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John Courtney Murray Award 2004
Professor Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ

The distinguished theologian whom we honor this evening was born literally on the eve of Pearl Harbor, December 6, 1941. Growing up on the East Coast of the United States, in an Irish Catholic family, the eldest of seven children, early on, she honed her quick wit, spirited debate skills, astute appraisal, and ability to press razor sharp arguments. She attended a Catholic secondary school, and, after graduation, responded to the invitation to vowed religious life. If the war effort echoed in her childhood, the breathtaking changes initiated by the Second Vatican Council made a deep impression during her early experience of religious life. In particular, the exhortation to solidarity in Gaudium et Spes, to make our own “the joys and hope, the grief and anguish of the men and women of our time, especially of those who are poor and afflicted in any way” (Gaudium et Spes, #1) helped to shape her growing vision of the Church, of theology and its potential.

Like many other vowed women religious of that era, her baccalaureate and master’s degrees were followed by stints of teaching at elementary, junior high, secondary, and, undergraduate levels. Only doctoral studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D. C., drew her away from her beloved East Coast. One of the first women to earn the degree of doctor of philosophy in the Department of Theology at Catholic University, following graduation she remained at the University to teach for a decade, earning tenure in 1991. In that same year, she accepted an appointment as professor of theology at Fordham University, and in 1997 the University named her Distinguished Professor of Theology.

A former President of the Society, our honoree enjoys an exceptional theological career: In addition to active and creative participation in several learned societies, she has authored seven books and numerous scholarly essays and popular articles, which have been translated into German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Dutch, Polish, Lithuanian, and Korean. Her scholarship, characterized by meticulous research, the bold application of hermeneutics, and intellectual rigor and imagination, has helped to define feminist theology. Indeed, her theological career has been devoted to creating a footbridge between the classical theological tradition and feminist insights. Her path breaking book, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse garnered several major award, most notably the 1992 Grawemeyer Award in Religion from the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and in 1999 her Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints received the prize for Excellence in the Study of Religion (constructive category) from the American Academy of Religion.

Deeply committed to and involved in the life of the Church, our honoree has served as a theologian on the national Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, a consultant to the Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Women in Church and Society, and a theological consultant to two Vatican-sponsored commissions—the dialogue between science and religion and the study of Christ and world-religions.

She is the recipient of nine honorary degrees and numerous awards for academic excellence as well as theological work and service to the Church. Three of these indicate the breadth of her commitments—the Teaching Award from Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; the award from the journal, U. S. Catholic recognizing her efforts to advance the cause of women in the Church, and the Sacred Universe Award presented by the environmental group SpiritEarth for her promotion of care of the earth.

In the name of the Catholic Theological Society of America, in your name, I am privileged and pleased to confer our highest honor, the John Courtney Murray Award for Distinguished Achievement in Theology, to a woman who is our colleague, our friend, and truly our sister Elizabeth Johnson of the Congregation of Saint Joseph, Brentwood, Long Island, New York.

Award text for 2004: Professor Elizabeth Johnson (pdf file)

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