Peers, friends reflect on Schaberg’s life, impact

Thousands of students and teachers have lived, worked, taught, studied and accomplished at Detroit Mercy.

Through the hustle and bustle that of earning a degree or teaching at a university, many people miss the opportunity to meet some of the most influential individuals to step foot on this campus.

One of those individuals was Dr. Jane Schaberg.

On April 5, the fifth anniversary of Schaberg’s death, the university hosted a panel to commemorate her legacy and examine the significant impact that she had in her career through her scholarship, as an educator, in the community and in people’s lives.

Jane Schaberg was an internationally recognized feminist biblical scholar, mainly on the New Testament, who was most known for her book “The Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives.”

The book was published in 1987 and it was met with great discontent as well as support for its argument that Matthew and Luke of the Bible were aware that Jesus was conceived illegitimately out of rape of a poor woman, Mary.

Schaberg was responsible for starting the university’s Women’s Studies program, now called the Women and Gender Studies program. She taught classes in the program for many years.

Though she faced much adversity in her life, some because of her book, she is remembered most for her ability to be courageous, passionate, down-to-earth, humorous, friendly and even sometimes invasive.

“Tell the truth as you see and don’t be afraid” was her mantra and most-evident character trait, according to those who knew her.

Panelists Dr. Jennifer Knust, Dr. Gloria Albrecht, Dr. Barbara Cushing and Ms. Jamie Dylenski shared their memories of Schaberg and her significant impact on their lives.

For Dr. Knuts, a professor in the department of religion at Boston University and a specialist in the literature and history of ancient Christianity, “The Illegitimacy of Jesus” provided the connection.

She had encountered the book and found connection with Schaberg without even knowing her personally.

Acknowledging Schaberg’s groundbreaking work and the polarized perception of being either loved or hated, Knust found only love for the book as it not only challenged her as a feminist biblical scholar herself, but on a deeper level gave her the reassurance in her own life to be okay with the imperfections of life.

Living a life that does not fit the “ideal” frame, especially as a woman, and challenging the status quo as Schaberg did in her book are not easy, but with Schaberg’s wisdom to guide, Knuts found her “scholarly mother,” she said.

Dr. Albrecht, a former professor of religious studies at Detroit Mercy, reflected on Schaberg’s compassion for others through her ethical commitment to the community.

For 12 to 13 years, as Schaberg taught at the university, she lived in a little pink house in Detroit on 17th Street in a very poor and troubled neighborhood of Detroit.

Albrecht noted that Schaberg knew what type of environment she was in, saying, “I knew I was white and what kind of white.” She acknowledged that she was among individuals living a completely different life than she had ever known for herself.

For professor Todd Hibbard of the religious studies department, this stood out to him as one of her most endearing qualities, as he sat in the audience at the event.

“The event emphasized the deep affection she had for Detroit and the way she was very much committed to the city although she was not from here,” said Hibbard. “She came here like many people do, as someone who didn’t know much about the city. But once she came here, it was well discovered that there is something that just kind of draws you in about this complicated and messy place.”

As Albrecht noted, it did not derail Schaberg from embracing those differences by befriending some individuals in the neighborhood through all the difficulties they faced, ranging from parole and hunger to abuse and the challenges of being a single working parent with multiple children.

She opened her house, her mind and her heart to learning about her new environment and embracing the calling to help those in need.

Schaberg’s willingness to passionately push the boundaries and to stand through adversity was apparent in her courses as a professor.

Cushing and Dylenski reflected on Schaberg as a teacher and friend who influenced them and enhanced their way of learning.

For Dylenski, as a student in religious studies, she made it a point to have Schaberg be her advisor, through relentless persistence, finding fascination and excitement in her work, her teaching style and her dynamic personality.

Cushing, another student of Schaberg, found occasional annoyance in her upfront and sometimes confrontational teaching style, but ultimately found deeper meanings through the biblical text and learned new methods of critical analysis.

Friendly yet critical, Schaberg pushed people to their potential and opened their eyes to various possibilities.

Schaberg’s influence continues to endure at the university through the faculty, staff and students who find inspiration in her legacy.

Professor Rosemary Weatherston, director of the Women and Gender Studies program, said she is honored to be the head of the program that Schaberg created.

She expressed a sense of personal admiration for Schaberg’s fearlessness and scholarship.

Weatherston feels that the example Schaberg set through her life are worth emulating in hopes of making our world a better place.

“Our country and the world are struggling to find ways to project social justice, protect the vulnerable and help people across the planet, and we need fearlessness to best be able accomplish those things.”

As a testament to her legacy, the program offers grants in Schaberg’s name, positively influencing students at the university who never knew her.

The grants provide students with opportunities to engage and address women and gender issues, like LGBTQ rights, sexual assault, domestic violence, literacy and more.