Cardinal Newman Chair retires after 21-year run

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A big change is coming this fall to the Cardinal Newman Chair of Catholic Theology at Alaska Pacific University.

Dr. Regina Boisclair, who has served as Newman Chair since 1997, has returned to her native Massachusetts, where she plans to travel, write several books, teach online and continue research in a field of expertise, the lectionary.

Her successor, Dr. Lisa Unterseher, arrived in July and said she looks forward to “continuing the work Gina’s been doing.”

Unterseher has previously been the R.W. Spears Professor of Religion at Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, and is the author of a 2009 book, “The Mark of Cain and the Jews, Augustine’s Theology of Jews and Judaism.”

The Cardinal Newman Chair is Alaska’s only endowed academic chair of its kind dedicated to religion studies. It was established in 1991 with an endowment from the Carr family. Larry and Wilma Carr were local Catholic philanthropists and close friends of the late Anchorage Archbishop Francis Hurley, who encouraged them to establish a chair in Catholic studies at the school then known as Alaska Methodist University.

In more than two decades at APU, Boisclair offered courses in religion, Scripture and theology, and encouraged local Catholics to pursue their personal goals of religious study and reflection through parish book clubs and lectures. But it was through her “Newman Observer” program that interested adults could sit in on the university’s Newman classes for no credit. Occasionally, special Newman Observer classes were offered.

Perhaps her most well-known venture was the “Midsummer’s Light Bible Institute,” held biennially and open to the public. These attracted nationally and even internationally known scholars, researchers and speakers.

“The Bible Institute has featured at least four presidents or past presidents of the Catholic Biblical Association,” Boisclair said of her summer events. It’s one of the projects Unterseher said she most intends to continue.

In 2007, Boisclair initiated a community outreach project, “Engaging Muslims: Religion, Culture and Politics.”

Describing the project as “a highlight of my years as Newman Chair,” Boisclair said “Engaging Muslims” was a yearlong public educational project that brought in speakers from different traditions and cultural backgrounds to engage in interfaith dialog. The funding for “Engaging Muslims” also came from the Carr family.

Boisclair initiated two travel courses to the Holy Land during her tenure, in 2001 and 2011, and participated in a faculty travel course to Greece that included several Newman Observers. She led two students in obtaining “self-designed” master’s degrees in religion studies from APU.

Boisclair earned a master’s degree with the intention of pursuing a career as a university librarian, and worked as a library director at a Catholic seminary college. Later, she pursued biblical studies at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and a master’s in divinity from Yale University. Her doctorate is from Temple University.

Along the way, she traveled widely, studied in Jerusalem, and authored the book, “The Word of the Lord at Mass: Understanding the Lectionary,” as well as numerous academic articles.

Perhaps her best known article was published in 1994 in Women and Theology, the annual publication of the College Theology Society. Entitled “Amnesia in the Catholic Sunday Lectionary: Women – Silenced from the Memories of Salvation History,” the article examined the presence — or lack of presence — of women in the lectionary.

At 73, and following a bout of ill health during the past academic year, Boisclair is looking forward to life near Boston’s South Shore and writing, continuing to examine women in the biblical world as well as a book examining passages in the lectionary that are anti-Judaic.

As APU’s new Newman Chair, Unterseher brings her own specialty. As a patristics scholar, she said she “studies the early church fathers, the early theologians who defined doctrine, especially from the second to the sixth centuries.”

She’s also a scholar of early Jewish-Christian relations.

Unterseher has an interest in Eastern Orthodox traditions, including the Russian Orthodox faith that played a large role in Alaskan history. A Roman Catholic, she has family roots in Germany and Russia.

“My great-grandfather grew up in 19th century Ukraine during the time of the czars,” she said.

Unterseher’s bachelor’s degree is from the University of Texas at Austin, and her master’s of divinity and doctorate are from Southern Methodist University.

“I can’t wait to begin this new adventure,” she told the Catholic Anchor.

The chair is named for John Henry Cardinal Newman, a 19th century English educator, philosopher, theologian and Anglican priest who became a Roman Catholic.

Boisclair said the Newman Chair’s oversight lies with a committee appointed by the university’s board of trustees. It is not under the supervision of the Anchorage Archdiocese. The chair’s contract directs the chair to provide educational opportunities for interested adults in the Anchorage area.


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