Five years ago, when Margaret Sharkey told people she was taking a Fordham graduate course in ecological theology, “they’d look at me and say, ‘What is that?” she said.

What it was, for her, was a profound experience—a course that conveyed “a deep awareness of God’s love surrounding us in nature,” said Sharkey, who earned a bachelor’s degree at Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2015 after a decades-long business career.

Her experience during that 2018 graduate class moved her to make a gift to Fordham that will amplify the study of theology and its intersections with environmental themes for years to come.

In a bequest last August, Sharkey set up the Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., Endowed Fund for Theology & the Earth, which is already receiving gifts from other donors. It will support programs and research that bring theology together with other fields—the sciences, business, the arts—to explore the ethical and religious dimensions of environmental protection.

Margaret Sharkey (provided photo)

On March 21, Fordham kicked off this initiative with a lecture by renowned theologian Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., now professor emerita, who taught the ecological theology class that Sharkey took in 2018.

The fund propels the theology department in a direction it had wanted to pursue, “which is to do theology in dialogue with other fields of expertise [on]ecological or environmental issues,” said theology department chair Christine Firer Hinze, Ph.D. “This is going to energize theology and religion faculty but also faculty in other departments who want to reach out and say, ‘How do we work together here?’”

Hinze also expressed the hope that people with differing views on topics like climate action could be brought together by the kind of inviting, positive, inclusive tone that Sister Johnson struck at the March 21 event.

God’s Presence in Nature

Before taking the graduate class in 2018, Sharkey had lunch with Patrick Hornbeck, D.Phil., of Fordham’s theology faculty. Explaining the difference between religious studies and theology, he told her theology “was the study of people’s relationship with God”—a powerful idea that stayed with her.

“That’s why I feel that theology is for everyone—even if you are an atheist, you think about the concept of God,” she said.

In the graduate course, she found that studying theology gave her a renewed awareness of God’s presence in the natural world and how Earth is the common home for all—atheists and believers alike.

The course also helped her cope with a personal loss. “As the semester evolved, I found myself coming back to life,” she said. “I was finally able to hear once again the trees whisper and the birds sing. It was a gift, a moment of grace, as Sister Beth would say.”

“I believe that understanding the concept of God in such a tender, loving way is too precious to be kept for only a select few,” she said.

She’s inspired by the idea that her gift will make it possible for future young people to take a Theology and the Earth class at Fordham. “Planting this tree,” she said, “has been very fulfilling for me personally.”

To inquire about giving to any area of the University, please contact Michael Boyd, senior associate vice president for development and university relations, at 212-636-6525 or [email protected]. Learn more about Cura Personalis | For Every Fordham Student, a campaign to reinvest in every aspect of the Fordham student experience.


Chris Gosier is research news director for Fordham Now. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or [email protected].