A Sister’s Act

Sister Judith Roach M.A. ’22 earned her second graduate degree at the age of 87.

A Sister’s Act
Sister Judy Roach accepts her second master's degree on stage at the 2022 Santa Clara University Commencement. Photo courtesy SCU.

It’s no surprise that a graduate from Santa Clara University’s pastoral ministries program would be inspired to minister to prisoners, teach in marginalized areas, or advocate for restorative justice.

What might be a surprise is if the graduate was an 87-year-old nun getting her second master’s degree more than four decades after her previous stint as a college student.

But don’t tell that to Sister Judith Roach RCSJ, M.A. ’22 with the Society of Sacred Heart order, who crossed the stage June 11, 2022, with a new master’s in pastoral ministries, and a head full of plans. To her, “the idea of age is becoming a bit obsolete.”

After decades of working with young children, “I wanted to upgrade my ideas, my grasp of theology,” Roach says, to reach adults she was encountering at her parish in Menlo Park. 

She loved the graduate program’s assigned readings, especially those of Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, S.J., whose ideas about the action of the spirit in people’s lives spoke deeply to her. After all, her order’s mission is “to discover and reveal God’s love in the heart of the world through the service of education.”

In classes, Roach was a “great asset,” said Senior Lecturer Sally Vance Trembath. Having joined her order at the age of 17 and taken her final vows in 1963, Roach has lived through vast changes in Catholicism such as Vatican II that the program teaches about. “She could have pontificated, but she never did that,” said Trembath. “She was very much a listener.” 

Now Roach wants to find places where people are marginalized, and share her lifetime of faith—and her newfound knowledge—with them. She can also be a role model for lifelong learning. Staying educated, she says, “is growth on my part.”

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