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Alumni Feature: Rev. Dr. Sue Cardwell

Rev. Dr. Sue Cardwell (CTS Master of Sacred Theology ’70) – A Living Legacy of “Firsts”

Rev. Dr. Sue Cardwell is a living legacy of “firsts”. Sue, as she is affectionally referred to, is a true trailblazer charting her own pathway towards ministry. The first female student at CTS, Sue shared that she was the only woman in her classes, the only woman in two hospital Clinical Pastoral Education programs, and the only woman of the five persons in the first Pastoral Counseling training class at CTS. She was also the first woman to be Vice-President, then President of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. After earning her PhD, she became the first woman to serve on the faculty at CTS. Sue’s legacy for women leading in ministry, for anyone in ministry for that matter, is one to be revered.

Prior to her call to ministry, Sue’s first call was to marriage and family. She began what would evolve into a 69-year blessed marriage to her husband Walter. Now widowed, Sue immediately knew Walter was the husband God chose for her when he came to her church as the new preacher. Married in 1938, Sue and her husband went on to have 5 children. Sue and Walter also served in ministry for 12 years traveling as ordained missionaries to the Belgium Congo on behalf of the church.

Upon returning from their service in the Congo, Sue decided to go back to school to renew her teacher’s license. She shared during that time many of her male high school classmates who were dying of heart attacks and worried what would happen if her husband were to pass. This was the impetus for her return to school, which ultimately brought her to CTS.

“I took a course at CTS in psychology and loved it,” Sue shared. “The seminary had just started its National Council of Churches testing program for entering students. My graduate courses gave me the ability to interpret psychology tests.” Sue did so for 37 years and was core to the founding of our current Counseling Center. She was among the first class of students in CTS’ newly established program in pastoral counseling and later became the program’s director.

As a lifelong learner, Sue went on to pursue higher levels in her education seeking her doctorate. Sue shared that during those times, universities were not admitting students due to age. However, the passage of the anti-aging act removed that barrier. Sue ultimately obtained her PhD from Indiana University at the age 60. Doing so enabled her to become the first female faculty member at CTS. She served in that capacity for 10 years prior to retiring from a full-time capacity at the age of 70. Sue is an exemplary example that it is never too old to pursue your theological education. “You are never too old to learn,” she said.

During her time at CTS, Sue developed many Divine connections. Two of those connections were with former students and fellow CTS alumni Dr. Mary Rudy (CTS ’85 and ’96) and Evelyn Brown (CTS ’82). “Every student went through Sue Cardwell for their entry interview,” Mary shared. “She asked us questions about ourselves, our faith and assessed our suitability for seminary and ministry.” Sue was their “go-to” while in seminary and anytime they faced challenges in their journey of ministry.

Their time at CTS opened the door to a decades-long mentorship and friendship. “We moved from student to colleague, to friend and everything in between. Sue remains our guiding light. When were together we remember everything we learned, we reconnect with that CTS feeling. It reminds us of the best we knew and the best we are,” Mary said. Prior to the pandemic, for many years they all met for lunch monthly at MCL. However, quarantine has not stifled their connection, as they often connect via phone and Zoom calls.

In sharing her guidance with current and future female CTS students, Sue said that when thinking about answering God’s call, “I say go for it. God is no respecter of persons. God loves women just as much as he loves men. It’s never too late to heed the call to ministry.”

In recognition of her legacy, Mary, Evelyn, and other CTS alumni committed to establishing a scholarship in Sue’s honor that is in place today. Sue said that she recently received a thank you letter from a CTS student that was awarded the scholarship, which truly warmed her heart. Mary, Evelyn, and other alumni are committed to continuing the scholarship in Sue’s honor.

In 2016, Sue received an Honorary Doctorate from CTS, completing her extraordinary journey at the seminary. And today, February 3rd, 2021, Sue celebrates her 103rd birthday in a long life and legacy that many can aspire to follow. We are honored to be blessed to celebrate such a gift to the CTS family, a gift to ministry and the broader community of faith. Thank you, Sue, for your legacy of “firsts”.



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  • Alumni Feature: Rev. Dr. Sue Cardwell - Rev. Dr. Sue Cardwell (CTS Master of Sacred Theology ’70) – A Living Legacy of “Firsts” Rev. Dr. Sue Cardwell is a living legacy of “firsts”. Sue, as she is affectionally referred to, is a true trailblazer charting her own pathway towards ministry. The first female student at CTS, Sue shared that she was the […]
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