From Brazil to McCormick: Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes

To say that Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes is a very interesting individual with a rich and varied past is a major understatement. As a young boy, he earned money shining shoes in his native Brazil. Today he’s McCormick’s Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship He experienced a very unique journey from Brazil to Chicago and the current position he holds here at McCormick. The following interview details the highlights of that journey.  Written by Lowell Young and originally published in the McCormick Herald.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Along with my family, I attended a small Presbyterian church. So I guess it’s accurate to say I was raised in that small Presbyterian church.

While you were growing up in Brazil, what did you do as a young boy and a young adult, besides spending considerable time in church?

Starting at the age of eight, I was a shoe shine boy for three or four years to help earn much needed money for my family. I started working full-time during the day as an office assistant at the age of 13. While I was working full-time during the day, I was studying at a public high school in the evening. After graduating from high school, I started studying theology in the evening at a Presbyterian school, which is something I did for five years.

Dr. Carvalhaes with a replica of the shoe-shine box he used as a child in Brazil

What were the circumstances that brought you to the United States?

I was invited to come to the U.S. by the Presbytery of Southern New England in 1997. From then until 2001, I was assigned to work among the predominantly Portuguese immigrant community in Fall River, MA, which is located about half way between Providence and Boston. I’m sure that being raised in a Portuguese-speaking country and speaking fluent Portuguese had a lot to do with me being assigned to that particular location.

What did you do while you were in Fall River?

I planted a church called Christ Is Life Presbyterian Church, which was made up of immigrants from many different countries, and from all walks of life, and from numerous denominations. We started the church from scratch in 1997 and, when I left Fall River in 2001, there were about 100 members—70 adults and 30 children.   

Where did you go next?

I went to Union Theological Seminary in New York City to obtain a Ph. D. in Theology and Liturgy. My first day of class at Union was supposed to be on September 11, 2001. But the attacks at the World Trade Center in New York, along with the other attacks at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the vacant farm field in Pennsylvania, resulted in Union and all other schools around the country postponing classes. At Union, what we did as an incoming freshman class, and as an entire seminary, was talk about what happened on 9/11 and why.

That must have been quite a conversation.

It was indeed! And it’s a conversation I’ll never forget. We not only discussed the reasons the attacks on 9/11 happened, but also how the attacks changed the world from that day forward. Obviously, it took a while for some sort of normalcy to return in New York and around the country. But once a semblance of normalcy returned, Union was able to resume classes. When that happened, I began my six years of study at Union, ultimately resulting in me receiving my Ph. D. in 2007.

What was the subject of your Ph. D. Thesis?

My Ph. D. Thesis and Dissertation was entitled “Eucharist and Globalization”.  Five years after I completed it, that is in 2012, my thesis was published by Pickwick Publications, a publishing company located in Eugene, Oregon.

Where did you go after Union?

During the five years I spent trying to get my thesis published, I worked at the Louisville (KY) Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  In 2012, the same year my thesis was published, I moved on to The Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia. Then, in 2014, the door of opportunity opened up for me to come here to McCormick.  Thanks be to God!

What brought you to McCormick and what do you hope to accomplish while you are here?

The diversity of the seminary, the commitment to social justice, the possibility of further developing my work, the city of Chicago—all these factors drew me to McCormick. My deepest commitment is with the poor in everything I do and to shed light into the shadows of our society where the poor are, and help us thank God from that place of pain, hurt, wisdom and poverty.