'Religion is the answer': Schulman invests in Unitarian Universalism's future

'Religion is the answer': Schulman invests in Unitarian Universalism's future

Retired minister's $4.5 million bequest will support scholarship, building loans, and other projects.

Sonja L. Cohen


Frank and Alice Schulman have lived lives devoted to Unitarian Universalism. Now, in a show of faith and gratitude, the couple has committed at least $4.5 million from their estate to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, the largest bequest in the history of the Association, according to Terry Sweetser, the UUA’s vice president for stewardship and development.

Among the UUA’s intended uses for the money:

  • About £500,000 will support Harris Manchester College, the Unitarian college at Oxford University, and the preservation of historical books there.
  • And more has been allotted for projects still being discussed and as unrestricted funds.

The Rev. Dr. Frank Schulman, a retired minister, was reared Jewish and became a Unitarian in Oklahoma City during World War II. Alice, the granddaughter of three Unitarian ministers, grew up attending church school run by her mother and aunt. The couple now lives in The Woodlands, Texas, a quiet, tree-filled planned community about 30 miles outside of Houston. They live, as they put it, “rather simple lives” and like it that way.

“One [reason for the bequest] is gratitude for what the denomination has done for us,” Frank explained. But more importantly, he added: “I think the problems that our age faces are religious, specifically what is happening to the human spirit. I think religion is the answer, and I think Unitarian Universalism has the best approach to solving these problems and helping a weary humanity along its path. Unitarianism and Universalism have the tradition of liberal theology and a commitment to humanitarianism. So we’re doing this to help our work carry on into the future after we are no longer here. We’ve been fortunate in our investments, and this is what we consider the best use for a part of it.”

Both Schulmans grew up poor. Alice was able to attend Simmons College only with financial assistance. Frank’s father, a Russian immigrant, came to the United States in the hope that all his children would go to college. Frank did more than his part to fulfill that wish. He exemplifies lifelong learning and a genuine love of academics, with seven degrees over five decades: B.A., University of Oklahoma, 1950; S.T.B., Harvard University, 1954; D.Min., Meadville Lombard, 1973; and M.A., D.Phil., B.D., and M.Lit., Oxford University, from 1993 to 2000.

Although his knowledge of Unitarian history and theology is vast, he is not boastful. “We’ve had a nice long ministry,” he said, including his partnership with Alice. A devoted churchgoer and “minister’s wife in the older model,” he explained, Alice has been a religious education director, loves to entertain, and has always helped in his work. They met and were married at the Arlington Street Church in Boston, when Alice was at Simmons and Frank at Harvard.

In 1988, after serving congregations in Massachusetts, Ohio, and Texas, the Schulmans moved to England. Frank offered to serve free at a church that couldn’t afford a minister, so the district executive sent him to the 26-member Unitarian Church of Horsham in West Sussex. “I just had a ball there,” Frank said of the church that had grown to 42 members by the time he left in 1989.

In August of this year Frank learned that he has terminal cancer. In good spirits, he is candid about his illness. His mind remains sharp, but the cancer causes weakness and the biggest trouble, he said, is that reading has become more difficult.

Frank is the author of many articles and books, including James Martineau: This Conscience-Intoxicated Unitarian (Meadville Lombard Press, 2002) and This Day in Unitarian Universalist History (Skinner House Books, 2004). “Unitarian history is exciting,” Frank said, “and especially important in a church without a creed. You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.”

The Schulmans’ home is a testament to their many interests and years together. The rooms are filled with images of their heroes, such as Albert Schweitzer and British Unitarian ministers Charles Wellbeloved and James Martineau; quotes in calligraphy; the original 1832 resignation letter by Ralph Waldo Emerson to the Second Church in Boston; souvenirs from their travels; and Alice’s armadillo collection.

And there are books—lots of book—on theology and history, including some rare titles and an entire case of Emerson books. But the most impressive items are Frank’s books of calligraphy. Over nine years, at a rate of one hour per page, he transcribed the approximately 3,000 pages of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, for his own pleasure.

Although Frank wonders sometimes about the legacy he’s leaving, he is facing death with an acceptance and serenity befitting a longtime minister. “I hope I have longer to live, but I’m ready to go,” he said. “Part of my ministry now is showing people how to die with dignity.” In 56 years of ministry, he’s buried hundreds of parishioners, friends, and family. “Death and I are on pleasant speaking terms,” he said.

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Correction 12.2.05: The print version of this article and the earlier online version incorrectly described Shulman's gift to Harris Manchester College in U.S. dollars. The gift is actually in pounds sterling.