Educating future spiritual leaders

Bradford E. Ableson ’85 M.Div.

Bradford E. Ableson ’85 M.Div. was a career Navy chaplain who took part in most major United States military operations in the past two decades. He also served as chaplain at Camp David during the Clinton administration, providing pastoral care to the president and his family.

Captain Ableson was revered by those in his care and considered one of the most gifted and inspirational chaplains in the country by some of the highest-ranking members of the military.
Brad emerged as an expert on providing service members with the knowledge and understanding that would help them be respectful visitors in Muslim countries. Exposure to different faiths made him determined to build bridges between religious traditions. He was also a primary architect behind one of the most significant shifts in the history of American military chaplaincy: the transformation of an institution which focused almost wholly on the pastoral needs of personnel, to one that employs senior chaplains as agents of reconciliation with religious leaders around the globe.                                                                                                                               

Although he held degrees from several institutions, Brad selected Yale Divinity School for his charitable giving. He credited the school with giving him the academic foundation and spiritual vision to be an effective pastor to sailors and marines of many faith traditions. “I loved Yale from my first moment on campus. It is a place with remarkable people exploring faith through critical thinking in a diverse environment. The school enriched every single day of my life, and I wanted to give that experience to bright students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to study at Yale.”

Brad retired from active duty in early 2009 after serving nearly twenty-five years in the Navy. As he struggled with a terminal illness, he considered how to provide for his wife, Julia, and for Yale. The couple discussed creating a scholarship for Divinity School students. Early in his career, Brad had purchased a life insurance policy and made Julia the beneficiary. Upon his death in 2009, Julia received the proceeds from the policy. She approached Yale to ask how she could donate these assets and receive income back during her lifetime.

After consulting with her financial advisor, Julia established a charitable remainder unitrust with Yale as trustee. Yale’s professional investment management combined with low administrative fees, made the option very attractive. During the unitrust’s term, Yale invests the trust’s assets. Each year, a fixed percentage of the unitrust’s current value, as revalued annually, is distributed to Julia as income beneficiary. As her trust grows, so does her income. She also received a large charitable income tax deduction for her contribution.

When the unitrust term ends, the remaining assets pass to Yale to establish The Bradford E. Ableson Endowed Scholarship at Yale Divinity School. It was Brad’s wish that the fund in his name offer financial aid to students who demonstrate superior promise for pastoral ministry. Endorsing the strategy, Julia’s advisor commented, “This plan has worked out to be an extraordinary way to support Julia and honor Brad.”