the better future is one we build together

Connect with your spiritual side. Learn about religions. Share a plate of pasta. At Hobart and William Smith Colleges, the Office of Spiritual Engagement is devoted to bringing our community together, regardless of our individual beliefs or views. Our staff will support you throughout your college career, however you may need it.


On the Edge of a Lake
St, John's Chapel

At the Heart of Campus

St. John's Chapel

St. John's Chapel, just a stone’s throw away from Seneca Lake on South Main Street, provides a historic and picturesque setting for prayer and gathering.

Hosting both Roman Catholic and Episcopal services, the chapel also serves as the setting for concerts, discussions and traditional HWS events like Charter Day and Baccalaureate. Additional religious services, including but not limited to Baha'i, Baptist, Jewish, Unitarian, Methodist and Presbyterian are available in the local community.

Come together to bake cookies while discussing Christian scripture at the Light House, attend Muslim Jumu’ah Prayers on Fridays, enjoy some classical music during Music, Meditation and Munchies, take time for a meditative walk at the HWS Labyrinth, or dance the night away at Bart Mitzvah. Try your hand at preparing a common meal of delicious food and meet friends on Pasta Night in the Chaplain’s home. The Office of Spiritual Engagement provides a multitude of opportunities for you to explore spirituality and connect with community in a welcoming, inclusive environment.



Jewish Life

Explore Judaism, celebrate Jewish traditions or take courses in Holocaust Studies. Whatever your beliefs, you’re always welcome at the Abbe Center for Jewish Life.


Muslim Life Center

The Muslim Life Center provides a space that enriches the religious and cultural diversity on campus and a place to pray that is easy for students to access. Located on the first floor of Demarest in room 117A, it features a wudu station for ablutions (room 007) as well as a separate prayer room. Students can access the space for personal prayer 24 hours a day. The space also serves as a small meeting space for the Muslim Student Association. Email Administrative Assistant for Spiritual Engagement Blinne Krieger at if you desire to have access to the space.

muslim student association steering committee meeting 

Please email the Dean for Spiritual Engagement for more information.



Labyrinths have long been used in spiritual practices throughout cultures and religions around the world, connecting mind, body and spirit. Because of its presence in many traditions and cultures, the labyrinth fits well with the inclusive culture HWS seeks to build and the multifaith emphasis of the Office of Spiritual Engagement.

Through donations, HWS created a memorial labyrinth south of the Richard S. Perkin Observatory off Kings Lane nears the Colleges’ arts campus.

Students performed the majority of construction and will perform minimal maintenance work throughout the labyrinth’s lifetime.

Who We Are

At Hobart and William Smith, we believe that the life of the spirit and the life of the mind need not be separate or mutually exclusive, but in fact may be profoundly interrelated and rewarding.

The Office for Spiritual Engagement works to promote engagement with that interrelationship through services, programming and spiritual support that provide hospitality and advocacy for students of all religions and cultures.

Nita Byrd
Nita Byrd

Chaplain and Dean for Spiritual Engagement
(315) 781-3670

The Rev. Nita C. Johnson Byrd joined the Colleges as the Dean of Spiritual Engagement and Chaplain of the Colleges in 2019. Through community building and a focus on the importance of relationships, she extends hospitality to students as they explore how their personal values and understanding of spirituality inform what it means to be a member of the campus community. She is available for personal conversation, hosting group events in her home, and exploring how students can come together for new ways to engage with one another.

Rev. Byrd serves as the advisor of the Light House Christian Theme House and the Muslim Theme House, and provides support for the Muslim Student Association. She hosted “Tea and Stories with the Chaplain,” has led mindful eating programs for the Mindfulness Club, and is available to many other student groups who wish to host discussions or explore new ways to be in community. 

As an active member of the Association of Episcopal Colleges (AEC) and the Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion (CUAC), Byrd is interested in the global diversity of chaplaincy in higher education. She participated in the planning committee for an “Ethics and Social Media Conference” where undergraduates participated in seminars at Vanderbilt University; and represented Saint Augustine’s University at the Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion Triennial in Seoul, South Korea, and in Chennai, India.

Rev. Byrd is a graduate of Duke Divinity school, where she participated in the Canterbury Scholars Program at Canterbury Cathedral, England. Following graduation she was ordained in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. Prior to entering ordained ministry, Byrd attended North Carolina State University for her B.S. EE and M.S. ECE degrees. She lives with her husband, and two cats and looks forward to meeting members of the HWS community.

