Jeff Braff

Master of Pastoral Studies Program, Buddhist Focus

How did you become a student in the Master of Pastoral Studies program at Emmanuel College?
When I decided to become a spiritual care provider, I wanted to enroll in a program that would recognize my Buddhist faith tradition, while at the same time provide me with the necessary academic credentials to serve people of all faith traditions.

How did you become aware of the MPS program at Emmanuel College?
I did an exhaustive internet search to find what I thought would be the best fit for me.

How did you choose the Buddhist stream of MPS?
I have been a practicing Buddhist for more than 30 years. When I retired from my former career as an infectious disease epidemiologist, I had the opportunity to study at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamshala, India, and was ordained there in 2016.

What influence has the program had on your life, education and career?
Well, this is my fourth degree, so I’m pretty familiar with how post-graduate education works. (I taught for a number of years at the University of California—Berkeley.) The special influence of the program is in its committed professors at Emmanuel and throughout the Toronto School of Theology, as well as its commitment to Clinical Pastoral Education—CPE—putting what you learn in the academic setting into practical use. In my case, this was in a hospital setting.

What have you learned about yourself?
I’ve become much more aware of my white male privilege, and much more introspective in how I deal with other people. I’ve learned to listen much more than I had before.

What does Emmanuel College mean to you?
Emmanuel is a wonderful, welcoming, and accepting place, and the Master of Pastoral Studies Program represents an opportunity for students of all faith traditions (they’ll do a “custom design program” for you if you’re neither Christian, nor Muslim, nor Buddhist).

Where do you hope your degree will take you?
I'm busy trying to set up my work activities here in Toronto and in the San Francisco Bay Area. Because I’m officially “retired,” every year I'll be working half a year there (in the winter) as a volunteer spiritual care provider at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland (they're woefully understaffed and underfunded and need all the help they can get), and half a year here (in the summer) in Toronto also as a volunteer provider at Sick Kids. I hope to be doing this work for a very long time.

Did you have any mentors at Emmanuel College?
Honestly, all of my professors here at Emmanuel and at the TST have been wonderful. It would be impossible to single any one of them out. They’re all willing to meet, plan, strategize, and provide great advice. (Being able to take courses at all of the TST member colleges is a great boon to getting a pastoral education tailor-made to your interests and requirement.)

A special call-out to Wanda Chin, Shawn Kazubowski-Houston, and Jo-Ann Graham in the Registrar’s Office is in order. They all go to amazing lengths to make easy (mostly) what to many is the Byzantine process of dealing with the University of Toronto, the TST and all the administrative stuff a student has to go through. And they do it with grace and good humour. And cookies!

What advice would you have for anyone considering enrolling in Emmanuel’s MPS program?
Come talk to the students and faculty and to Christine or Andrew in Admissions. Ask to come sit in on a class or two. Come see what Emmanuel and the University of Toronto have to offer. You won’t be disappointed!

Is there anything else we should know about you?
I’ve promised myself (sort of) that this will be my last degree. (We’ll see. There are a lot of very interesting programs at the U of T and at Berkeley. I wonder if you can do one degree in both places? Hmmmm. I gotta look into that!). I have six grandchildren, and I’d like to spend time with them too.


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