Introducing Northern’s New Team Members

June 16th, 2017 – At last week’s Board of Trustees meetings, Northern Seminary President Bill Shiell announced several new appointments to the Seminary’s staff, longtime Northern leader Dr. Karen Walker Freeburg announced her departure after more than two decades of service, and the Board honored Dr. Claude Mariottini upon his retirement after nearly three decades of service.


Northern is excited to welcome three new full-time staff members:

Rev. Linda Owens

Rev. Linda Owens has been appointed to the cabinet-level position of senior executive director of student services. Rev. Owens graduated from Northern in 1994 and has more than 20 years of experience in higher education student affairs, most recently as associate dean for student development at Benedictine University in Lisle. At Benedictine, she coordinated the student complaint process and early warning alert system for students facing academic, financial and social challenges; supervised the university’s Counseling Center and Student Health Services department; and developed programs to increase retention. She is also a certified Title IX deputy.

Rev. Owens will oversee a new Student Success Center at Northern Seminary. The center will combine offices including the registrar, federal student aid, scholarships, enrollment, and supervised ministry into a dynamic team designed to assist students from enrollment to placement. This team will also oversee access to scholarships and financial aid for all students, implementing the recommendations of Northern’s Race and Gender Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.


Dr. Rena Baker

Dr. Rena Baker joins Northern’s academic team as the Seminary’s new director of library and information technology. Dr. Baker has more than 35 years of experience as a librarian. In addition to a master’s degree in librarianship and information management, she also holds Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Ashland Theological Seminary, where she served as an adjunct professor. Her doctoral thesis, Information Literacy for Today’s Seminary Students, provided the foundation for training students in research and writing skills at The McCreary Center for African American Religious Studies in Cleveland.

Dr. Baker was called to ministry almost 20 years ago, after spending several years in Christian Education as a Bible study teacher and a leader of youth ministries. She is an ordained minister and is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA and the Cleveland Baptist Association. Dr. Baker has three adult children, and she retired in June 2015 as Pastor of Church of the Master in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, after 12 years of service.


Dr. David John Hailey

The advancement team welcomes Dr. David John Hailey Jr. as director of Northern projects and grants. Dr. Hailey is a recent transplant to Chicago after growing up in the South. His wife, Claire, is a pediatric resident at Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Hailey holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Campbell University Divinity School and has served in numerous churches. Most recently, he served as pastor of Cane Creek Baptist Church in Hillsborough, North Carolina. He also holds additional degrees from Duke University and Campbell University.

David John and Claire have been married for six years. They have two Labrador retrievers (Kylie and Quinn) who keep them quite busy. David John is an avid golfer, a musician, and a sports fan with a lifelong devotion to the Chicago Cubs.



Also at last week’s Board of Trustees meetings, Dr. Karen Walker Freeburg, Northern’s vice president of academic affairs, announced her departure from the Seminary after more than 22 years of service.

Dr. Walker Freeburg earned her Master of Divinity from Northern in 1995 and her Doctor of Ministry from Northern in 2002. She has served the Seminary in several leadership positions, including as interim president from 2015 to 2016.

Under Dr. Walker Freeburg’s innovative leadership, the Seminary developed new Doctor of Ministry programs and partnerships with Lawndale Community Church, the Apprentice Institute, the Samaritan Institute, and many other organizations. She led the faculty to develop the Master of Arts in New Testament and Master of Arts in Theology and Mission programs, delivered through Northern Live, the Seminary’s Live Streaming technology that has enabled Northern to reach students from across the country and around the world. A beloved leader among seminary institutions, spiritual formation directors, and American Baptists, Dr. Walker Freeburg will take a brief sabbatical before continuing her ministry as a consultant, teacher, and pastor.

“I sensed God calling me to a new season in ministry,” Dr. Walker Freeburg told the Board of Trustees last week. “As I reflected upon that growing sense of closure of ministry at Northern, I was impacted by the wisdom of Frederick Buechner, who wrote, ‘The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ Through prayer and one very impactful dream, it became clear to me that it was time to take a leap of faith. Bill and the faculty are leading Northern into a spectacular season of success. I have dreamed of Northern becoming a hallmark institution. Bill, with support from the Board, faculty, and the many friends of the Seminary, is going to accomplish this goal.”

President Shiell thanked Dr. Walker Freeburg for her decades of service to Northern and told the Trustees that she had “positioned the Seminary to be ready for the strategic expansion plan we announced in April.”

“Northern’s exciting future is directly linked to Karen’s innovative design thinking, collaborative leadership, and care of our staff and faculty,” President Shiell said. “We owe Karen a huge debt of gratitude for her many years of service to the Northern community. Karen’s pastoral care, mentoring, teaching, and administration have made Northern the Seminary we know and love today.”

A reception will be held in Dr. Walker Freeburg’s honor on October 12, during Northern’s “Founders Day Week” festivities. More details about the reception will be communicated to the Northern community closer to the date.

Upon the recommendation of President Shiell and Northern’s faculty, the Board of Trustees appointed Dr. Jason Gile (above left), the Seminary’s associate dean and affiliate professor of Old Testament, to serve as interim vice president of academic affairs following Dr. Walker Freeburg’s last day at the Seminary on June 23.


Also last week, the Board of Trustees appointed Dr. Claude Mariottini as Professor Emeritus of Northern Seminary.

Dr. Mariottini retired from Northern at the end of the spring term after serving the Seminary for 28 years. About 150 people attended a reception in his honor at the Lindner Conference Center on the evening of June 9, after Northern’s Convocation.

“Claude is a trusted friend, colleague, guide, and treasure,” President Shiell said at the reception. “He has taught over 1,500 alumni to love the Old Testament and to discover God’s grace in new and fresh ways. His blogs, publications, and sermons have touched hundreds of thousands of lives. We will only recognize the full fruits of his labor in heaven.”

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