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Xavier Magazine | April 27, 2017

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Time and Talent

By Skip Tate

Somewhere—maybe Chicago or Billings, Mont., or some one-stoplight town in Mississippi—there’s an 8-year-old child in a Sunday School class who’s benefiting from the work of Betty Porter. Somewhere—maybe New York or Sugarland, Texas, or some rural farming community in Kansas—there’s a 48-year-old adult who’s benefiting from Porter’s work as well.

Porter is the librarian of the University’s Lodge Learning Lab, and for the last 10 years has been writing adult and children’s Sunday school curriculum for the Presbyterian Church nationally. She’s compiled a half dozen study guides and instructor’s manuals on different Christian-based topics, using the knowledge she’s garnered from her years as a teacher and the master of theology degree she earned from the University in 1998.

The curriculum is distributed to Presbyterian churches nationwide, and is the kind of work that prompted the department of theology to honor Porter this year with its outstanding alumni award. The Anna E. and William F. Madges Alumni Award is presented to a theology graduate who makes outstanding contributions to church and society. Porter is the second person to receive the award, following Sister Alice Gerdeman, the Cincinnati activist from the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center who was honored in 2000.

Porter received the award at a dinner on Friday, Jan. 25, following a talk by renowned theologian David Tracy. Tracy is the distinguished service professor of Catholic studies and professor of contemporary trends in theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

In addition to writing the Sunday school books, Porter was selected because of her heavy involvement in literacy issues, says department of theology chair Bill Madges. She started the University’s adult literacy program, which teaches and tutors a range of people on campus and at nearby schools. She’s also a member of the Literacy Network of Greater Cincinnati and the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana Children’s Literacy Conference.

The literacy effort is a natural fit with her work at the Lodge Learning Lab, Porter says, as well as with her background in education. She earned bachelor’s degrees in English and education from Calvin College, and followed that up with a degree in library science from the University of Michigan. Then, while teaching high school English, she added to her list of credentials a master’s of English from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the theology degree while working at Xavier.

Since earning her theology degree, she’s become actively involved in theological programs at the University, including the newly created programs in which lay employees of the University are trained to help maintain many of the University’s Jesuit traditions.

The Catholic issues presented through such programs are different for Porter, whose background is Protestant and whose husband, Hal, is a retired Presbyterian minister at Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. The church, where Betty served as director of the church’s Christian education, also provided Porter with another service avenue—the Interfaith Hospitality for the Homeless in which churches house homeless people for a week at a time.

“I also teach classes on and off,” she says, “and write and publish stories for children, although I haven’t done much of that lately. I guess I’ve just been too busy.”

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