Meet Rick Steele, PhD, 2023 Ivy Cutting Speaker

Rick Steele

We are pleased to have SPU’s Professor of Moral and Historical Theology Dr. Richard Steele as our speaker for 2023’s Ivy Cutting ceremony. Dr. Steele received his BA, from Haverford College, his MDiv from Yale Divinity School, and his PhD from Marquette University. A faculty member in the School of Theology since 1995, he has served as faculty chair, chair of the Department of Theology, co-dean in the School of Theology, and associate dean for graduate studies in the School of Theology — all with a charming grace. Dr. Steele was elected Professor of the Year in 2002 and Weter Faculty Award Lecturer in 2004. In June 2013, he received the Faculty Servant Award. His greatest joy, however, has always been in classroom instruction and interacting with students. Dr. Steele is noted for the selfless care he has faithfully extended to all of his students over a distinguished teaching career.

Dr. Steele’s career has its roots at the Milwaukee Theological Institute, which was founded in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement to provide ministerial training for inner-city folks. As he describes it, at this institute, “a high-powered academic “class” could turn into a “prayer meeting” at the drop of a hat … and turn back into an academic class again just as quickly.” Dr. Steele’s research focuses on ministering to people with disabilities — whom he terms “prisoners of conscience” who have changed society with their vision and passion — as well as on civil rights.

His books include Gracious Affections and “True Virtue” According to Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley (1994), “Heart Religion” in the Methodist Tradition and Related Movements (2001), I’ve been Wondering: Conversations with Young Theologians (2007), 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary) (2012), and Christian Ethics and Nursing Practice (2020), along with his over 100 publications in journals and blogs covering various topics. These writings attest not only to his theological depth and breadth, but also to his vocation as a scholar with a deep affection for Christ and all his churches.

Dr. Steele’s ministry in caring for his daughter, Sarah (1984–2017), alongside his wife, Marilyn, perfected his compassionate ministerial abilities. One of his most treasured photographs of Sarah was taken of her at the 2007 Ivy Cutting. Dr. Steele recalls Sarah’s four years at SPU as the happiest of her life, and, despite the topography of the campus, which is challenging for wheelchair users, she flourished at SPU. He asserts that was because SPU went to extraordinary lengths to enable her to do so. The university retrofitted a room on the first floor of Emerson Hall, which enabled Sarah, with the assistance of her round-the-clock caregivers, to participate in residence hall activities and the social life of the campus. 

One summer, when residence hall living and attendant care was not available to Sarah, she took Anatomy and Physiology, and his wife, Marilyn, served as her attendant. Marilyn, who holds an MDiv from Yale Divinity School and is an ordained clergywoman in the United Methodist Church, became so interested in the life sciences that she decided to complete a biology major herself at SPU, and then went on to earn an MS in Public Health Genetics at the University of Washington. Thereafter, Marilyn worked for five years in public outreach at the UW School of Public Health until her retirement shortly after Sarah’s death in 2017. Marilyn returned to SPU this past autumn to take the last requirement for her bachelor of science degree — University Foundations: 3100 Christian Theology. She took the class from her husband, received an A, and will be graduating June 10 with the Class of 2023.