June 1, 2011

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño ’79 accepted the Distinguished Alumna Award from Perkins School of Theology February 7 with a confession. She was one of the pranksters responsible for placing a jack-o’-lantern in the Perkins Chapel steeple on Halloween Day, 1975. The dean at that time “was not so pleased,” she recalled with a smile.

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño '79

While the audience in Dallas enjoyed the humorous anecdote in her videotaped address, the bishop was 8,000 miles away in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Carcaño was working with Methodist leaders from around the world on organizational issues regarding the church outside the United States, known as the Central Conferences.

Carcaño, who became the first Hispanic woman elected to the episcopacy in 2004, also acts as the official spokesperson for the Council of Bishops on immigration. The council supports “a pathway to citizenship,” fair treatment of immigrant workers and the preservation of family unity.

Immigration policy is an especially volatile topic in Arizona, where she serves the Phoenix Episcopal Area, Desert Southwest Conference, which encompasses most of the state. Some blame heated political rhetoric for the shootings in Tucson January 8 that stunned the nation. Six people were fatally wounded and 14 others were injured, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The tragedy spurred “much more conversation about what it means to have civil discourse,” she says. “I’m seeing a change in attitude, a realization that the negative tenor of conversation had been unhelpful and unhealthy.”

The calm, soft-spoken bishop, who grew up in the South Texas city of Edinburg, has never retreated from controversy. She led her first congregations in the 1980s – when female ministers were rare and some church members were vocal in their distaste for a woman in the pulpit.

“Early on, I was struggling with a particular parish relations committee. One member told me that her husband had been robbed of a spiritual leader because I was a woman, and he would never seek my counsel,” she remembers. “A few months later, her husband came to me to ask for spiritual guidance. That was a turning point.”

Carcaño credits God with giving her strength and Perkins with providing “the gift of faith expression.”

“I had a calling to serve the Mexican-American community, and Perkins was the only United Methodist seminary at the time that prepared students for ministry in the Hispanic context through its Mexican-American Program,” she says. She served as director of the program from 1996-2001.

“If ever I have provided any light for a world often consumed in darkness, Perkins has been there with me.”