Lieutenant Kim Donahue ’80
United States Navy Reserve
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 73, No. 2, Winter 2002
Aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, where women make up roughly 11 percent of the military crew, Kim Donahue is of an even smaller minority. She is the only female of four chaplains on board, one of only 50 female chaplains Navy-wide, and the first to serve on the Carl Vinson.
"The presence of females aboard ship can be argued as helpful or as a distraction," Kim says. "Before I came, there were some projections that my presence would be good for the crew, especially the females. There are some men and women who feel more comfortable discussing certain issues with a female. I feel my presence as one of about 20 female officers in a crew of over 5,000 has a positive effect on our female sailors who want to strive to accomplish professional goals. They look to each of us as mentors who have made strides in disciplines previously restricted to males."
In her unique position aboard an aircraft carrier engaged on a combat mission, it goes without saying that Chaplain Donahue's path has been the one less traveled by. Originally a pre-med major at Bowdoin, Kim had a change of heart after studying abroad in Nairobi, Kenya her junior year. As a result of a lunch meeting, Professor Bill Geohegan recommended Kim for a scholarship to attend seminary.
"I shifted all my coursework at Bowdoin," she remembers, "dropped my lab courses, and changed my major to anthropology-sociology so that I could have more time to explore the role and experience of religion in other cultures." Despite a lack of denominational support, Kim attended seminary and, by the end of her first year, women's ordination had become an accepted practice.
Eighteen years post-grad from Bowdoin, after serving churches in New York and New Jersey, Kim's path took another unexpected turn when she moved to Kentucky to serve as a hospital chaplain. "Part of my responsibilities there included oversight of a group of Army chaplains," Kim explains. It was then that she began to consider giving a weekend a month and two weeks a year as chaplain in the reserves. "My father had graduated from the Naval Academy and served in the '40s, so I was naturally attracted to the U.S. Navy." Kim joined the reserves in 1998 with the requirement of officer training and a minimum of three years active duty. Prior to her three year mark, she resigned her position at the hospital and accepted an indefinite extension of her active duty status, with her first tour as Command Chaplain at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guam.
The four chaplains aboard the Carl Vinson work as a team to meet the myriad needs of their fellow shipmates. "My schedule is oriented toward crisis counseling and long-term counseling for psychological and spiritual needs," explains Kim. "My training in anthropology-sociology at Bowdoin prepared me for observing, and so interacting creatively with, a subculture of the American experience not well known or understood."
Yet, reconciliation between a devotion to her faith and a role in the armed forces can be difficult and, at times, seem contradictory. "I thought long and hard about coming into the military, Kim reflects. "It is an area of belief that has long been debated among religious people."
"For over two hundred years we have had a military that-right or wrong-has sacrificed the comforts of home to defend and protect the United States. These people are away from their homes where family, community activities, and religious practice help to keep them balanced in the way they approach life...I feel it is very important to be here for them-a witness from home, a reminder of deep and true motivations, a sign of hope for their own future lives of peace...I believe there needs to be someone close by to every American who can help them look at how well we protect the freedoms we profess."