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M. Shawn Copeland to receive Civitas Dei Medal on Wednesday at Villanova

(Boston College)

Dr. M. Shawn Copeland, professor emerita of systematic theology at Boston College, has been named the recipient of this year’s Civitas Dei Medal from Villanova University, which will be bestowed in a livestreamed ceremony on campus Wednesday afternoon.

Copeland is the first Black awardee in the history of the medal, which was inaugurated in 2012.

“With the Civitas Dei Medal, Villanova honors Catholics who, through their work, have made exemplary contributions to the Catholic intellectual tradition and the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness,” the university said in a release on February 6, following an initial announcement last month.

“Copeland has gained renown for her research in three intersecting areas: shifts in theological understanding of the human person; the African American Catholic experience; and issues pertinent to political or praxis-based theologies.”

The Civitas Medal is only the latest honor for Copeland, who retired from Boston College in 2019—one year after receiving the John Courtney Murray Award from the Catholic Theological Society of America. She previously served as the first Black president of the CTSA beginning in 2003, the same year she became an associate professor at Boston College, where she earned her PhD in 1991.

Copeland was named a keynote speaker of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium’s annual meeting in 2021, delivering a lecture entitled “#BlackLivesMatter as Public Theology,” and was nominated for Pax Christi USA’s Teacher of Peace Award the same year. She received the Monika Hellwig Award from the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in 2021, and was honored by the Catholic Media Association in 2022 for “Desire, Darkness, and Hope: Theology in a Time of Impasse,” a work she co-edited. Last fall, she delivered the inaugural Thea Bowman Lecture at Santa Clara University for Black Catholic History Month.

Copeland’s own body of written work spans the fields of womanist and political theology, often including focusing on intersectionality and the witness of the Black experience. She has contributed to various works integral to the Black Catholic academic corpus, including the landmark text “Uncommon Faithfulness: The Black Catholic Experience” (2009). She also authored a book the same year on Venerable Henriette DeLille, one of seven African-American Catholics currently on the path to sainthood.

The second edition of her 2010 book “Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being” is scheduled to be released later this year.

Copeland currently serves as the Vincentian Chair of Social Justice at St. John’s University in New York City, where she is delivering a series of lectures as part of her service, including a talk entitled “Who is My Neighbor” earlier this month. She previously served a term as the Alonzo L. McDonald Family Chair on the Life and Teachings of Jesus and Their Impact on Culture at Emory University beginning in 2020.

Wednesday’s ceremony at Villanova will begin at 4pm ET in Driscoll Hall room 132, and registration is encouraged. The event will include a lecture entitled “Political Theology: Animating Possibilities for Renewal of Common Life” and the Civitas Dei Medal will be presented by Fr Kevin DePrinzio, OSA, the school’s vice president for mission and ministry.

Interested parties can stream the event on the Villanova website.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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