MaryAnn Hamilton
MaryAnn Hamilton

Colleges Organist in Residence
(315) 781-3671

Maryann Hamilton was appointed chapel organist (now Colleges organist in residence) in 2000, upon the completion of her doctor of musical arts degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. At Eastman, her principal teacher was David Higgs and she also studied improvisation with Gerre Hancock. Previously, she earned a master of sacred music degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and studied with John Weaver. She plays for weekly services in St. John’s Chapel, Baccalaureate, Commencement (carillon), Easter Vigil and other events when appropriate. In December 2001, she inaugurated the monthly organ series called Music, Meditation and Munchies, which offers an organ program during the noon hour on the first Wednesday of the month when classes are in session. Each program features music played by Dr. Hamilton and often includes other musicians in the community. Spoken meditation or poetry complements the music each month and is offered by members of the HWS and greater Geneva community. Each program concludes with dessert or other munchie. In addition, MaryAnn is the parish musician at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Geneva, where she plays for Sunday services, directs the adult mixed choir, and accompanies the junior and senior (high school) choirs.

Ann Landowne
Rabbi Dr. Ann Landowne

Director, Abbe Center for Jewish Life and Hillel Advisor

Rabbi Ann Landowne is happy to be joining the Office for Spiritual Engagement as the Director of the Abbe Center and Hillel Advisor. Ann has been the rabbi at Temple Beth- El across the street from the Abbe Center for the past 10 years.

Ann was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 2011 and served at a different Temple Beth El in Dubuque, Iowa before moving to Geneva in 2013. Ann is also a physician and she graduated from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, after obtaining her undergraduate degree at Brandeis University. She continues to work part-time as a psychiatrist along with her congregational work.

Rabbi Ann is looking forward to helping the students continue Hillel activities and the Shabbat dinners and holiday observances, along with participating in events with the wider HWS and local community. She lives in Geneva and can often be spotted walking her dog Poe around Odell’s Pond, one of Poe’s favorite walks.

shaheed ali

Chaplain/Resident Imam 

Shaheed Ali joins HWS and it’s as if all of his experiences have groomed him for this exact position. While still an undergraduate at the University at Buffalo, Ali made a decision that would set him on the path that he still treads today. After being elected to student government at UB, friends and colleagues were given a shock when Ali made the unpopular choice to become a disciplined student of Islamic practices. Although already a graduating student of multiple Islamic schools by this time, Ali would gain newfound benefit to studying traditional Islamic studies as an adult.

Ali was accepted and enrolled into the Institute of Higher Islamic Studies of North America where he studied the methodology of Quranic memorization (hifz) along with proper pronunciation of the verses in the Arabic language using standardized rules (tajweed). His teachers also imparted the classical understanding of Quranic verses (tafseer) along with a close familiarization of the life (seerah) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

This primary and secondary education combination is what qualified Ali to be offered his first role of Imam (religious leader) duties in 2007 as interim khateeb (sermon preacher) in Getzville, NY with the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier. The offers continued throughout Western NY and beyond as Ali continues to be invited to give Jumuah (Frirday) sermons or lead congregational prayers across the country and beyond including New York City, Buffalo, NY, Central PA, Bangladesh (Dhaka) and Qatar (Doha). Eventually he settled in Rochester, NY with his family in 2019 to become the assistant Imam and director of youth coordinator activities for the Islamic Center of Rochester in Brighton, NY before moving on to HWS.

At the top of his life’s highlights is traveling with his mother for their first trip to the holy city of Makkah, being honored to have his three sons become memorizers of the entire Quran (huffath) at his hands plus forming and presiding over the nonprofit corporation Western New York Youth Muslim Basketball League, which gives marginalized youth, Muslim and others, an opportunity to participate in a structured, organized basketball program throughout the year which teaches the game of basketball through character development. WNYYMBL enjoys strong ties to the NBA via their relationship with the Jr. NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets.

Blinne Krieger
Blinne Krieger

Administrative Support Assistant
(315) 781-3788

Blinne attended Finger Lakes Community College where they studied the Humanities and graduated with their Associate's degree in December 2018 having received the SUNY Chancellor's Award for their scholarship and work ethic. They also hold a Bachelor's from the State University of New York at Potsdam where they majored in History and minored in Classical studies. Throughout their studies, Blinne has always been fascinated by the socio-cultural impact that faith and its practice has on a society. Naturally, religion and its many facets was a main focus in their education. Blinne still fosters this interest by interacting with as many faith communities as they can, and by continuing to read as many books and watch as many documentaries as they can on these subjects. Their favorite period in history for comparative religious study is the Mediterranean and Near East's Hellenistic Age (323 B.C.E - 33 B.C.E).

Blinne was raised Catholic in the Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford, NY. Their mother encouraged Blinne and their siblings to develop their own moral code, using the Catholic faith as a sort of jumping off point, and was very supportive when Blinne began to branch out and research alternative forms of spirituality. After many years, they have settled into a spiritual practice that, like many faiths across the world, observes and considers the earth and its wheel of seasons. Naturally, they are very excited to work in an interfaith environment here at Hobart and William Smith.

Blinne moved from Fairport to Geneva in 2020 where they live with their partner and their two cats (pictured), Kisa and Caz. When they aren't curled up with their cats and a good book, they can often be found walking along the lake or hiking one of the many trails in the Finger Lakes with their partner.