Dr. Michelle Tooley

In Memoriam


Jacquelyn Michelle Tooley, 62, died on May 26, 2015 at home in Berea, Kentucky, surrounded by friends, after a two-year struggle with melanoma. She pursued her passion for promoting peace and social justice through teaching and activism until her death.

Michelle was born in Lufkin, Texas, on January 31, 1953. She earned a bachelor’s of science degree in Spanish and English Education from Northwestern State University of Louisiana in 1975, a master’s of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1982, and a doctorate in Christian Social Ethics from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1995. Michelle completed additional graduate work at the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. She taught in the Religion Department at Belmont University in Nashville, TN from 1995 to 2003 and at Berea College in Berea, KY from 2003 to 2015, where she was the Eli Lilly Chair of Religion, Associate Professor of Religion, and Chair of the Peace and Social Justice Studies Department.

Michelle’s teaching, scholarship, and personal life demonstrated particular commitments to exploring the connectedness of local actions and global issues, to providing opportunities for others to explore those connections with her, and to empowering others to take on leadership and advocacy roles that they may never have imagined possible. Michelle educated students and the wider community about peace-building, migration, and human rights, by incorporating service-learning and collaborations with social change organizations into her courses and research. Her scholarly publications, including a book titled Voices of the Voiceless: Women, Justice, and Human Rights in Guatemala, focus on Christian ethics and the intersections of belief and social action, particularly through the experiences of marginalized people.

Much of Michelle’s work had a global focus and reach. She was a dedicated board member of Bread for the World and Witness for Peace. She led study-abroad classes to Central America and Africa, served on the admissions committee for international applicants to Berea College, and led Berea College delegations to the Model African Union in Washington, DC. She welcomed students of all nationalities into her home and her family, maintaining mentoring and nurturing relationships well beyond their graduations. Many consider her a second mother.

On campus and in the community, Michelle’s exuberant personality and warm smile extended to everyone she met. She had the unique ability to connect with people from all backgrounds, ages, and nationalities. Her home was always open and she loved to host a party. She was an avid traveler and hiker and a favorite Aunt to many children. Wherever she lived, Michelle was an active member of a peace and justice-oriented Christian church community. Michelle’s life came from one source – a deep love for God and for others.

Michelle is survived by three brothers, a sister and their families, and a multitude of current and former students, colleagues and friends.