Dan T. Jensen

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership


The history of Catholic higher education in the United States details the substantial contribution of bishops, priests, brothers, and sisters dedicated to teaching and leadership at Catholic institutions of higher education. The past several decades have seen a decline of religious members' involvement and the laicization of faculty members at Catholic colleges and universities. Opponents of this transition fear the loss of religious identity that is critical to the mission of Catholic institutions. Others argue that lay faculty members can sustain the mission of adhering to religious traditions and identity while fostering a high quality academic environment. The purpose of the study was to understand the impact of the laicization phenomenon and the meaning lay faculty members attributed to their lived experiences at a Catholic university.

Semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 12 lay faculty members provided the data foundation for the study. A hermeneutic phenomenological methodology involved lay faculty members at a Catholic, Jesuit University. Phenomenological research describes the essence or underlying meaning of the lay faculty experience that can inform, support, or challenge institutional policies, practices, and mission. Three themes emerged from the data analysis, University is a Noun, Catholic is an Adjective; Heart of a Teacher; and The Big Tent. First, University is a Noun, Catholic is an Adjective captures the meaning and tensions associated with balancing a corporate identity and Catholic religious identity. Second, Heart of a Teacher presents the roles and responsibilities of lay faculty members and the influences that impact their personal identity and sense of integrity at a Catholic, Jesuit university. Finally, The Big Tent examines the openness, sense of community, caring, and values that define a Catholic, Jesuit university based on the perceptions and lived experiences of the study participants.

The findings of this study identify the challenges and complexity of sustaining a Catholic, Jesuit cultural identity intertwined with the influences of the laicization phenomenon. The study informs institutional leaders as they develop policies and practices to foster Catholic, Jesuit traditions and preserve Catholic cultural identity within higher education.

Included in

Psychology Commons