2023 Distinguished Alumnus Award Recipient: Ruth Faith Santana-Grace - Princeton Theological Seminary

For the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, MDiv ‘94, the 2023 Distinguished Alumnus Award she will receive from Princeton Theological Seminary this month carries a “powerful and cherished significance.”

“It makes me want to cry, it makes me want to laugh and it makes me want to smile,” she says. “This unlikely journey at Princeton has both been extraordinarily complicated and a great gift for which I will forever be grateful.”

The award is a meaningful milepost in a remarkable life journey for the executive presbyter at the Presbytery of Philadelphia and co-moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA). She and the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis are nearing the midpoint of a two-year term to which they were elected in 2022. Princeton Seminary profiled Santana-Grace’s ministry in 2020. Learn more about her work as a bridge builder and a breaker of barriers.

Santana-Grace’s decision to stand for moderator of the Assembly that represents 1.2 million Presbyterians came after much prayer – and consultations with many of her fellow Princeton graduates. She and Rev. Starling-Louis were clear they were called to stand for election — to bring their voices into the larger conversation of the church, without being concerned about winning. Their platform, “Unbounded We Thrive,” promised the pair would be ambassadors of hope, lifting up the theology of the table, the theology of God’s calling, and the theology of flourishing (or God’s abundance).

She learned early in her life about shaking loose the things that bind you to one spot. Her early work in politics led her to a campaign meeting for a congressional candidate, where she met many of New York’s prominent Latinx politicians, justices, actors, and business movers and shakers.

That candidate would lose, she says, “but that moment changed my life. What a gift to walk into that space and change the narrative … remembering that as we step forward, we have to keep reaching back to keep pulling others forward.”

As she heads to Princeton, where she has just stepped off the Board of Trustees after 12 years of service, she cherishes this joyful moment in her life.

“I am deeply humbled,” she says, then adds a favorite line from Hamilton! “There are moments when the words just don’t reach.”