2014 Visionary Award: Karen Eifler

Catholic higher education depends now more than ever on the energy and vision of lay faculty who find imaginative, compelling ways to engage Catholic intellectual and spiritual traditions with other ways of knowing, for the sake of the gospel and the world. Collegium, a consortium of 65 Catholic colleges and universities, was founded to encourage faculty in such creative endeavors. Today we come together to celebrate a Collegium alumna whose scholarship, innovative teaching, and leadership in faculty development has more than fulfilled the promise of Collegium.

Karen E. Eifler is an extraordinarily worthy first recipient of the Collegium Visionary Award. A faculty fellow in 2001, Karen was soon invited to serve on the Collegium board, and then as a mentor. During two board terms and eight summers as a mentor, Karen consistently distinguished herself. Collegium participants praise her ability to foster honest and fruitful discussion, her deep understanding of the spirit of Collegium, her sense of humor, and her passion.

At the University of Portland, where she has been dedicated to teaching and mentoring future teachers in the School of Education, Karen has a had huge impact on countless teachers and their students. Together with Professor Norah Martin, another Collegium alumna, Karen founded the Faith and Intellectual Life Discussion Group at the University of Portland. This group provides a venue for a group of staff and faculty from a variety of disciplines and philosophical backgrounds to explore faith-based issues in a dynamic yet friendly, inclusive way.

Colleagues say that Karen models Catholic intellectual life and spirituality for faculty and students alike. In her new role as Co-Director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture, she brings a passionate dedication to deepening the exploration of faith and learning at the university.

Karen is the driving force behind Collegium’s second book, due to be published in a few weeks. Titled Becoming Beholders: Cultivating Sacramental Imagination and Actions in College Classrooms, the book includes 21 essays representing many disciplines, all designed to bring some of the imagination that informs Collegium into the classroom in new and imaginative ways.

Dr. Eifler in so many respects embodies the work of Collegium, and exemplifies it in her teaching, scholarship and service.

In a letter to her Collegium mentor and friend, Sr. Eva Hooker, C.S.C., Karen once wrote, “…here comes the invention of a new word, god-friend.” She continued, “Doesn’t god-friend capture something especially fine? If the godfathers and godmothers chosen for us by our parents represent agape love here on earth, shouldn’t there also be a word to describe the people we collect along our own journeys who reveal an aspect of God to us? I decided that god-friend conveys even better the salvific — if sometimes tough — love, unconditional acceptance, comfort, peace and grace that comprise the notion of sacrament.”

It is as god-friend we honor Karen with the first Collegium Visionary award.