Colonel (The Reverend) Barbara L. Putnam, CD, MDiv ('95) – Doctor of Divinity ('22)



How it started…

Colonel Putnam was born and raised in and around Saint John, New Brunswick. She looks back fondly on a happy childhood enjoying the outdoors, spending many hours snowmobiling and boating with family. Deciding to eventually grow up, she worked part-time at J.D. Irving, Ltd. while obtaining a Bachelor of Science from UNB. A call to ministry led her to Acadia Divinity College in 1992 and three enjoyable years later she left with a Master of Divinity. Following her studies, she was ordained to Christian Ministry and gained much valuable experience serving as pastor in Baptist churches in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. There was a wedding and a glorious honeymoon in there, too.

A chance meeting with military nurses in the Dominican Republic led to enrolling in the Canadian Armed Forces, starting in Borden for Basic Training in 2000, followed by a posting to Petawawa. As a newly commissioned officer, Padre Putnam began her military service as a Unit Chaplain, and was deployed soon after on the first mission in Afghanistan, spending six incredible months in Kabul.

Next came postings to Gagetown, then to Borden, Toronto, and finally Ottawa. She has held numerous appointments and roles, and worked with extremely talented and dedicated people along the way. She has enjoyed designing chaplain curriculum, learning how to plan military operations, and how to successfully navigate the waters of ecumenical and multi-faith cooperation and dialogue. She has loved meeting and caring for military members and families, offering support to them on their best and worst days.

How it’s going…

When she was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 2012, Barbara became the first Baptist Chaplain to serve at that rank in nearly 50 years. In 2016, she became the first woman ever to be promoted to the rank of Colonel in the Chaplaincy. She was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from Acadia Divinity College in 2018 and recognized by Esprit de Corps magazine as a “Top Ten Women in Defence” in 2019.  She is the current Wordle Champion in her household.

Since 2015, Colonel Putnam has been addressing the problem of Sexual Misconduct in the CAF, serving as spiritual advisor throughout Operation HONOUR, and now as a Senior Defence Representative in the Restorative Engagement Program. This work has been the highlight of her military service, being trusted to honour the stories of affected persons of Sexual Misconduct.

In May 2022, Barbara was humbled to receive the Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa) from Acadia University. “This honour is deeply meaningful to me, and will be shared among my fellow military chaplains, who continuously provide critical pastoral care to our military members and families, who sacrifice so much in service to Canada,” she says.

Barbara and her husband, The Reverend Bradford Putnam (’95), currently live and work in Ottawa, on the traditional and unceded territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation, not too far from the National Military Cemetery where they intend to rest one day under the military-pattern tombstone they selected earlier this year.

Vocatio Ad Servitium - Called to Serve