Rev. Dr. Javier A. Viera Named President of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

Rev. Dr. Javier A. Viera Named President of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary


Rev. Dr. Javier A. Viera

EVANSTON, Illinois, June 12, 2020 – An extraordinary minister, teacher, and administrator, the Reverend Dr. Javier A. Viera has been named the next president of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, effective January 1, 2021. Viera’s impressive resume and experience in church leadership, rigorous academic study, and community building will provide the right mix of skills, education, experience, and faith to further Garrett-Evangelical’s mission “for such a time as this.” Viera will succeed Dr. Lallene J. Rector, who has served as president since 2014, and announced her intention to step down as president this year.

A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Viera is the first person of color and first Latino to hold the office of president in the seminary’s 167-year history. "Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary is one of the storied institutions in theological education with a long history of theological innovation, as well as a noted commitment to working for social justice and repair, and I am honored to have been invited to join the Garrett community," Viera said. "The opportunity to work in partnership with Garrett's world-class faculty, a leadership team and staff that is so clearly committed to advancing the mission of the school, and a student body that passionately pursues academic excellence and transformative service is a high calling that I find both humbling and thrilling. My first task will be listening to and acting on the input from the thoughtful, passionate voices of Garrett’s faculty, students, and staff. I am deeply grateful to the Board of Trustees for entrusting me with so great a responsibility and opportunity."

This historic appointment comes after the seminary conducted a nationwide search that yielded over 50 conversations about candidates. In an executive session of the Garrett-Evangelical Board of Trustees Viera was affirmed as the next president.

“We are truly blessed to have been able to attract Dr. Viera as president of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary,” said Jerre Stead, chairperson of the Board of Trustees. “While our search process did not evolve as smoothly as we all had hoped, and we are committed to learning from it, the Board has the utmost confidence we chose the right person for the job. We know that Dr. Viera will bring fresh perspectives to Garrett as an experienced institutional leader in theological education, as a pastor, teacher, and scholar. He has dedicated much of his professional life to building bridges and fostering understanding across religious difference, fighting for racial justice and equity, and has been a fierce advocate for a fully inclusive church. He is a person of profound faith whose leadership is spiritually informed and centered in Christ. Our students, faculty, staff will all benefit greatly from his outstanding background and leadership, and from who he is as a person.”

Joining Garrett from Drew University, where he served as vice provost, dean of the theological school, and professor of pastoral theology, Viera led the transformation of the theological school's curriculum, launched new degree programs and initiatives, and was instrumental in efforts that have increased enrollment and fundraising. His broad scholarly interests have centered on inter-religious dialogue, adult learning and development, and the role of religion in contemporary Latin America. At Drew, he taught courses in religious education, cross-cultural encounters and competency, homiletics, and pastoral leadership. 

Prior to his service at Drew, Viera served in congregational ministry for two decades, leading rural, suburban, and urban congregations, most recently at Christ Church in New York City, where he served as executive minister. He is an ordained elder in the New York Conference of The United Methodist Church, and has served the denomination in leadership at the general, jurisdictional, and annual conference levels.

In addition to being named president, Viera will serve on the faculty as professor of education and leadership. Until Viera officially assumes the presidency, he will work closely with President Rector to ensure a smooth transition.

“Following in the footsteps and visionary leadership of my colleague and friend, Dr. Lallene Rector, will not be an easy feat,” said Viera. “The imprint of her leadership at Garrett, in theological education, and in the Church is deep, and her legacy as a scholar, teacher, and administrator will endure for generations to come. Her shoes will not be easily filled."

Viera holds a bachelor of arts from Florida Southern College, a master of divinity from Duke University’s divinity school, a master of sacred theology from Yale University’s divinity school, and a doctor of education from Columbia University. He is also completing a doctor of philosophy dissertation in Latin American studies/history of Latin America from the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico.

A sought-after speaker, Viera has preached, lectured, and presented throughout the nation and around the world. He has written for various publications on ministry and education, with three articles and a book chapter soon forthcoming. Other professional activities include the Wabash Center Advisory Committee, the University Senate and Commission on Theological Education of The United Methodist Church, the Religious Education Association, and the American Academy of Religion.

Viera serves on the board of directors of several Latinx educational, cultural, and advocacy organizations, as well as chaired his local community Human Rights Commission which works for criminal justice reform and police accountability, immigrant protections and solidarity with local indigenous peoples, food justice, fair housing practices, climate justice, and raises awareness on the impact of ecological racism on Black and Brown communities. Throughout his career he has been a strong advocate for the poor, having co-founded two not-for-profit organizations that focused on economic empowerment and opportunity in communities of color. 

Viera and his spouse, Laine Rolóng, have three children—Anabel, Juliet, and Sebastián.

We give thanks for the outstanding leadership of President Lallene J. Rector and look forward to the leadership of President-Elect Javier A. Viera. In the coming months we will share more news related to how the seminary will honor the service of President Rector, and the inauguration of President-Elect Viera.