Dr. Agustina Luvis-Núñez: An Alum Walking the Path of Transformation in Theological Education
In the world of theological education, there are individuals whose stories inspire and illuminate the path for others. Dr. Agustina Luvis-Núñez is one such luminary. A passionate educator and scholar who has broadened the field of feminist-Latina-womanist theology and postcolonial theologies, Dr. Luvis-Núñez’s journey from a Pentecostal upbringing in Puerto Rico to becoming a Professor and Academic Dean at the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico is nothing short of remarkable. Dr. Luvis-Núñez earned a BS in Biology and Medical Technology from the University of Puerto Rico, an MDiv from the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico and her ThM ’03 and PhD ’09 degrees at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Since graduating, she has become a leader in advocating for transformational theology in worship settings and an advocate for justice and equality for all in her home context of Puerto Rico.
Dr. Luvis-Núñez ‘s story began not with a desire to work in pastoral care, but instead with a deep-seated desire to teach. Growing up in a Pentecostal church, she was always drawn to working with children and youth, particularly in Sunday school. Soon, she also worked with young adults. “I knew that I needed a more formal theological education to do this,” Luvis-Núñez says, “but theological education was not an option for a poor Black young woman who had to study but also to work as soon as possible to help sustain her family.” Luvis-Núñez ‘s determination to fulfill her responsibilities led her to study medical technology and biology and then to work in a medical lab for many years. However, her desire for theological education persisted.
One day, after a workshop for Sunday school teachers, one of the Professors pulled Luvis-Núñez aside. “She told me that I had a call from God and that God was in charge of everything…she said, ‘the doors will open more for you, and all you have to do is be confident, because this is God’s will for you.’” Soon, on the advice of a friend, Luvis-Núñez began taking classes at the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico. Soon, she had taken all of the requirements for an MDiv. Her professors asked her what her plans were post-graduation and she remarked, “I loved this experience, and I will go back to my church to be a better Sunday school teacher.”
Luvis-Núñez’s journey took an unexpected turn, however, when a friend introduced her to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). Intrigued by the curriculum and courses offered, she decided to explore this new opportunity. Reflecting on her decision, she says, “I didn’t know about this seminary because in my church, pastors didn’t come to a seminary. They have their own institutional education for the pastors and for their teachers.” However, the welcoming environment and the courses at LSTC resonated with her, leading her to submit an application. LSTC was the only school she applied to. She was accepted with a full scholarship, but still worried about other costs of attendance. How to make ends meet in an expensive city like Chicago?
For a while, Luvis-Núñez thought that she might not be able to take her place with the ThM graduates of 2003 because of financial hurdles. She applied to a promising external scholarship, but it fell through. Then, a surprise conversation with her boss at the medical lab where she had worked for 21 years changed everything. “She [was] a member of my church, and she knew everything,” Luvis-Núñez recalls. “And she said, ‘we are ready to help you. If you decide to go to Chicago to study, the laboratory will help you with a scholarship…you have been working with us for twenty years, and we are very grateful for that, and we are going to help you.” Thanks to the generous support of her additional scholarship, Luvis-Núñez was able to pay for housing and food and, even more remarkably, was able to keep the medical and health benefits she had from her time at the lab as she embarked on her new journey.
Luvis-Núñez’s experience at LSTC was marked by warmth and support, even during challenging times. Her arrival coincided with the tragic events of 9/11, which left her initially questioning her decision to stay. However, the outpouring of support from faculty and the community helped her find a sense of belonging. She describes the professors who invited her to their homes and the overall sense of community as instrumental in making her feel at home.
During her time at LSTC, while first earning her ThM and then her PhD, Luvis-Núñez’s academic interests began to take shape. She developed a passion for feminist theology and an acute awareness of the link between colonialism and Christian faith in the Caribbean context. Her coursework and interactions with professors opened her eyes to the intersection of theology and social justice, a theme that would become central to her work. She was also an important leader in the institution during her time as a student. In fact, she was appointed as the interim director of the Hispanic Ministry Program at LSTC, a historic moment as she became the first non-Lutheran and the first woman to hold the position.
Even before she graduated with her PhD from LSTC in 2009 she was recruited by her former institution to come back and teach. She has taught in a wide variety of topics to an expansive student audience but remains especially interested in using her work to promote social justice. “I’m very interested in the link between colonialism and the Christian faith, and Christian violence against women and the Church because the Caribbean was marked by violence, hunger for wealth, power, and dominion that featured in the European colonial enterprise of the 15th century,” she says, noting that the reverberations of that violence continue to leave their marks on society today. Her courses, including Caribbean theology, explore the impact of colonialism and the role of the church in perpetuating or challenging systemic injustices. She passionately advocates for justice, particularly in areas of gender, race, and socio-economic inequality, within both the Christian and secular spheres.
Reflecting on her transformative journey, Luvis-Núñez acknowledges the crucial role that LSTC played in shaping her academic and theological perspective. “I recommend LSTC because LSTC prepared me for this…the ecumenical and interreligious experience was determining for me,” she says. The institution’s openness to diverse voices and its commitment to social justice advocacy helped lay the foundation for her work in challenging systemic oppression, which continues today.
Dr. Agustina Luvis-Núñez’s journey from a Pentecostal Sunday school teacher in Puerto Rico to an esteemed professor and advocate for justice is a testament to her resilience, determination, and unwavering commitment to her calling. Her experience at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago not only equipped her with the academic tools needed to address complex theological and social issues but also instilled in her a passion for transformative ministry in the Caribbean context. As she continues to teach and advocate for justice, Luvis-Núñez serves as an inspiring example of the impact one individual can have on theological education and the pursuit of a more just and equitable world. And to women who wish to follow in her footsteps, she has a message: “I will say to any woman, please start walking towards your goal. Don’t feel that you cannot do this…we need to continue walking because God gives us the strength to do what we want to do. Don’t give up.”