Karen Eifler, PhD | University of Portland

Karen Eifler, PhD

Director, Garaventa Center - Professor, School of Education

eifler.pngThe title of Karen Eifler’s most recent essay collection, Near Occasions of Hope: A Woman’s Glimpse of a Church That Can Be could also serve as a worthy title for her career in Catholic education. A beloved professor in UP’s School of Education for 26 years and director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life since 2013, she firmly believes in the role a Catholic education can play in society, in a university community, in a life, and she committed her career to the formation of teachers in this context. “I love the idea of teaching as a vocation,” she says, “as a way to wholeness and purpose and grace.”

She had a hunch about this vocation from a very young age. When an elementary school teacher, Sr. Mary Reynette, told Karen that “priests are with people in the tender and scary moments of their lives,” Karen decided she was called to this kind of work as well, if not as a priest, then as a teacher. She felt a commitment to “bring Christ to every encounter,” and sometimes her students brought Him to her. After one particularly tough class early on in her middle-school teaching era (there were tears), a student handed her a note, telling Karen, “You are a really good teacher.” Karen, also a devoted note-giver, still had this very missive in her possession when this same student turned up in one of her classes at University of Portland. This student earned her Master of Teaching at UP and ended up singing at Karen’s son’s baptism. One of many full-circle moments in her career.

Karen has contributed articles to Journal of Teacher Education, Educational Forum, and Journal of Nursing Education, among others, and she wrote A Month of Mondays: Spiritual Lessons from Catholic Classrooms, which makes the rounds of faculty rooms around the US and Canada. She also co-edited the essay collection Becoming Beholders: Cultivating Sacramental Imagination and Actions in College Classrooms. She is now the director of Collegium, a consortium of more than 60 North American Catholic colleges and universities, that aims to develop the faith and intellectual life of lay educators. Many University of Portland faculty—Catholic and non-Catholic—have attended Collegium and walked away with a better understanding of the longstanding traditions in Catholic education. Through her directorship in UP’s Garaventa Center, Karen has influenced the very culture of University of Portland. Everyone—faculty and staff included—has received invitations to a “no agenda” Thirst Friday, replete with whimsical treats, libations, Barry Manilow puns (Karen is a devoted Fanilow), and sincere interest and collegiality.

Inspired by the rich tradition of the Catholic imagination, she began hosting talks prior to theater performances. “Art,” she says, “is one of the great legacies of Catholic imagination, we are co-creators with the Divine when we create art.” And it is this act of imagination, this commitment to it, that keeps her looking for and living out “the church that can be.” In her retirement, she will continue her work with Collegium, and she will be capturing stories of priests from the Congregation of Holy Cross, who honored Karen with their Spirit of Holy Cross Award for lay collaborators. The University of Portland community will greatly miss her warm influence, her calm, her intellectual rigor, and her steadfast faith.