All School Meeting with Dr. Courtney Cowart '78

September 11, 2015
Pilar Cabeza de Vaca with Dr. Courtney Cowart '78

Dr. Courtney Cowart ‘78, Associate Dean and Director of The School of Theology Programs Center at Sewanee, spoke to the Madeira community about kindness and service at the All School Meeting on Friday. She shared her Ground Zero experience of the events of September 11th and her participation during the recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

 “My story is just one interpretation of events,” she said, and asked everyone to “listen with the ear of your heart.” Cowart reminded the students that they have a great opportunity through their Madeira Co-Curriculum placements to do work that will inform the choices they make for the future.

 “There is a better future that wants to emerge through you, individually and collectively.”

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, in her role as program officer for spiritual formation and development grants at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City, Cowart hosted the Archbishop of Canterbury, and a group of spiritual formation practitioners, for the filming of a Lenten series: The Shaping of Holy Lives. 

Cowart recounted he events of that morning 14 years ago and their impact on her ministries, first as a founder of the 24/7 respite center to recovery workers at St Paul’s Chapel immediately following 9/11, and four years later as founding co-director of the office of disaster response for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina.

She closed by allowing students to share their experience with community service and showing kindness. “The choices you make will have an impact on many others and maybe even all of society,” she said. Watch the All School Meeting in its entirety below.


Dr. Courtney Cowart is a scholar in the fields of ascetical theology and American Church history whose work has explored the relationship of spiritual practice and leadership. She is Associate Dean and Director of The School of Theology's Programs Center (Sewanee, School of Theology)

She is best known for her service to the church at the epicenter of recovery from 11th September (2001-2002) and Hurricane Katrina (2005-2010). Dr. Cowart’s experiences are vividly chronicled in her book published in 2008, An American Awakening: From Ground Zero to Katrina: The People We are Free to Be.

In 2010, Cowart left New Orleans to become director of congregational learning for The Fund for Theological Education in Atlanta. In this role she developed and taught congregations shared practices for shaping the next generation of Christian leadership. These practices, informed by her experiences of massive trauma, equip persons of faith to generate communities of safety, dignity, alliance, and resilience. She views the regeneration of these essentials for human thriving as central to the work of the church and its leadership, as Christians struggle against institutions and social norms that perpetuate violence and domination, and seek to establish contrasting ones supporting non-violence and peace. 

Dr. Cowart holds a B.A., Philosophy, Vanderbilt University, a M.A., cum laude, Ascetical Theology, The General Theological Seminary, and a Th.D., Anglican Studies, The General Theological Seminary.

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