Alison M. Benders
Vice President, Division of Mission & Ministry
Executive Director, Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education
As the first vice president for mission and ministry, Dr. Alison Benders will drive and support strategies and programs to strengthen and promote the Jesuit, Catholic identity of the University in ways that are pastoral, inclusive, and reflective of the rich diversity of the University community. She will be responsible for the clear articulation and broad communication of Santa Clara University’s Jesuit, Catholic mission and character, including overseeing Campus Ministry; the Mission Church; and the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education.
Benders has been with the University since 2014, including serving as senior lecturer, associate dean and, for the 2019-2020 academic year, interim dean of JST. She was previously vice president for academic affairs at Ohio Dominican University; vice president for academic affairs and professor of religion at Lake Erie College in Ohio; and dean of the school of graduate and professional studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Before her work in academia she was a practicing litigation attorney for 10 years in Philadelphia.
With nearly 20 years in leadership at Catholic institutions, Benders brings extensive experience in long-term visioning, strategic planning, and organizational change management. A published theologian and seasoned faculty member, she is steeped in the Jesuit mission to advance justice and reconciliation.
“Dr. Benders will bring a wonderfully varied skill set, depth of experience in the Catholic intellectual tradition and Ignatian spirituality, and a creative and collaborative spirit to this vital new role at Santa Clara,” said Lisa Kloppenberg, acting president of Santa Clara University. “We look forward to working together to ensure the focus of our efforts fully align with the mission and ministry of the University.”
Benders will work closely with the University’s newly named vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, T. Shá Duncan Smith, to help unify mission-related, diversity, and antiracism efforts across campus.
While at JST, Benders has served on the Dean’s Council, the Presidential Action Committee, and other committees for development, strategic planning, and faculty issues. She has served on the Consortial Council of Presidents and the board of trustees of the Graduate Theological Union. She participated in the Ignatian Colleagues Program, focused on the formation of Ignatian values in higher education leaders and, by extension, their institutions.
“I am greatly looking forward to working together with so many at SCU who champion the Jesuit ideal of men and women for others, and who know the value of the mission and ministry work that takes place across our campuses in Santa Clara and Berkeley,” said Benders. “I hope to build on that work to frame and enliven the University’s mission, so that all members of SCU can find that they belong within its umbrella, regardless of their personal, faith or political commitments.”
Benders holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, a J.D. from the University of Virginia, a licentiate of sacred theology from JST, and a Ph.D. in theology from Boston College.
Benders has focused her academic and conference work in recent years on the concepts of pilgrimage and race and racial injustice— including giving talks and workshops on the topics of mass incarceration, racism and Catholic Social Teaching, as well as race, class and gender in institutions. In fall 2018 she took her race, justice, and theology students on a 11-day, 15-site pilgrimage and tour of civil rights historical sites such as the Whitney Plantation in New Orleans, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park, and the 16th Street Baptist Church.
In 2015, she published Just Prayer: A Liturgy of Hours for Peacemakers and Justice Seekers, which earned the Catholic Publishers Association Award for Best Book in Spirituality for 2016. In 2019, she completed a parish study guide for the Catholic bishops’ letter against racism: Reading, Praying, Living The US Bishops’ Open Wide Our Hearts: A Faith Formation Guide. She is currently on sabbatical completing a writing project entitled Recollecting America’s Original Sin: Walking the Color Line, building upon the Civil Rights class immersion, that will help people of faith prioritize the work of racial justice in our communities.
Her work and her leadership has included research in subjects including the role of science in seminaries; intercultural initiatives, development and formation for Hispanic Catholic ministers; a global theology initiative to share resources among Jesuit graduate programs worldwide; and overseeing a Hilton-funded project to develop a women’s theological network in Asia.
She is a member of the Association of Theology Schools - Chief Academic Officers Advisory Board and the Catholic Theological Society of America, and has been a board member of the Graduate Theological Union, Council of Deans, and Society for Phenomenology of Religious Experience.
Currently, Benders and her husband of 40 years, Larry, live in both the Bay Area and Cleveland, Ohio, where Larry is president of the Cleveland Sight Center, which offers services and advocates for children and adults who are blind or have low vision. They travel on weekends to be together. Their son works in Mountain View, Calif., and their three daughters live in the Cleveland area with their own growing families, including Benders’ four grandchildren.