The Graduate Theological Union (GTU) is pleased to announce that Dr. Mary E. McGann, RSCJ, adjunct associate professor of liturgical studies at the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University, is the recipient of the 2021 GTU Excellence in Teaching Award.
The Excellence in Teaching Award is given annually to recognize a member of the GTU’s core doctoral faculty for exemplary embodiment of interreligious sensitivity and commitment, interdisciplinary approach to religious studies, and creative and effective classroom pedagogical methods and performance.
“In her twenty-five years of teaching at the GTU, Mary McGann has encouraged countless students to understand and appreciate the power of religious ritual,” said Dr. Arthur Holder, associate dean for academic affairs. “Her work in the classroom is enriched by her extensive experience as a musician, an ethnographer, and a leader of congregational prayer. The selection committee agrees with the doctoral students in the Religion and Practice department who noted in their nomination statement that, ‘Dr. McGann's engagement with justice issues and liturgy from gender to race to culture to environmental justice inspires students to bring liturgical questions into all aspects of life.’”
Dr. Elizabeth Peña, interim dean and vice president for academic affairs, added her enthusiasm for Dr. McGann’s selection, saying, “Dr. McGann is an invaluable member of the GTU community, and we are thrilled to be able to recognize her with this year’s award. She is well known for her generosity and open-mindedness, as well as for her ability to find common ground with both students and faculty colleagues.”
Dr. McGann has served on the faculty at the GTU since 1996, and has been a member of the Core Doctoral Faculty since 2002. Currently on the faculty of the Jesuit School of Theology, she likewise taught at the Franciscan School of Theology during its affiliation with GTU. She is currently teaching the doctoral seminar in Religion and Practice.
She earned her Ph.D. in worship and the arts from the Graduate Theological Union, with studies in ethnomusicology at University of California, Berkeley. Prior to that, she earned two Master of Arts degrees, one in liturgy and music from the University of Notre Dame and one in religious studies from LaSalle University, as well as a Bachelor of Music degree from Manhattanville College. After her studies at Notre Dame, she served for nine years as director of music and liturgy at Loyola University, Chicago.
Dr. McGann’s research and teaching interests include the intersection of ecology and liturgy, the inculturation of Christian worship, spirituality of the Earth, women and worship, ritual studies, ethnographic research methods, and a special research focus on the intersection of Christian rituals with the global crises of food and water. Her most recent book, published in 2020, is titled The Meal That Reconnects: Eucharistic Eating and the Global Food Crisis (Liturgical Press).
Although she has taught for many years, Dr. McGann says that the challenges and enjoyment of teaching are always new – new students, new literature, new questions, new local and global challenges. This past year’s virtual learning, for example, stretched her classroom across an unprecedented three continents.
Creating an environment, in person or online, in which students are at the center is key, she said: their interests, engagement with each other, and sense of purpose and responsibility for what they have learned.
Dr. McGann described her teaching as being always grounded in an awareness of, and responsibility for, the whole planetary community of life, whose magnificence and diversity, as well as whose crises and deep vulnerability contextualize all learning.
“Coming to know who we are within a great cosmic story,” she said, “and discerning our responsibilities toward the future of life on our planet, are foundational for all scholarly pursuit.”
The GTU Excellence in Teaching Award, formerly known as the Sarlo Excellence in Teaching Award, was instituted in 2003, and was funded until 2016 through the annual generosity of the Sarlo Family Foundation. Previous winners include Rebecca K. Esterson (2020), Arthur Holder (2019), Jean-François Racine (2018), Barbara Green, OP (2016), and Munir Jiwa (2015).
Congratulations, Dr. McGann!