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Dr. C. Vanessa White receives award from Catholic Theological Society of America

White received the inaugural Distinguished Scholar/Leader Award from the CTSA's Committee on Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Groups (CUERG) in June.

Catholic scholars in Baltimore for the annual meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America on June 5, 2024. From left: Drs. Leo Guardado, C. Vanessa White, Byron Wratee, and Stephanie Wong. (CTU/Twitter)

Dr. C. Vanessa White, OFS is the recipient of a new award from the Catholic Theological Society of America, part of its ongoing effort to recognize the contributions of Catholic scholars of color. 

White, a professor at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) and associate director for the degree program in the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana, received the inaugural Committee on Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Groups (CUERG) Distinguished Scholar/Leader Award during the annual CTSA meeting on June 5 in Baltimore. 

The gathering marked the committee’s 20th anniversary, as well as a continued diversification of active Catholic theologians in the United States.

“I was honored to be the first recipient and saw my task was to shine the light on the history and the work of CUERG over the years and acknowledge we still have a long way to go,” White told BCM

“My commitment over the years and mission has been to mentor the next generation of leadership within the church and to recognize the gifts of Blackness to the broader theological community.”

CUERG was first established at the behest of theologians of color who lamented the dearth of minority scholars producing work in the teaching field. Among Black Catholics, an early outlier was Fr Joseph Nearon, the first Black member of the CTSA. His work was followed by that of various others, including the CTSA’s first Black president, Dr. M. Shawn Copeland, who spearheaded CUERG in 2004.

White is currently one of several Black Catholics active in the CTSA, which she says has experienced a dramatic increase in presenters from minority backgrounds.

“In 2004, when CUERG began, only four percent of the names on the annual convention program were theologians from underrepresented communities,” she said. 

“In 2024 of 108 presentations, almost 50% were persons from underrepresented communities. Many of these papers will then become essays, chapters in texts, manuscripts, or become resources for other theologians who are writing on various topics of theology.”

White’s own work has become a centerpiece in the modern expression of Black Catholic scholarship, including through her service at CTU and in the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, of which she is a past convener. She has contributed to various anthologies and co-edited the 2006 book, “Songs of Our Hearts and Meditations of Our Souls: Prayers for Black Catholics.” 

A consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in 2023 White was appointed by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago as a delegate to the continental stage of the Synod on Synodality. Earlier this month, she delivered the plenary address for the annual meeting of the College Theological Society in Denver.

“Vanessa has dedicated her life to leading important conversations in the fields of spirituality and pastoral theology, lifting up theological subfields that do not always receive the affirmation they should in contexts like the CTSA and other similar academic guilds,” her CUERG award nominator wrote.

“[She] speaks with prophetic voice and ecclesial love,” another colleague wrote, “embodying the type of theologian that Pope Francis has encouraged during his pontificate: close to the people of God, attentive to those who live on the peripheries, and writing scholarship for the entire church, not just the learned minds.”

White’s nomination came from among her peers in CUERG, whose leadership formed an award committee to review submissions. They were tasked with honoring a fellow CTSA member or past member “whose work as a scholar-leader has carried forward the theologizing of underrepresented and underrecognized communities in the academy, Church, and/or wider society.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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