Yale Divinity School professor Margaret Farley received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award Saturday for her challenge to Catholic policy on on homosexual rights, mounted through decades of writings and lectures.

The awards luncheon in Woolsey Hall featured testimonials to Farley’s accomplishments and character, along with a talk by Farley on gay and lesbian issues, sexual ethics, and gender from a Catholic perspective.

“I have not been allowed to leave these issues behind, for they have become more pressing, not less,” Farley said. “Homophobia is in the air we breathe. You don’t know that it’s even there until someone begins to recognize it.”

The Maryland-based New Ways Ministry gives the Bridge Building Award to Catholics who have promoted greater acceptance of homosexuals in the Roman Catholic Church and in society at large through scholarship, leadership or pastoral initiative.

An outspoken advocate of lesbian and gay rights, Farley has written or co-edited six books and published numerous articles on topics including sexual ethics, ethics and spirituality, and social ethics.

Farley has taught courses on Christian ethics at the Divinity School since 1971. She also serves as co-chairwoman of Yale’s Interdisciplinary Bioethics Project; director of the Divinity School Project on Gender, Faith, and Responses to HIV/AIDS in Africa; and co-director of the All-Africa Conference: Sister to Sister.

Letty Russell, a professor emeritus at the Divinity School, described her colleague as a troublemaker.

“How does she keep up such courageous stands and survive in the church?” Russell said. “Only Margaret knows how she does it.”

But Russell added that when it comes to advocating her cause, Farley “does not go alone — and you may find yourself going with her.”

The testimonials Saturday also highlighted Farley’s accomplishments in smaller, more personal arenas.

“Please don’t be fooled by Margaret’s petite stature — her powers are outstanding,” Farley’s niece Colleen Hammell said.

Hammell went on to describe how Farley comforted Hammell’s gay brother and reaffirmed his Catholic faith when he was dying of AIDS.

“I truly believe that it was — her majestic words that gave my dying brother hope,” Hammell said.

Farley’s longtime friend Helen Marie Burns, of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, described Farley as a courageous woman who challenged those around her to think more deeply and carefully.

“She was a presence in the midst of the community both caring and challenging,” said Burns.

Farley said the disputes within the Catholic Church over homosexual rights are enough to discourage anyone from trying to reconcile different viewpoints. But she said the continued struggle to establish connections between the Church and gay and lesbian communities serves as a reminder of the presence of God.

“We must go on building bridges across gaps in understanding and love — bridges strong enough so that we can meet in shared lands,” said Farley.