Yale grad chooses YDS for scholarship initiative

By Pressley Peters

A significant new scholarship underwritten by the MRW Education Fund and partially matched by the Divinity School Scholarship Challenge Fund honors the late public health and psychiatry pioneer Dr. Mary McCann and acclaimed spiritual care provider Earl Johnson ’76 M.Div.

The driving force behind the scholarship is Education Fund trustee and Yale College graduate Robert W. Bland ‘77 B.A. Bland, a recently retired (but not for long) New York City-based real estate sales director. Bland established the scholarship to recognize the contributions of Dr. McCann, his beloved aunt, and Rev. Johnson, who encouraged him to broaden his education by taking classes at YDS during his undergraduate days.

Honoring a quiet leader and champion of women

Dr. McCann, who died in 2003, was the benefactor to the MRW Education Fund. Bland says he chose YDS because its ecumenical focus and commitment to local, “hands on” community involvement resonate with his aunt’s desire to help women and minorities become leaders in the church. He says, “My aunt felt strongly about women being leaders as clergy, particularly the ordination of women in the Catholic Church. This school enables underrepresented groups to rise in prominence and in their ability to help others.”

Dr. McCann attended Harvard, Georgetown, and the University of Maine. During her varied and impressive career, she was instrumental in introducing vitamins and minerals into food, including Gerber Baby Foods and Kellogg’s cereal. Later, she traveled to Latin and South America and Africa to teach mothers about nutrition and prepare healthier diets for their families. In her early 50s she reinvented herself, becoming a pediatric psychiatrist for the balance of her career.

The Mary B. McCann, MD, and The Reverend Earl Evans Johnson ’76 M.Div. Scholarship will benefit all deserving students, and others are welcome to add donations toward its growth. Its purpose is to subsidize tuition and other education expenses. Such philanthropy propels YDS a significant step closer to its goal of funding 100 percent of scholarship for students with demonstrated need.

Bland is excited that his donation was matched by YDS and enjoys the idea that the scholarship will act as a multiplier, helping many students in the future. He says, “YDS has more importance than ever with its mission of providing solace, guidance, and perspective to so many people who are either disadvantaged or simply bewildered by what is happening in society domestically and internationally. The pace of change is at times overwhelming, and it’s critical to get people off their smartphone screens and interacting with the physical world, including their emotions.”

Celebrating the long-lasting impact of scholarship and selflessness

Johnson was surprised and honored when he learned of the scholarship being named in part for him. Back in the 1970s, when he was a graduate assistant in Yale’s Timothy Dwight residential college, Johnson encouraged Robert Bland and other undergraduates to attend classes up the hill at YDS.

Looking back on his days at YDS, Johnson appreciates the opportunities he and others enjoyed, and those that today’s students can still experience. He says, “The richness of our syllabus and course offerings spoke to me, and I felt it could also speak to the undergraduates for whom I was a counselor at the time. Yale gave me such opportunity and such hope, and as a recipient of financial aid myself, it’s heartening that this named scholarship will benefit other students.”

Johnson’s book, Finding Comfort During Hard Times, chronicles his work as a hospital chaplain and leader in spiritual care. During his career, Johnson comforted survivors of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando in 2016, provided spiritual help to 9/11’s first responders, and counseled AIDS patients in the ’80s. 

Johnson comments that our future is not guaranteed, which is why it’s increasingly important to support schools like YDS. He is encouraged by the impact YDS students can have. “There are so many varieties of ministry, and those with specialized training, such as in health care,” Johnson says. “Yale’s emphasis on society and its recognition of the gifts of all divinity students help us collectively fulfill our dreams and validate our formation as leaders. We were all created in God’s image, and I see the Divinity School supporting all the different voices in the community.”

Bland credits Johnson with opening his eyes to opportunities at YDS that are now among his most cherished classes from his time at Yale. “That was all due to Earl Johnson. He had the right touch of being supportive and knowing when and how to corral 20-year-old undergrads. He went on to do great things and is deserving of this recognition.”

Johnson says of his friend’s generous gesture, “With this gift, Robert is trying to fulfill Dr. McCann’s wishes to support all future leaders regardless of their gender, sexuality, or faith tradition. Our common thread is that we want to support young people and teach them to try to make a difference. He, like his aunt, realizes that we’re all in this together.”

Gifts to The Mary B. McCann, MD, and The Reverend Earl Evans Johnson ’76 M.Div. Scholarship can be made here. For more information on giving to YDS, email Barbara Sabia, Senior Director of Alumni Engagement and Development, at barbara.sabia@yale.edu.

Pressley Peters is an award-winning writer specializing in philanthropy and marketing. She has 25 years of experience in content production, public relations, project management, and fundraising. She is a graduate of Rhodes College and lives in Dallas.

June 21, 2021