Faculty Spotlight: Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart

Julia Butch, Staff Writer

Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart is a devoted theologian whose faith journey has called her to advocate for diversity of thought and social justice in multiple forums, including since 2016 as an adjunct professor in Villanova’s Department of Theology and Religion.


Having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 and subsequently working in education, Washington-Leapheart enrolled in seminary around the time the Black Lives Matter movement was forming.  


“God was calling me,” she said.


Since earning her Master of Divinity degree from Lancaster Theological Seminary in 2016, she has volunteered for many organizations promoting social justice. In October of 2019, she was named director of faith-based and interfaith affairs for the City of Philadelphia, a role in which she serves as a public-facing leader, liaison and subject matter expert for the Mayor’s Office on local and national matters that affect communities of faith.


“I’ve always been deeply involved in religious community” she said.


Her roles often connect faith, social issues and personal development. At Villanova, she sees the theology class requirement, when embraced by students, as an opportunity to enrich their lives. 


“While I am thrilled that there is a place like Villanova, sometimes I have to work to convince students that religion is relevant to them,” Washington-Leapheart said.


Washington-Leapheart’s commitment to helping students grow their understanding of faith and illustrating the connection between religion and social issues is evident in a forthcoming event she organized entitled “The End of White Christian America.” In it, she hopes to discuss “distinguishing between expressions of faith rooted in justice and expressions of faith that are about maintaining power.” 


She urges community members to attend and not be discouraged by the name of the event. 


“These kinds of workshops can introduce diversity of thought,” she said. The event, originally scheduled to take place this February, has been postponed due to her COVID-19 diagnosis. It is now rescheduled for March.


Washington-Leapheart traces her own faith formation to her time in college and hopes, at Villanova, to stimulate in students a similar inspiration. 


“The transition was huge for me,” she said. “My friends in college were my first theologians.”


In addition to her work as an adjunct professor at Villanova, Washington-Leapheart also expresses her faith by directing the Villanova Gospel Choir. In 2019, she received the prestigious Pohlhaus-Stracciolini Award for Teaching Excellence. This award is granted annually to a Villanova adjunct faculty member who demonstrates a commitment to the life of a mind and to the well-being of students. Washing-Leapheart achieved this and continues to do so by teaching in a way that is intellectually stimulating, challenging and accessible, with efforts extending beyond the classroom.