In Memorium - Denise Lardner Carmody
Prof. Pearl Maria Barros offered these words of remembrance at the Religious Studies Department reception.
It’s an honor to share the memory of Prof. Denise Lardner Carmody. As many of you know, Prof. Carmody—or really, Denise, as she preferred to be called—was a prolific scholar, gifted teacher, wise mentor, and a woman who broke through many glass ceilings including some made of stained glass. She also had a wonderfully wry wit, contagious laugh, and a strong distaste for personal fanfare. Indeed, she’s probably rolling her eyes at this speech right now!
Born in Baltimore, Denise was a summa cum laude graduate of the College of Notre Dame in Maryland and spent fifteen years in religious life. She went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate in the philosophy of religion from Boston College. Around that time, she married John Tully Carmody, a fellow theologian. As she once shared: they got married during Mass on a Sunday and immediately went back to work teaching and writing the next day, Monday. Classic Denise!
Early on in her career, she was recognized as a leader and served as chair of the religious studies departments at both Wichita State University and the University of Tulsa prior to her arrival at SCU in 1994. At SCU Denise was a pioneer, 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.
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 as well as the 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 she once told me: “Please, God, don’t let me find out that Rahner didn’t believe what he wrote!”
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. 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. Denise shared that she and John particularly enjoyed writing textbooks since they tend to be very useful for students. Making religious studies and theology accessible to all was one of the Carmodys’ intentional legacies.
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 theologians.
It is hard to capture the vastness of Denise’s life and influence in this 5-7 minute speech—and that is, I think, as it should be. For many of us, Denise will be remembered as a regular presence in the halls of the Religious Studies Department, pacing up and down the hallway with a book in hand, but ever ready to offer a kind word, 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.”
Rest in the peace and power of God, dear Denise. I hope you find out that Rahner was right.