Follow @shmsdetroit

Weaving Faith And Experience

by Mary Kay McPartlin

Long before she started her academic tenure with the seminary, there was a connection for Dr. Patricia Cooney Hathaway.

Her family's strong Catholic faith was nurtured in Detroit and was a catalyst for her love of Christ and the Church. My vocation as a theologian was nurtured by a long line of family members who had a deep faith devotion to the Church of Detroit, Dr. Cooney Hathaway says. My grandfather, Henry Brennan, president of W.E. Wood Company, built Sacred Heart Seminary, Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, St. John Seminary, the IHM Motherhouse in Monroe, and other church buildings in Detroit. I thank him often, especially when I enter our beautiful chapel.

Beyond her grandfather, there were other family contributions to the Archdiocese of Detroit. My uncle, Msgr. Harold Markey, was a legendary diocesan priest who founded the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). He believed that the body as well as the soul of youth had to be nurtured, Dr. Cooney Hathaway says. My uncle, Fr. Vincent Brennan, SJ, taught Scripture at the University of Detroit. My aunt, Sr. Margaret Brennan, IHM, was one of the first sisters to receive a doctorate in theology, and she also was mother superior of the IHM sisters at the time of the Second Vatican Council.

And of course, I could not forget my mother, Mary Catherine, and my father, William, who modeled for me and my eight brothers and sisters an active living of their faith in everyday life and also instilled in us a sense of responsibility for the well-being of others.

This witness of family faith wasn't wasted on Dr. Cooney Hathaway. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Marygrove College, and then began her theological studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where she earned her master's degree in religious studies and her doctorate in systematic theology, psychology, and spirituality.

Detroit beckoned Dr. Cooney Hathaway home when she returned to marry Thomas Hathaway in the 1980s. She soon was offered a pivotal opportunity by Sacred Heart to share her love of Catholicism and theology. She is now a professor of spirituality and systematic theology at the seminary, a distinguished spiritual director, and a sought-after speaker.

I am the only one left of the original faculty who began the Graduate School of Theology, says Dr. Cooney Hathaway. I was invited by [rector] Msgr. John Nienstedt to serve on the curriculum committee, which was composed of the who's who of our clergy today: Bishop Nienstedt, Archbishop Vigneron, Bishop Reese, Bishop Boyea, Bishop Quinn, and Bishop Blair. What a privilege to work with them and get to know them.

The committee designed the three major degrees that serve Sacred Heart's students today: the Master of Arts in Divinity, Master of Arts in Theology, and the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies.

Since she began her tenure in 1988, Dr. Cooney Hathaway's desire for students is for them to develop a strong relationship with God.

I have been privileged through such courses as the History of Christian Spirituality to introduce students to our rich spiritual tradition as they study the great friends of GodTeresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius of Loyola and how their teaching on prayer and the spiritual life nourishes our own spiritual journey. My gift is to help people integrate our faith tradition with the concrete situations of their lives and to model that faith to others.

If our theology and spirituality don't accomplish that goal, what is the point of what we do here?

Dr. Cooney Hathaway believes that all theology should ultimately be pastoral, And by pastoral, I don't mean theology lite,' but how our theology and spirituality help people find meaning and purpose in their lives. She had the opportunity to put this goal into practice by authoring a book, Weaving Faith and Experience, A Woman's Perspective, which describes the spiritual journeys of women through the seasons of life. It was recognized with a 2010 Catholic Book Award.

Since 2005, she has written a column on lay spirituality for Mosaic. The feedback from our readers has been most gratifying, she says.

Dr. Cooney Hathaway and Sacred Heart believed educating the laity was necessary for Catholic faith to grow in the archdiocese. Funding for such an initiative was needed. Monsignor Vigneron created a committee composed of Mrs. Patricia Rennie, Sr. Mary Lou Putrow, OP, and myself to apply for a Lilly Grant, and we were awarded one for $1.5 million, says Dr. Cooney Hathaway. We knew that the laity needed a formation program just as seminarians did, and the grant gave us the opportunity to provide scholarships for lay women and men to pursue the MAPS degree [Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies]. We designed one of the leading formation programs for lay students in the country.

As a theological student and professor after Vatican II, Dr. Cooney Hathaway appreciates how the academic opportunities for women have increased.

Vatican II reminded the laity that through our Baptism we are called to holiness and ministry; that is, we each have a responsibility as people of faith to bring God's kingdom of love, compassion, and justice into the world, Dr. Cooney Hathaway says. Pope Francis recently spoke of the necessity of having women, especially married women, on seminary faculties. I bring that perspective to the faculty and students. My marriage and family life have deeply influenced my teaching. I try to model a balanced life.

Her work as a female theologian in the 1980s was groundbreaking in many ways. She was very aware of the responsibility that came with her career at the seminary.

I was one of the women who was paving the way for other lay men and women, says Dr. Cooney Hathaway. I never felt what I did was only about me.

The national reputation Sacred Heart has for thoughtful and thorough theological study is a point of pride for Dr. Cooney Hathaway. She says it has been exciting to see the development and the growth of the seminary.

Where we are today is just tremendous. It shows God has blessed our work. I am honored to be part of the story.

Mary Kay McPartlin

Mary Kay McPartlin is a Catholic freelance journalist who writes from Maumee, Ohio.

Stay connected with Sacred Heart. Sign up for our monthly newsletter.


Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a Christ-centered Catholic community of faith and higher learning committed to forming leaders who will proclaim the good news of Christ to the people of our time. As a leading center of the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart serves the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributes to the mission of the universal Church.