Understanding lay and religious presidents: Implications for preparation to sustain Catholicity in Catholic higher education

Cathleen Marie Raynis Meeker, Fordham University


In order for Catholic higher education to thrive and maintain its Catholic identity, lay and religious leaders of these institutions need to excel with the knowledge and skills needed to preside over the organizational complexities while weaving the Catholic spiritual component within the culture of the institution. Despite the increasingly complex demands placed on the president of Catholic higher education at an interesting time where there are increasing numbers of lay presidents and decreasing numbers of religious presidents, there is a scarcity of research capturing the voices of the presidents of Catholic higher education focused on their preparation experiences and the preparative needs of future presidents in Catholic higher education. In addition, as this study was initiated there was concern that there were few formal proactive experiences to prepare those interested in a presidency in Catholic higher education, and it was uncertain if these experiences took into consideration the changing challenges and demographics of Catholic higher education. The common themes and unique ideas emanating from a qualitative study where 19 presidents of Catholic higher education, both religious and lay, participated in 60 minute long interviews were shared. The participants shared their perspectives about their childhood career aspirations, the things that moved them toward the presidency, the skills, knowledge and competencies needed to do the job, the areas they and peers could have benefited from more experience and understanding of prior to taking the presidency, and their ideas for the development of well crafted proactive preparation experiences for both lay and religious presidents of the future. A semi-structured interviewing technique was used to allow flexibility and the snowballing technique was used to guide the researcher to more lay female participants. Triangulation and thematic analysis were utilized to analyze the data. Presidents did illuminate the skills and competencies of the job, identified the topics and experiences they and their peers could have benefited from before starting their presidencies and shared many specific ideas about the content for proactive preparation of presidents in the future. Using the information provided by participants, two models were shared as suggested ways the ideas presented by participants in this study could be incorporated into proactive preparation applications. A guide for assessment and ongoing learning and development for all interested in the presidency in Catholic higher education was also shared. The research concluded with a presentation of suggestions for research and administrators to consider in the cultivation, preparation, and study of presidents for Catholic higher education.

Subject Area

Educational administration|Religious education|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Raynis Meeker, Cathleen Marie, "Understanding lay and religious presidents: Implications for preparation to sustain Catholicity in Catholic higher education" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3323267.