Francine Cardman, an associate professor at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (STM) and scholar of early Christianity and feminist theology, died on Jan. 21 at the age of 74.
“She’s left the impact that lots of great teachers and scholars do,” said Catherine Mooney, an associate professor of church history at the STM and long-term friend of Cardman. “She’s influenced scholarship in her field in terms of early Christian women and in terms of ethics and social justice, and also just personally, she’s impacted … people.”
Cardman began her career at BC in 2008 when the University’s Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry merged with the Weston Jesuit School of Theology—where she had been teaching since 1979—to form what is now the STM.
Rev. Thomas Massaro, S.J., a professor of moral theology at Fordham University and former professor and dean at the STM, said Cardman was his professor when he was a student at Weston.
“She was an absolute expert on that large body of literature about the early centuries of the church, including doctrines, church history, organization of the church, [and] how we develop bishops and popes,” Massaro said.
In addition to learning from Cardman as a student, Massaro worked alongside her when he began teaching at Weston in 1997 and later at the STM. Massaro said Cardman embodied everything that a colleague should be.
“[She was] easy to get along with, easy to talk to—that’s the core of collegiality—and I have to say, whip-smart, just super intelligent,” he said.
According to Massaro, Cardman brought a personal approach to her teaching.
“I’m sure that her students will remember her kind of personal approach to theology,” he said. “It wasn’t just abstract. … She would add a personal touch of anecdotes of colorful stories.”
Massaro said Cardman was also a great partner to the Jesuits.
“I just think that they all came away knowing her well, respecting her, and feeling respected by her, and that applies across the board,” Massaro said.
Cardman was an independent thinker, according to Mooney, with a deep understanding of the gospel and a strong sense of justice. In particular, Cardman had a deep knowledge of women’s roles in the early church—roles often made invisible, Mooney said.
“A number of her publications, for instance, looked into women from the past and kind of retrieved their stories for us,” she said.
Cardman additionally co-founded the Women’s Theological Center in Boston in 1981. The center, Mooney said, offered an alternative model of theological education for women.
“She got a very broad sense of what better ministry could be and how that could also embrace women,” Mooney said.
Mooney said Cardman brought this knowledge, as well as her knowledge of feminist works in theology, to her course on women in ministry. This class, according to Mooney, was groundbreaking for many who took it.
“That kind of a course—it’s not just memorable, it’s really life changing for some of the students,” Mooney said.
Cardman also organized a women’s spirituality reading group to help facilitate discussions about future careers relating to theology, Massaro said,
“Women in their 20s … could gather together and spend time with Francine and maybe other female faculty members … and have a discussion group about their expectations of their future careers, their ministry, and it was a really wonderful approach to theology,” he said.
Cardman often spoke for the Voice of the Faithful, a lay Catholic organization founded in the wake of clerical sex abuse scandals, and attended its conferences and events.
Margaret Guider, O.S.F., the chair of ecclesiatical faculty and an associate professor of missiology at the STM, said in an email to The Heights that Cardman was a generous colleague who fought for justice.
“A tenacious advocate, she had a keen sense of justice in matters great and small,” Guider wrote. “An ever-faithful friend, she was untiring in her concern and compassion for others.”
Mooney said Cardman fought for a just church and a just world, encouraging her students to do the same.
“She still remained hopeful, and I think that’s something that she communicated to her students—that you don’t just accept these realities when they’re unjust, but nor do you despair,” Mooney said. “You always keep hope alive and keep working for that more just society.”
Featured Graphic by Annie Corrigan / Heights Editor