PSR mourns faculty and staff deaths
Michael Manuel Mendiola, associate professor of Christian ethics at Pacific School of Religion, died December 18 at his home in Oakland after a battle with cancer. He joined the faculty in 1994 after serving as a visiting faculty member since 1992. He was especially interested in bioethics and sexual ethics, with particular reference to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. His recent projects included a book on the nature of human suffering and moral reflection, and an introductory book on Christian ethics.
Born in Globe, Arizona, in 1952, Mendiola received a BA in philosophy from St. Mary’s Seminary in Perryville, Missouri, an MA in religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago, and a PhD from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He earned his doctorate in ethics under PSR professor Karen Lebacqz and served as her research assistant in 1991.
“The first thing everybody noticed about Michael was his infectious laugh and his energy and enthusiasm for the field of ethics,” Lebacqz said. “He was one of the best natural-born teachers there ever was, and part of his gift was that he really loved his subject matter and really loved teaching it.”
In 1998, Mendiola founded the seminary’s Bay Area Faith and Health Consortium, seeking to explore the ways in which communities of religious faith and the health care sector might work together to promote human health and well-being. “Michael was a bridge person in this conversation between the sacred and the secular,” said PSR’s dean, Mary Donovan Turner. “With his background in ethics and his interest in medical ethics, he worked with the medical community to help health professionals think through ethical issues related to their work.”
Mendiola was also central in the founding of the seminary’s groundbreaking Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) in 2000. “His creativity and his sense of organization and his sense of call for what the center could be was really important in the formation and development of CLGS,” said the center’s executive director, Mary A. Tolbert. Mendiola served as the first chair of the CLGS executive committee.
“Something evident to all of us,” added Lebacqz, “was what an incredibly loving person Michael was. He and his partner, Paul Gabel, were together for 28 years, until recently without benefit of legal marriage, and had the most loving relationship. If I had a child and for any reason couldn’t raise that child myself, I would have given my child to Michael and Paul. That’s how beautiful they were as people.”
Michael Mendiola is survived by his spouse, Paul Gabel; by three sisters residing in Arizona, Jo Ann Aguirre, Rosie Baroldy, and Armida Bittner; by many nephews and nieces; and by a family of friends. Contributions can be sent to the Michael M. Mendiola Scholarship Fund at Pacific School of Religion, 1798 Scenic Ave., Berkeley, CA 94709.
Diane Thomas, director of advancement at Pacific School of Religion, died in her Berkeley home on December 1, following a battle with cancer. A lifelong advocate for peace and justice, Thomas was born in Seattle, Washington in 1950 and educated at Whitworth College, where she earned a BA in religion and literature in 1972, and at Fort Wright College of the Holy Names, where she earned an MA in education in 1974.
In 1976, Thomas co-founded the UC Weapons Lab Conversion Project and toured the state giving speeches with anti-war activist Daniel Ellsberg. Because of her prominence in the anti-nuclear weapons movement, Thomas, along with Coretta Scott King and others, was one of the speakers at a massive rally held to bring pressure on a United Nations Special Session on Disarmament in New York City in June 1982. She addressed the crowd of more than one million people after having fasted for disarmament for 30 days.
“Diane was a shining person,” recalled Ellsberg. “She was loving and loveable, fully committed and conscientious in her activism, and dedicated to helping make a better life for all people. Those who knew her thought of her as one of the best human beings any of us had ever encountered. She was one of my heroes.”
From 1975 to 1993, Thomas served as executive director of the Ecumenical Peace Institute, the northern California chapter of Clergy and Laity Concerned, an interfaith justice and peace action group focusing on militarism, racism, and empire and working with Native Americans, political prisoners, and youth. She then served as a director of development at several organizations in Berkeley: the Ecology Center (1993-1995), Chaparral House, a non-profit eldercare center (1995-1997), the Graduate Theological Union (1997-1999), and University Health Services at UC Berkeley (1999-2000) before she joined the staff of Pacific School of Religion, where she directed the annual fund and alumni relations.
“With her personal faith, her passion for peace and justice, and her capacity for deep relationships, Diane helped us realize how important these things are for all of us at Pacific School of Religion,” said the seminary’s president, William McKinney. “Diane Thomas was very much a true reflection of this institution.”
Among her duties at PSR was organizing the seminary’s annual Earl Lectures, which she believed “represent one of the great opportunities to influence clergy and encourage the best in the religious community.” As co-founder of the seminary’s Dismantling Racism Committee, Diane helped lead efforts to make PSR more inclusive.
Diane is survived by her partner, David Raymond; her daughter Hannah and family (spouse Kyle and son Jacob); her son Daniel and family (spouse Kate and daughter Sonia); her son Gabriel; and her sister Linna (and spouse Lance). Contributions in her memory may be made to the Dismantling Racism Committee at PSR or the Iraq Initiatives Project.