Becoming the Hands of Christ
BERKELEY, Calif., May 24, 2023— Santa Clara University’s Jesuit School of Theology (JST-SCU) celebrated the Class of 2023 at its May 20 commencement with words of encouragement from noted theologian and former JST Dean T. Howland “Hal” Sanks, S.J., and Santa Clara University President Julie Sullivan.
The afternoon event at All Souls Episcopal Parish in Berkeley saw 58 degrees awarded, including nine master’s of divinity; 11 master’s of theological studies; 18 master’s of theology; two bachelor’s of sacred theology, and 18 licentiates of sacred theology. In all, 41 students, including 25 Jesuits and 12 lay students, received degrees from the 89-year-old international theologate.
Sanks, who had hoped to attend in person but was unable to travel to JST, sent remarks that were read by Jerome Baggett, professor of religion and society at JST-SCU. The core of Sanks’ remarks emphasized the need to embrace change—despite Catholicism’s historical antipathy toward things that upset stability or sameness. “Theology must take account of what John Haught calls the ‘three infinities,’” wrote Sanks, describing them as “the infinitely immense, the infinitesimally small, and the infinitely complex.”
He noted the rise of racism, wealth inequality, and environmental degradation in the U.S., urging theologians to stay informed—about history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and more—“if we are to deal with the changes” and “to serve the people of God well in the future.”
In her address, President Sullivan told the class that they were becoming “Christ's hands, offering healing and hope to communities far and wide.” She added that their “holy work in God’s ‘field hospital’ will be to lift up God’s people, to accompany them in their suffering and their joys, and to usher in a world where they can count on justice.”
About Hal Sanks, S.J.
Sanks was born and raised in Baltimore, and graduated from Mount St. Joseph’s High School. He received his Ph.D. in systematic/constructive theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School, and his bachelor’s degree in political science at Loyola College, Baltimore. He joined the Jesuits in August 1955 and was ordained in June of 1965. From 1980 to 1987 he served as academic dean of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, where he also served as president from 1995 to 1997, and directed the school’s doctorate in sacred theology program until he retired in 2012. For six years, he served as minister of the Jesuit Community at Loyola University Maryland.
During his academic career, Sanks was active nationally within the Catholic Theological Society of America, the American Academy of Religion and the Association of Theological Schools. He taught innovative and challenging courses, and his work as a theologian contributed not only to the discipline of theology, but also to the JST-SCU as it continues to strive to pass on to students a faith that does justice and critical fidelity to Catholic tradition. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity degree at the event.
After the degrees were conferred, class member Basile Ouedraogo, S.J., who earned a licentiate of sacred theology and a master’s of theology, addressed the class. He used the metaphor of a pencil—handheld, requiring sharpening, correctible, and able to leave a mark—to describe the challenges and opportunities that will come with a life of ministry. He closed with a fitting and familiar invitation, “Go forth and set the world on fire.”
The Jesuit School of Theology’s graduating class of 2023 comprised 41 students from 19 countries.
During the ceremony, Daniel Dixon, S.J., Cecily Gray, Lynn Lee, and Aaron Pierre, S.J., received the Alpha Sigma Nu Award.
About the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University
The Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, located in Berkeley, California, is a preeminent international center for the culturally contextualized study of theology. Its mission is to inspire and prepare men and women to become leaders in the Church, academy, and society, serving others through a faith that does justice. Rooted in Ignatian spirituality, JST-SCU educates and trains Jesuits, religious, ordained, and lay students from across the United States and from 40 other countries for lives dedicated to ministry and scholarship.
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