In Memoriam: Josephine Massyngbaerde Ford, Professor Emerita of Theology

Author: Michael O. Garvey

In memoriam: Josephine Massyngbaerde Ford

Josephine Massyngbaerde Ford, professor emerita of theology at the University of Notre Dame, died May 16. She was 86.

A native of Nottinghamshire, England, Ford was born near Sherwood Forest. She graduated from the University of Nottingham in 1957 and, after a brief career as a medical nurse, earned a master’s degree from the University of London and a doctoral degree from Nottingham in 1963.

In 1965, when she came to Notre Dame as a New Testament and Rabbinic scholar, Ford was one of only two women on the University’s faculty, and three years later she became the first female Notre Dame faculty member to receive tenure.

“Professor Josephine Ford was an extraordinary trailblazer at Notre Dame,” said Rev. Patrick Gaffney, C.S.C., associate professor of anthropology, who was among Ford’s first undergraduate students here. “She guided decades of students into the study of sacred scripture by the example of her broad learning, deep faith, and alert conscience. She was also a wonderfully original scholar who often explored new possibilities by combining the recovery of ancient traditions with contemporary ecclesiastical experimentation.”

A charmingly eccentric and soft-spoken woman, Ford once filled out a biographical form for the University’s public relations office, writing under the birthdate category, “English ladies don’t disclose.” During the early part of her 33-year teaching career, she often convened her theology classes in a small South Bend apartment she called “the Scrollery,” where she also served dinners and teas to students. She continued these practices when she moved to a five-acre horse farm a mile north of Notre Dame’s campus.

In addition to her teaching, Ford wrote numerous articles in theological journals and several books, including A Trilogy on Wisdom and Celibacy, Wellsprings of Scripture: A Thematic and Rabbinic Introduction, The Spirit and the Human Person, We Are Easter People, and Which Way for Catholic Pentecostals. She served as a consultant on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops committees on the permanent diaconate and on the care and ministry to the sick.

Long after Ford’s retirement in 1998, she remained active in the ministries of the Little Flower Catholic Church and at Notre Dame, where she served as a Eucharistic minister in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

A wake will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. May 26 at Little Flower Catholic Church. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. May 27 in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

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