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Department ofReligious Studies


Denise Carmody

Denise Carmody

In Memoriam: Denise Lardner Carmody

Denise Carmody (December 10, 1935 - March 15, 2023) was a pioneer in female leadership at Santa Clara University, where she served in various capacities for nearly 30 years.

Denise Lardner Carmody
December 10, 1935 - March 15, 2023

Dr. Carmody was a pioneer in female leadership at Santa Clara University, serving as the university’s first female Religious Studies department chair and becoming SCU’s first woman provost and vice president before her retirement in 2012. During that time, she supported the expansion of residential learning communities, enhanced opportunities for faculty development, and helped to guide the restructuring of the undergraduate core curriculum.

Born in Baltimore, she was a summa cum laude graduate of the College of Notre Dame in Maryland and earned a master’s degree and doctorate in the philosophy of religion from Boston College. She was chair of the religious studies departments at both Wichita State University and the University of Tulsa prior to her arrival at SCU in 1994.

For all of her notable achievements as an administrator, Denise was, at heart, a teacher and scholar. She connected with students as she taught subjects such as ecclesiology, spirituality and church history. She was uniquely informed on the subjects she taught, which speaks both to her lifelong interest in comparative religious studies and friendships she developed with theologians who influenced Vatican II. She especially loved the work of Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, and in her later years particularly enjoyed reading his Encounters with Silence.

As a scholar, she stood out in her field, writing more than 60 books on topics such as spirituality, world religions, feminist theology, and ethics. She co-authored some of these books with her husband, John Tully Carmody, until his passing in 1995. They were the first married couple to win the Catholic Theological Society of America’s John Courtney Murray Award for “a lifetime of distinguished theological achievement.”  One of those books, Ways to the Center: An Introduction to World Religions, remained relevant in academic coursework for decades.

In addition to her prolific publications, Denise was recognized as an extraordinary scholar for her contributions to the field of Catholic feminist theologies, as it was emerging in the 1970’s and 80’s. She explored issues of female autonomy and the often-uncomfortable intersection of feminism and Catholicism in her books, Seizing the Apple: A Feminist Spirituality of Personal Growth and The Double Cross: Ordination, Abortion, and Catholic Feminism. If such issues remain controversial  today, just imagine what it was like to explore them when she did in the 1980’s! But she did so courageously because she believed that theology needed to engage the questions and concerns of the times. For her, Catholicism is a living tradition and she invested much of her life in mentoring future generations of Catholic feminist theologians.

In a sense, she also was a pioneer in the art of multitasking: She often raised eyebrows by reading a book while walking across campus, somehow managing not to run into other people or a tree. She was a regular presence in the halls of the Religious Department, offering a kind word, a wise observation, or sage advice. Despite her many accomplishments, she had a deep humility and a keen sense that her work, and her life, were always for “the greater glory of God.”

Please join us in remembering the family of Denise Carmody and in gratitude for her exemplary life of teaching, scholarship, and service.

Notes of condolence may be sent to the family in care of the Provost’s office. A Memorial Mass will be held on Saturday, June 3, 2023 at 10 a.m. in the Mission Church. There will be a reception immediately following in the Williman Room, Benson Center.