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Chatham Alumna Reverend Sophia Snyder of the class of 1999

The HEALERS

Turning Suffering Into Compassion

Reverend Sophia Snyder ’99 brings together her love of learning and her gift for healing in her pastoral work with children, senior citizens, and the homeless.

 

 

Sophia Snyder (née Sofia Neczypir) was born in 1951 in Munich, Germany. Ukrainian by descent, she was raised in a strict but loving household by parents who both had painful legacies to bear. Her father was raised in an orphanage. Her mother was a Holocaust survivor who had been imprisoned at Auschwitz (several hundred Ukrainians were held there for political reasons).

Sophia’s family immigrated to the United States when she was ten months old. They settled in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, just ten minutes by car from downtown Pittsburgh. Money was very tight, but they made the best life they could. The middle child of five, Sophia was a voracious learner, always reading and studying. She grew up a “city girl,” and at the age of nineteen, became a U.S. citizen.

A passion for helping others, and particularly for getting to know and understand people different from herself, bloomed early. As a child, she fantasized about adopting six kids from six different countries. Later she dreamed of becoming a missionary, and a medical doctor: “I wanted to see the world, expand my mind, and learn to love people from all over and understand their journeys.”

She also wanted to go to college, but financial troubles prevented it. Instead, she worked hard in a variety of jobs, waiting for a door to open. She was in her forties, working in the mailroom at an energy company in Pittsburgh when she finally got the chance. Thanks to the Gateway program for adult students, Sophia was able to enroll at Chatham at the age of 46. She pursued a degree in Theater, combining her interests in fashion, communication, and the arts.

For Sophia, Chatham was “the right environment to build a whole person and the right size to foster real growth.” She especially valued her relationships with professors. One of them told her, “Learning doesn’t stop after college—it’s a lifelong adventure,” and she adopted that philosophy as her own.

Though she didn’t pursue a career in her major, Sophia credits her experience at Chatham with helping her find what she was really meant to do. After graduation, she realized that her true purpose was to help others through her faith. However, a lack of confidence held her back: “I had grown up a Catholic, and I felt that women weren’t supposed to be priests or pastors. I had to work hard to overcome that.”

Chatham Alumna Reverend Sophia Snyder ’99 brings together her love of learning and her gift for healing in her pastoral work with children, senior citizens, and the homeless.

An internship in clinical pastoral chaplaincy and many years of Bible school helped build her confidence. As she studied, she absorbed powerful lessons about respecting other people’s beliefs and their freedom of choice. Since becoming ordained in 2007, she has done pastoral work in colleges, hospitals, and prisons. Her time as an associate pastor at a predominantly African American church in Virginia was particularly impactful. She was an outsider there, and the experience helped to open her mind and heart.

Her dream now is to start a nonprofit ministry helping the homeless, seniors, and victims of human trafficking. This goal is a work in progress. “I haven’t found an open door yet, but I’m still looking,” Sophia says. In conversation with her, it quickly becomes clear that she won’t give up easily.

The only one of her siblings to attain a college degree, Sophia has used her experience at Chatham to encourage others—including her niece—to pursue university education. “I like to be a catalyst for people,” she says, “To help them question whether they are moving forward, and help them figure out how to do that.”

She feels her own struggles in life, including being born into poverty, have helped her become an effective counselor to others: “I haven’t wasted my suffering—I incorporate it into my ministry, and my experiences allow me to connect with people who are hurting. Turning suffering into compassion is the most powerful thing.”

Sophia now resides in Philomath, Oregon, and finds significance in the name of her adopted town, which means “lover of learning” in Greek. In Oregon, she embraces the beauty of the wild landscape and spends time outside growing an organic garden. As she approaches her sixty-eighth birthday and faces some challenging health issues, she still pursues learning everyday—and she still feels undefeated.

She credits her mother’s influence as a survivor for her own approach to life: “I don’t like to feel that any limitations are being placed on me—I believe I can fulfill my own calling and my own destiny. My stubbornness, my get-go, my perseverance—it must be in my genes. I’m not going to let my past define me. As long as there’s life, there’s hope.”