Sister Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P., professor of theology in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters, recently received two prestigious honors: the Ann O’Hara Graff Memorial Award and the Veritas Award.
Presented by Dominican University, The Veritas Award recognizes “excellence in teaching by a preeminent scholar and theologian in the Dominican tradition.”
“It meant a lot to me,” Hilkert says, “because it came from my Dominican sisters and brothers and colleagues who are also engaged in the Dominican tradition’s commitment to preaching and teaching the Gospel.”
The Graff Memorial Award, which is presented by the Women’s Consultation in Constructive Theology in conjunction with the Catholic Theological Society of America’s annual conference, also carries special significance for Hilkert.
“Ann O’Hara Graff was a colleague and friend whose own work exemplified the integration of theology, ethics, and pastoral concern which this award recognizes,” she explains.
Hilkert specializes in contemporary systematic theology with particular interest in theological anthropology, fundamental theology, and feminist theology and spirituality. A distinguished lecturer and prolific writer, she has been awarded honorary doctorates from Providence College and Aquinas Institute of Theology, and has served as president of the Catholic Theological Society.
While she has always been drawn to theological studies, Hilkert says that as a graduate student she developed a particular interest in the perspective of women in theology and spiritual life.
“When I studied theology in graduate school, we explored a wide variety of theological perspectives, both classical and contemporary, but no writings by women were included,” she says.
“In my own teaching, I have tried to present more of the riches of the Christian tradition by including women’s insights as well as those of men and by trying to include voices from the great variety of cultures which make up the Christian and Catholic tradition.”
Her courses include Theological Anthropology (the mystery of being human), Christology (Jesus and Salvation), Fundamentals of Systematic Theology (the nature and methods of the discipline of theology), and Feminist and Multicultural Theologies.
Hilkert is currently working on two books. Supported by a grant from the Louisville Institute, Words of Spirit and Life draws from the Lyman Beecher Lecture series she gave at Yale University in 2010. “The main focus of the book is the role of the Holy Spirit, not only in Christian preaching but also as God active throughout all of creation,” she says.
The second book, Grace Enfleshed: A Sacramental Anthropology, is a long-term project that explores “the mystery of being human” from the perspective of Christian faith.
“The book will emphasize that, in spite of human sin, God’s grace can be discovered throughout creation, that Jesus Christ is the primary sacrament revealing God’s love (grace) made flesh, and that human persons are created and destined for communion with God and with all of God’s other beloved creatures,” she says.
“I plan to draw on the symbolism of the Christian sacraments to highlight the deepest meaning, possibilities, and goal of human life.”