New Rector, Old Family

A descendant of Philander Chase puts a new twist on Kenyon lore

Philander Chase left Gambier in 1831, but his great-great-great-granddaughter has just arrived. Helen Svoboda-Barber, a descendant of the bishop who founded Kenyon, recently took the helm as rector at Harcourt Parish.

Svoboda-Barber comes from an actively Episcopalian family that embraces Bishop Chase's heritage. "We are proud of our roots that go back to Philander, and we tell many family stories about him," she says. "Growing up, we had his portrait at the end of our hallway. In another room, we had a picture of Philander and his wife looking rather stern."

The famous story of Chase's selection of the site for his future college is often repeated in Svoboda-Barber's family--with one twist. "The family story," she says, "is that Philander arrived in the area, saw the hill, and exclaimed with satisfaction, 'Jehovah Jirah!'"--the Lord will provide. Svoboda-Barber learned only recently that, according to Kenyon's long-standing version of events, the founder's words were "This will do."

Aside from her relationship to Chase, Svoboda-Barber had no connections to Kenyon prior to her arrival. "When I heard they were looking for a new rector," she says, "I sent my information just for fun--just so they would know that one of Philander's descendants is a clergy person. When they sent me more details of the parish, I couldn't believe how well the job and my skills matched."

Svoboda-Barber holds a B.A. in psychology and human development from the University of Kansas and attended the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. Before coming to Gambier, she served as assistant pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church near Kansas City, as part of the "Called to Common Mission" program that shares clergy among the Lutheran and Episcopal churches.

The new rector and her family, husband Shawn and infant son Charlie, left their native Kansas in July. Svoboda-Barber began her service at Harcourt Parish on August 1.