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Keith and Mary Farrell Bednarowski Establish the Sophia Chair in Religious and Theological Studies



In February 2024, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities was thrilled to announce the establishment of the Sophia Chair in Religious and Theological Studies. Realized through a generous donation by Dr. Mary Farrell Bednarowski, Professor Emerita of Religious Studies (1976–2004), and her husband, Keith Bednarowski (pictured at right), the Sophia Chair makes possible a tenure-track, endowed faculty position.

An endowed chair is often named by the donor(s) whose gift establishes it. When considering this responsibility, Mary believed it “appropriate and appealing to name the chair after an ‘idea’ with sufficient depth of meaning, complexity, and connection to United. The name needed to inspire creative and dynamic explorations of religion, theology, and culture, an emphasis deeply embedded in all versions of the curriculum since United opened in 1962.”

For Mary, the concept of “Wisdom” came to her immediately. “Within seconds of thinking ‘Wisdom!,’ there was ‘Sophia’ with its call to the feminine spirit of the Divine, and its connections to the Re-Imagining Community celebrating women’s theological creativity, which has been so much a part of United’s history.”

“It suggests,” Mary asserts, “not only ‘knowledge,’ but the desire and capacity to put that knowledge to good use, to discern how to proceed based on what we have learned, to explore what to do with the knowledge we have acquired.” 

Sophia raises questions that, for Mary, evoke “the more.”

“I like to think of Sophia as the patron spirit of asking both new and old, profound, life-giving questions.” She continues, “I like to think of her as the inspiring spirit of the theological and religious imagination.”

As a member of the United community for nearly 50 years, Mary observes that United has had distinct impacts on theological and religious education, both in the Twin Cities and beyond. She affirms that United has fostered an educational environment where “theological studies and religious studies dance happily together.” The religious studies aspect of the chair reinforces United’s long time insistence on the dynamic and creative relationship between theology and culture.

For President Molly T. Marshall, this is an auspicious occasion in the life of United. “We revel in charting new pathways of wisdom even as we explore the faith traditions we have inherited. We anticipate that this faculty chair will extend the legacy of Mary’s scholarship and honor her capacity to encourage students to find critical distance from their traditions for the sake of clarification and commitment. Her search for wisdom will continue at United.”

Mary insists that United must impact the social landscape as much as we possibly can for the sake of the common good. She continues, “I deeply believe we have to bring as much depth of response as possible to the profoundly evocative and complicated question, ‘What is going on here?’ Then comes the next question, ‘What are the most just and loving ways to respond?’” There is no doubt in Mary’s mind that United will continue to have a part in this essential work. Looking ahead, she says, “I have a very deep faith that this full-of-life seminary will persist and flourish for many, many years. Keith and I want to be part of that flourishing.”

United excitedly anticipates the installation of Dr. Demian Wheeler, associate professor of philosophical theology and religious studies, into the newly established Sophia Chair during Fall Convocation on September 26, 2024.

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