Sister Judith Merkle
"Some people are meant to be teachers and I am one of them.”
For as far back as she can remember Sister Judith Merkle has wanted to be a teacher.
“As a kid, I pretended to be a teacher. I would teach my dolls.
I’ve never wanted to do anything else.
I liked the idea of education because it is a way to help people.”
Sister Judith has four degrees – a B.S. and an M.A. in education and an M.A. and Ph.D. in theology, with a specialty in systematic theology and theological ethics. Of this academic work, her degrees in theology are the most remarkable and put her in a special category.
“I am among the first generation of women teaching theology.
Prior to Vatican II, women weren’t permitted to study graduate theology.
It was limited to clerics until the 60s.”
As a result, Sister Judith has always been mindful of the responsibilities of a trailblazer saying simply, “We need to be very good at what we do.” Prior to joining the faculty at Niagara University, she taught theology at Xavier University and Mount St. Mary Seminary at the Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati.
According to Sister Judith, the typical student at Niagara reflects the demographics of the nearby town of Buffalo, where the school is located. “Most students are not of the professional class. Their parents are not doctors or lawyers,” Sister said. “Some are first generation college students. Most have to work their way through school.”
"Today’s college students are not hostile to religion,” Sister Judith continued. “On the whole, I’ve found them to be open and willing to learn and searching. However, it’s clear to me that as teachers we cannot take for granted that the students are coming to college fully prepared in religion. For example, I was talking about Scriptures in one of my classes. A student – a junior – raised her hand and said she was confused by the topic. She’s very bright, but it turned out she had never seen a Bible. So the use of Scriptures, for her, was not the norm. That’s when I stepped back to refocus on the fact that Christianity is lived in the world, and it’s lived in relationship to human life at any given time.”
Sister Judith said, “It’s a privilege to do this work. I am one of the most fortunate because my ministry is intellectually challenging, and I’m able to help people just as I envisioned when I was a child.”