December 09, 2019

Convocation: Elizabeth Mary Davis, Doctor of Theology

On Saturday morning, 22 November 2019, in the chapel of Regis College in Toronto, the Degree, Doctor of Theology, was conferred on Elizabeth Davis, rsm, by Regis College and the University of Toronto.  Joining her in the celebrations were Sisters from her congregation in Newfoundland (Sisters Madonna Gatherall and Patricia March) and her sister, Rose Davis.   Mary Sullivan, rsm, one of Elizabeth’s mentors, and Marilyn Williams, rsm, drove from Rochester, NY to share this day with Elizabeth.  Present also were some of her academic colleagues as well as members of the Loretto community of Toronto.  The Eucharistic Liturgy was celebrated, and a reception was held at the College after the formalities.

Later, in the evening, there was a formal dinner at Loretto College where the circle of community, family, friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate with Elizabeth.  A large bouquet of yellow roses from the Mercy International Association was set as centerpiece for the festive table.  The Sisters and dietary staff of Loretto prepared a delicious and beautifully presented meal that spoke of their deep love for Elizabeth.

Elizabeth, we rejoice with you on this special occasion!  We are delighted that you are celebrating this recognition of your years of hard work (among everything else that you have accomplished!) and the completion of your leading-edge research about the interpretation of Sacred Scriptures by four women including our beloved founder Catherine.  We look forward to reading the book that will eventually come from it and hearing, at least, a mini-lecture!

We thank God with you that you have come to this day!

Diane Smyth,rsm, on behalf of community, family, friends and colleagues

Messages to: Elizabeth Davis rsm

Reading with our Foresisters: Aguilar, King, McAuley and Schimmelpenninck— Early Nineteenth-Century Women Interpret Scripture in New Ways for New Times

Elizabeth Mary Davis, rsm
Doctor of Theology Regis College and The University of Toronto 2019

Thesis Abstract

Biblical hermeneutics today is marked by increased attention to women’s experience and voices in interpretation, the illustration of alternatives to the historical-critical approach to create a plurality of interpretation as the interpretive norm, exploration of the social location of earlier interpreters, determination of authority for biblical interpretation, and expansion of hermeneutics to include praxis (a manifestation of embodied or lived theology).

This thesis shows that these elements are not completely new, but they are embedded in scriptural interpretation from two hundred years ago. The four women studied are Grace Aguilar, Frances Elizabeth King, Catherine McAuley and Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck. These women lived at the same time in the early nineteenth century in the same geographic region. They represent the spectrum of readers of the Bible – Aguilar was Jewish, King was a member of the Church of England, McAuley was Roman Catholic and Schimmelpenninck was a Quaker who became a Moravian. The thesis shows that the interpretive works of these four women were prototypical of and anticipated the elements which characterize biblical hermeneutics today.

To guide this exploration, the thesis appropriates the construct of the hermeneutic triangle, examining the social location of the four women, their texts about the Bible and the hermeneutic by which they interpreted the biblical texts. In so doing, it shows that these women, from very different religious traditions, intentionally used the Bible to bring about social change and intuitively used the Bible to legitimate their authority to do so.

This study makes more visible the writings of these women who lived on the margins of the official tradition (either the academy or the church/synagogue). It legitimates the validity and credibility of their interpretive works, a legitimacy given them in their own time by their receiving communities but denied by the academic and religious authorities. It strengthens the validity and deepens the understanding of these hermeneutical elements today by illustrating their presence in interpretation by contemporaries of Schleiermacher.

Acknowledgements in the Thesis

Because four women (Grace Aguilar, Frances Elizabeth King, Catherine McAuley and Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck) lived in a time of significant social change, loved their holy books and used what they understood as God’s Word to positively influence social change, I was able to write this thesis.

Because one of the women, Catherine McAuley, founded the Congregation to which I belong, I was able to write this thesis.

Because my parents, Michael and Mary Davis, my sisters and brothers, and my aunts and uncles gave me the love, the confidence and the energy to follow my dreams, I was able to write this thesis.

Because the members of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy and my many friends believed in me and in my love for Scripture, I was able to write this thesis. Because Mary Sullivan, rsm, constantly encouraged me to write about our founder’s love for Scripture, I was able to write this thesis. Because the Sisters and staff at Loretto College gave me a warm and welcoming home in Toronto, I was able to write this thesis.

Because Professor Michael Kolarcik, sj, and the faculty and administration of Regis College trusted in a retired health administrator’s passion for the Old Testament and because Toronto School of Theology professors (including Brian Peckham, sj, and Gerald Sheppard both now deceased) taught me so much, I was able to write this thesis. Because Professor Marion Taylor awakened my interest in women interpreters of the nineteenth century and because she affirmed me throughout this whole journey, I was able to write and complete this thesis.

Because the administrative staff at Regis College and the Toronto School of Theology as well as my editor worked with such diligence and patience, I was able to complete this thesis.

It is said of Woman Wisdom (Ws 7:27-28), “In every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets.” I am deeply grateful for these friends of God and prophets who have walked before me and with me. To each and every one of them, I say thank you, and again thank you.

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