinds of people in all sorts of situations, most of which are, for them, stressful.” Reverend Soards continues: “In this context I have to respect and appreciate all sorts of different ways people of different backgrounds have of handling illness, death and grief. At first, these many and varied ways of handling grief tended to shock me, and sometimes even bewilder me. But as I began to have more experience I find that I am most often graced by unexpected gifts from patients and families whose styles differ from mine. Just today I shared a lovely conversation with an African American woman, who told me all about her entire clan of children, grands, great-grands, and even her beloved great-great-great-grandson "JW," who just adores donuts! We prayed together, hands clasped and hearts united in our common faith, I an Ivy League educated priest, she a Pentecostal lay woman of significant faith, praising God and asking God for strength for the journey. My background in American Studies is part of what has equipped me for this delightful and challenging work.”