Exploring a religious congregation's charism in school culture as modeled and shared by the principal: A narrative inquiry

Maureen Lawrence McDermott, Fordham University


The identity and spiritual legacy of a religious congregation is referred to as its charism. The early Fathers of the Church defined this term and subsequent Vatican II writings provided focus and direction for a clearer understanding and preservation of this spiritual phenomenon. Diminishing numbers of religious men and women in the United States highlight a further urgency for understanding the process by which a religious charism is transmitted and embedded into a religious institution. The purpose of this study was to explore the charism of the congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Immaculata, Pennsylvania as it is shared with lay colleagues and becomes institutionalized into the culture of the school community. The study focused on 2 all girls high schools whose principals are members of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary congregation. This study of transmitting religious charism into the culture of a school necessitated consideration for 2 additional factors within each school community, that of individual leadership style and governance model. Study sites included a congregationally owned secondary girls high school and a diocesan owned secondary girls high school. The choice of qualitative research allowed the researcher to scan each site so that the broadest understanding of school culture could be gleaned. The use of an emergent design permitted discovery within the culture of each school to lead the researcher to additional sources of information. Primary informants included the principal and a lay administrator in each school. In addition, the emergent design directed the researcher to use other interviews, observations, and document review. Much of the research was conducted in the natural setting on site at each school. The conclusions of this study suggest 3 specific findings. In both schools, the clearest evidence of charism becoming embedded into a school culture occurs initially through the artifacts of the school culture. Members of each school community most easily and immediately point to the artifacts as a means of identifying and defining the elements of the congregational charism. Second, without a systematic formation plan for the laity within a school community, the ability of lay colleagues to grow in understanding of the congregational charism beyond artifact identification to values articulation seems improbable. Third, while it is possible for a religious community to share its charism with lay colleagues at diocesan-owned schools, the optimum setting for congregational members to transmit their charism to their lay colleagues is at congregationally-owned schools.

Subject Area

School administration|Secondary education|Religion

Recommended Citation

McDermott, Maureen Lawrence, "Exploring a religious congregation's charism in school culture as modeled and shared by the principal: A narrative inquiry" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3214510.