With a well-known artist for a father, Rev. Dr. Carolyn S. Owen-Toole grew up in the art world. She was surrounded by beauty and those who created it much earlier than most children. In college, she studied art at Scripps College in Claremont, California, earning a Bachelor of Arts in art and art history in 1957. After getting married and becoming a mother, Rev. Dr. Owen-Toole found a new home inside of the church. She volunteered there for years and eventually decided to become a minister. As she was already married to a minister, the four-year program to become one came easily to her. Once she was officially ordained, she and her husband Thomas were called to their church in San Diego, where they served for 24 years.
After graduating from her undergraduate program, Rev. Dr. Owen-Toole continued her education at the University of Iowa, where she completed postgraduate coursework in religion in 1977. After becoming ordained through the First Unitarian-Universalist Church the following year, where she also served her entire career as a minister until her retirement in 2002, she later matriculated at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, attaining a Doctor of Divinity in 1994. In addition to her primary role with the church, Rev. Dr. Owen-Toole served on its service committee from 1979 to 1985, as president of the ministerial sisterhood from 1980 to 1982 and president of the service committee from 1983 to 1985.
Involved in numerous civic endeavors related to the church, Rev. Dr. Owen-Toole served on the clergy advisory committee of the San Diego Hospice from 1980 to 1983 and the board of directors of Planned Parenthood of San Diego from 1980 to 1986. She also served on the hunger advisory committee for U.S. Republican Jim Bates from 1983 to 1987, and has been a chaplain for the Interfaith AIDS Task Force since 1988. Her other duties include serving as board member of the Mingei International Craft and Design Museum, also as former president, board member of the Ilan-Lael Foundation and Sam & Freda Maloof Foundation, and volunteer with the church’s planned giving committee.
Rev. Dr. Owen-Toole was an early supporter of LGBTQ rights, and began working with LGBTQ individuals in 1978. A highlight that stands out to her is how she created a church service for a transgender individual to come out to the congregation. The service was a success and in fact, the church was a big help in saving the individual’s relationship with their family. The mother, who transitioned to a male, thought he would have to leave his family forever. However, they accepted him and thrived in the church, and he is actually now president of the church. Rev. Dr. Owen-Toole looks back at these events fondly as being a very powerful time in her life. She is proud to have helped the church learn and grow.
Outside of her primary trade, Rev. Dr. Owen-Toole is the author of one book, “Damngorgeous: A Daughter’s Memoir of Millard Owen Sheets,” published in 2008. She also served the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association in numerous posts such as executive committee member in 1988, president from 1989 to 1991 and member on the African American minister’s action committee from 1995 to 1998. In honor of her myriad accomplishments, Rev. Dr. Owen-Toole was recognized as a Distinguished Alumna of Scripps College in 2017. In 2019, she was awarded the Creative Sageing Award by the Unitarian Universalist Retired Ministers Association. Furthermore, she was selected for inclusion in the fourth edition of Who’s Who in Religion, as well as several editions of Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the West.
Now in retirement, Rev. Dr. Owen-Toole enjoys reading, walking and working to protect human rights in her spare time. She and her husband reside in San Diego, and are the proud parents of four wonderful children, Christopher Charles, Jennifer Anne, Russell Owen and Erin Michelle. She is also a doting grandmother to seven beloved grandchildren.