Remembering Ada María Isasi-Díaz

Remembering Ada María Isasi-Díaz

Posted by Kate Ott on May 14, 2012

As many reading this blog may have already heard, Dr. Ada María Isasi-Díaz passed away in the early morning on May 13, 2012.  While there are many other more qualified scholars, colleagues and friends to write a memorializing blog than I, I take up the task with humility and responsibility.   I have known Ada since 1999 when she spoke in one of Rev. Dr. Letty Russell’s courses, Third World Women’s Theologies.  This was a transformative class for my own formation, but what I could not believe was that one of the authors of our assigned readings came to have lunch and teach us.  As my partner often reminds me, I proclaimed that evening, “I met one of the coolest women in the world.” 

After that meeting I was lucky enough to have a number of other opportunities to get to know Ada and continue to study her scholarship.  From a travel seminar to Cuba to hearing about her recent pilgrimage in Spain, from a quiet lunch in New York City to lectures at three different seminaries, I had plenty of opportunity to learn from Ada, who always had a story and advice to share.  Ada was an inspiration to me as Roman Catholic woman wondering where my place in academia might be.   I also often found myself uncomfortable in conversations with her, especially as a Master’s student rather clumsily discovering how my race and nationality blinded me to my privilege.

The “. . . coolest women in the world” quote was referenced again in our household just last fall as I began my position at Drew Theological School.  Her retirement opened the faculty vacancy for my and other faculty appointments last year.  She was a professor of ethics and theology at Drew University beginning in 1991 and became emerita in December 2009.  Her legacy continues as do the opportunities for intersection with it. 

This semester in my Feminist Ethics seminar at Drew, her pioneering work in Mujerista theology was a topic of class discussion as well as some students’ final papers.  The Christian Ethics core course students wrestled with her ethical claims about scripture as a source for ethics in “La Palabra de Dios en Nosotras-The Word of God in Us” from Searching the Scriptures, Volume One: A Feminist Introduction

Her career was distinguished by scholarship, but also activism.  Many of us may know and others will read about her childhood and conscientization as a young adult.  She continued her work as a radical voice for equality from the seminary classroom to her local church.  As I was reminded recently, when the Our Lady Queen of Angels church was closed, she helped lead the protest vigils and Sunday services in the sidewalk of the church.  One of my favorite Ada quotes is from a speech in which she refers to the word Eschatology and says (paraphrasing), “I use these theological words and teach them to the women in my parish, because I paid a lot of money for them and it’s time we liberate them as well.” 

Ada popularized and gave new language to the study of theology and ethics from a Mujerista perspective.  Her sister and niece recently set up a blog to keep friends, family, and colleagues informed of Ada’s treatment and then her passing.  The comments detail the gratitude for the many contributions Ada made to so many lives as well as the discipline of theological and social ethics. 

At Drew, there is a legend that all new faculty are told about the ‘Giants that once walked the Drew Theological School Forest.’  I’m not as familiar with those giants as I am with the generations of pioneering women scholars we are losing each year – I think about Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz this week, and others like Jane Schaberg who left us in April and my mentor Letty Russell in 2007.  We could add to this list.  Ada is one of the Giants, in my book.  May we at Drew and those in mujerista, womanist, and feminist religious studies honor and build upon the foundation she leaves. 

En la Lucha . . . (in the words of Ada)



Robyn Henderson-Espinoza's picture

Thank your or posting this. Truly, a pioneering voice in theology and ethics.

James Watrous's picture

May she rest in peace.

Delfin's picture

May her lucha live on in you and all of us

Mari Isasi-Diaz's picture

Ada Maria was my sister and i thank you for teaching other what she so valiantly won for all of us in this world that are preocuppied with the issues of justice and inclusion for all.

Cukup's picture

Well, you were specifically refeirrng to women and children in your article, but you're absolutely right, like most patriarchal institutions, the Church harms any individuals that do not conform in very specific ways to the ideal individual, in particular those that do not internalize a conception of the self as sinful and guilty, no matter what one does. Those harmed include many men as well, from different racial and cultural backgrounds, as well as homosexual men.For practicing Catholics, though, there is a conceptual distinction between Church hierarchy and Church doctrine. Practicing Catholics do not believe themselves to be free to leave the Church, regardless of their disagreements with the hierarchy and the actions of people in positions of power within the hierarchy because part of their belief is that the Church IS God's church on earth and their loyalty to it is, thus, the overriding moral imperative.I am not saying that one should remain within the Church if one disagrees with what the Church is doing. I am saying that feminists find room to disagree with the Church's practices and its structure without leaving their faith. There is precedent for change (more than you give credit for), and this recent sex abuse scandal is likely to engender considerable change as well. This is really an argument about methods for change, and one that feminists have endlessly debated in regard to national governments, business practices, academia, etc. Ultimately, the radical feminist answer to patriarchy the reordering of society by destroying old patriarchal institutions is not feasible for Catholic feminists. They must, instead, work within the Church, as liberal feminists, to assert feminist principles through political and legal reform.