An Invitation to Console, Liberate, and Empower
Theology, practiced properly, is an effort to accompany people in their search for God. And those who undertake it follow in the footsteps of Socrates, Jesus and Pope Francis—bravely putting themselves in service of others and addressing “the real questions of today.”
So said Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Sandra Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament studies and Christian spirituality, as she addressed the 2018 graduating class of the Jesuit School of Theology (JST) of Santa Clara University.
The event was held May 19 at 3 p.m. at All Souls Church, 2220 Cedar Street in Berkeley, Calif.
In her speech, Schneiders said she was discussing “our shared vocation, the challenging vocation of the theologian in today’s Church and world.” She said that theology “denotes the whole enterprise of pursuing, tending, and promoting the mindful search for God in this particular historical context.” Theology as a vocation “gives us privileged access to people’s deepest desires..and calls us to respond to them as Jesus did to his contemporaries, in ways that enlighten, but especially in ways that encourage and console, liberate and empower.”
She praised Pope Francis’ approach to theology, “fully engaged with the reality of the world in which real people, including oneself, live and struggle.”
Pope Francis, sometimes controversially, embraces “the experience of people, outside as well as inside the institutional Church, the laity as well as the clergy, women as well as men, the poor, uneducated, incarcerated, and ill, as well as those in the halls of civil and ecclesiastical power,” she said. He sees them as “not threats to the Church but invitations to look again, to entertain the real questions, to be evangelized anew.”
She advised the graduates—some of whom will be scholars, teachers, preachers, or ministers of “liberation and mercy”—to “respond with integrity to every challenge, even the threat of persecution or death, and thereby prove yourselves worthy of the One you follow, in whose own ministry you are involved, and whose final approval is the only reward worth seeking.”
Schneiders was one of the first two nuns to receive a theology doctorate from a pontifical university. In conferring an honorary doctor of divinity degree, JST Dean Kevin O’Brien, S.J., noted of Schneiders, “in this religious vanguard of theologians and scriptural scholars, you embodied the spirit of the Second Vatican Council."
She went on to become the first non-Jesuit female professor to be tenured at JST. She is a pioneering, and often-cited theologian of St. John’s Gospel and in the field of “hermeneutics,” or how to interpret texts. She helped establish the country’s first doctoral program in Christian spirituality, at the Graduate Theological Union, and is a highly regarded and sought-after expert in Biblical studies and the modern-day theology and spirituality of women religious.
Her extraordinary life and work were featured last year in a gallery exhibit at Santa Clara University’s Learning Commons, and her professional papers have been donated to Santa Clara University’s official archives—the first collection of its kind at SCU.
At the commencement, sixty-one students received 75 degrees, including master’s of divinity; master’s of theological studies; or licentiates or doctorates of sacred theology degrees. The graduates come from the U.S. and 16 other countries: Cameroon, Chile, China, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Germany, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Korea, Ukraine, Uganda, and Vietnam.
During the ceremony, four graduates—Anthony Ferrari, Oscar Momanyi, Caroline Read, and Kyle Shinseki—were inducted into the honor society of Jesuit colleges and universities, Alpha Sigma Nu, as was the outgoing rector of the JST Jesuit community, John McGarry, S.J., who received an honorary membership.
A replay of the event is available here.