Michael Manuel Mendiola was associate professor of Christian ethics at Pacific School of Religion (PSR) from 1994 to 2008. He was born in Globe, Arizona, in 1952. In the Roman Catholic tradition, he received received a B.A. degree in philosophy from St. Mary’s Seminary in Perryville, Missouri (1975); an M.A. in religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago (1979), and a Ph.D. from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley (1991). He earned his doctorate in ethics under PSR professor Karen Lebacqz and served as her research assistant in 1991. He joined the PSR faculty in 1994 after serving as a visiting faculty member since 1992. He focused his scholarly research, writing and teaching on the field of ethics. He was especially interested in bioethics and sexual ethics, with particular reference to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. His research and writing have dealt with such issues as aid-in-dying, queer theory, bioethics and ethical epistemology.
“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. Everyone will tell you about his great way with puns, and his wonderful sense of humor. But underneath all that, the most important thing about Michael to me was his ability to inspire others—not just to teach them, but to teach them in a way that made them want to learn more, to spend more time pursuing the work they were doing.”
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.”
Turner also praised Mendiola as a teacher. “After taking one of his ethics courses, many of our students would say: ‘He’s the finest teacher I ever had in my life,’ Turner said. “He had a way of engaging students that changed many of them forever and helped form many of their ministries.”
Mendiola was also central in the founding of the seminary’s ground-breaking 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 Tolbert. Mendiola served as the first chair of the CLGS executive committee.
Dr. Mendiola's publications include: Ernie W. D. Young et al. "Physician Aid-in-Dying: Report of a Northern California Consensus Development Conference, The Challenges of Guideline and Policy Formation," Western Journal of Medicine 166: 6 (June 1997), 381-388 [Mendiola was on the editorial board and a principal author of this report]; "Religious Ethics, Bioethics and Public Policy: Cost or Contribution?" in Notes from a Narrow Ridge: Religion and Bioethics, edited by Dean S. Davis and Laurie Zoloth, with a foreword by Martin E. Marty, 183-199 (Hagerstown: University Publishing Group, 1999); and "Through a Glass Darkly: Suffering and Physician-Assisted Suicide," in Der Medizinisch Assistierte Tod [Studien zur Theologischen Ethik, University of Fribourg] forthcoming. His last projects included a book on the nature of human suffering and moral reflection, and an introductory book on Christian ethics. In the wider community, he pursued his interest in ethics and human health, participating in health-care related committees and projects.
“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 died December 18, 2008, at his home in Oakland after a battle with cancer. He 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.
(This biographical profile edited by Mark Bowman from a faculty profile and obituary on the Pacific School of Religion web site: www.psr.edu.)
Biography Date: January, 2009
Catholic (Roman) | Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA) | Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, CA) | Author/editor | Theology | Berkeley | California
“Dr. Michael Mendiola | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed April 13, 2021, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/michael-mendiola.
“Michael was one of my dearest friends. I have so many personal memories that echo what has been said. I want to add an email that Michael sent me in January, 2008. We were planning to be team teachers on an immersion trip to Appalachia the following year by which time he had to cancel due to the cancer. We were focusing on suffering and health issues. Here he explains his intention for the trip.
“The interests that I bring to the intensive largely lie around the theme of the social-political dimensions of suffering. This entails two foci for me. On the one hand, I’m interested in what social-political-cultural factors are at play in causing and intensifying human suffering, e.g. class, race, gender, sexual identity, environmental forces, public policy, etc. On the other, I’m also interested in how suffering is represented and used/manipulated in public discourse for given aims and purposes. (For example, we’ll never adequately understand the issue of ‘meaning’ in suffering until we attend to how it is cultural construed, replicated and portrayed. Also power is at play here...whose suffering gets attended to and how is it used to garner public support and resources?) Community health is deeply implicated here... I’m beginning to think that suffering occurs when health in a wide sense (a sense of integrity, wholeness, agency and participation in life) is most threatened or lost. Hence to attend to health or to suffering is like looking at both sides of the same coin.”
He died before his book on suffering could be published...an incredible loss for all of us!”
– as remembered by Lynn Rhodes on March 28, 2021
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