Before becoming a Quaker minister and devoting his life to contemplative prayer and pacifism, Patrick Nugent was just another Xavier student protesting the abysmal state of campus dining. “Everything was mushy and squishy, overcooked and over-boiled. It was awful.”
But as fate would have it, the food led him to his future wife.
“I was causing disturbances in the food service,” Nugent says, “and she was asked to interview me for the school newspaper.”
Eventually Xavier changed its food service provider, and Nugent married the reporter, Mary Kay. He graduated in 1987 with a double major in classics and theology. She graduated two years later, an English major and Fredin Scholar.
Nugent’s first exposure to the Quakers happened near Xavier, at the Friends Meeting House. He liked the Quakers’ contemplative community, pacifism and commitment to equality of men and women in the ministry. He decided to become a Quaker, and was “drafted”
into the ministry while studying for his master’s degree in divinity at the University of Chicago.
After earning his doctorate in medieval church history, he started teaching, first at St. Xavier University in Chicago, then at Earlham College in Indiana, near the Quaker headquarters.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Nugent and his wife wanted to do something hopeful and constructive in the world. They looked for service opportunities overseas.
When the chance came up to go to Kenya, they jumped on it. Nugent became the principal of Friends Theological College, which educated ministers in a community called Kaimosi, one of the most densely populated rural districts in the world.
“It was like Manhattan only with large trees instead of tall buildings,” Nugent says. His office window looked down a ravine into a patch of old-growth highland rainforest, where black-and-white colubus monkeys swung from the trees.
Nugent’s job was to develop the college into a four-year, accredited, degree-granting institution, which he did over the five years his family was there. He expanded the programming to train the ministers in HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness.
When Nugent and his family returned to Cincinnati in 2007, it wasn’t easy to readjust to American living. “I miss the intensity of the relationships,” Nugent says. “I miss the deep satisfaction of the work. I miss the terrain.”
Nugent is now vice president of development for Beech Acres Parenting Center. Nugent says a common thread runs through all of his family’s work. “It’s the ethos of social justice that we were trained in at Xavier,” he says. “It’s carried us through everything we’ve done.”