While Valparaiso University is not affiliated with any one Lutheran denomination, it has long had a very strong (and German) LCMS presence. Every presiding pastor of the Chapel of the Resurrection had been a Missouri Synod ordained minister including the beloved Rev. OP Kretzmann who was the president of the university while my mother was a student here in the Sixties, who through his 28 years of service to the school still remains one of the major influences at Valparaiso.

Until Darlene Grega.

In 1997 the university officially changed its policy to allow not only Non-Missouri Synod Lutheran clergy to serve in the Chapel but it finally opened its doors for female pastors to serve both in the Chapel but at the level of University Pastor. Needless to say, I had been one of many alumnae that cheered loudly when this was announced.

Rev. Grega was the first–and only–woman to serve as a University Pastor. Needless to say, Grega broke down many barriers and the proverbial glass ceiling of the Chapel had finally been broken!

Former university president Rev. Dr. Alan Harre, himself an LCMS pastor led the way to create an endowment fund to pave the way for an ELCA pastor to serve at Valparaiso.

On November 2, 2008 Rev. Grega became that pastor that so many alumnae had dreamed of.

From her biography at the Chapel of the Resurrections website:

Pastor Darlene Grega is the mentor for Fellowship House and the Residential Ministers (a.k.a. Piece Core). She leads the planning for the Chapel’s discernment retreats and has an abiding commitment to the spiritual needs of international students on our campus having worked, before ordination in 2006, over 20 years primarily with international students. She loves reconnecting at VU with the international community and offering them hospitality and helping others learn from them. A Valpo grad herself, she remembers the spiritual formation she received here and looks forward to being a new face in a crowd that is welcoming and committed to walking with you during your tenure here. By the way, you will also find her walking her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Muffin, around campus, and keeping up with her son Nathan, a senior at the college of William and Mary who is studying neuroscience.

And in another first, this past Sunday, she was the first female pastor to ever preside over the Easter Sunday celebrations and worship in the Chapel. ask any alumni, nothing can be compared to Valpo’s Easter worship!

Yet sometime this week, Pastor Darlene Grega died. The Porter County Coronor’s Office has ruled her death a suicide.

Valparaiso President Mark Heckler has issued this statement:

Pastor Grega was a beloved member of the Valparaiso University family, and we mourn the loss of someone who cared so deeply for the members of this community. Our sympathy and prayers are with Pastor Grega’s son, Nathan, her extended family and her many friends here at Valpo and beyond.

Pastor Grega has been a friend to many, and generously served our campus community since joining our chapel staff less than two years ago. In particular she provided significant counsel and support to women on our campus and built relationships with our international students to help them feel welcomed here.

It is obvious that Pastor Grega was a loved and valued part of the Valparaiso family. She provided to pastoral care to many, and was also a resource for the GLBT students on campus.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson has issued the following statement regarding her passing:

Darlene’s call to serve as the first ELCA pastor on the staff of the Chapel of the Resurrection has been the occasion for renewing and deepening our relationships with the University and its extended family of alumni and friends.

We have rejoiced in the strength of her service as university pastor with students, faculty and staff — a ministry marked by her distinctive gifts of warm hospitality, gregarious compassion for the suffering and tenderhearted, and tenacious advocacy for those who have often been kept at the margins of Christian community and public life.

Although the news of her death comes as a deep shock and disappointment, we entrust her to the mercy of God shown in Jesus Christ and share with you our hope in the promise of Christ’s Resurrection.

Pastor Grega was not a University Pastor when I was a student at Valpo back in the early Nineties yet I join the rest of the Valparaiso Community and mourn her passing. It always tragic when someone feels so hopeless that the only solution they see to end their own pain and suffering is to take their own life. Mental illness is an unforgiving bedfellow and can strike anyone regardless of age, gender or station in life. I mourn her passing as a fellow alumna, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the campus that has lost a dynamic and compassionate leader.

OP Kretzmann led Valparaiso during the height of the Atomic Age and nudged the school toward the Twenty-first Century. In moments like this, his voice still rings true:

If we are to survive the Atomic Age, we must have something to live by, to live on, and to live for. We must stand aside from the world’s conspiracy of fear and hate and grasp once more the great monosyllables of life: faith, hope and love. Men must live by these if they live at all under the crushing weight of history.