A descriptive study of lay presidents of American Catholic colleges and universities

Richard Charles Petriccione, Fordham University


Over the last thirty years more and more lay leaders have transitioned to prominent roles as presidents of American Catholic colleges and universities. This study provides a comprehensive demographic look at the lay women and men who lead over half of the nation's Catholic colleges and universities, as well as provides interesting and noteworthy findings on their perceptions regarding many important issues surrounding themselves and American Catholic higher education. It places particular interest in those presidents who are the first lay leaders at their institutions. Seventy presidents from institutions located all across the United States completed and returned an eight-page survey instrument. The instrument inquired about and provided institutional demographic information, personal demographic information, and many lay presidential perceptions on areas such as personal spirituality, institutional roles and responsibilities, personal charism and Catholicity, acceptance as leader by various constituencies, transitioning to the position, tensions related to their hiring, institutional Catholic identity, personal leadership styles and personal satisfaction, effectiveness and pride. The survey findings were broadened and validated by follow-up interviews with selected lay presidents. The dissertation provides a broad review of literature relating to the rise of the laity in Catholic higher education, as well as theories related to the lay president's preferred transformational and charismatic leadership styles. Some of the significant findings include the overwhelming majority of the lay leaders feel they are living their vocation in their positions and by their life choices; they have good working relationships with their local Bishop; they take great pride in their roles as Catholic leaders, they tie their effectiveness and satisfaction as president to familiarity with and understanding of the charism and traditions of the founding congregation. These are confident Catholic servant-leaders who attempt to live lives worthy of the positions they proudly hold. This study portrays tremendous respect for the past and optimism for the future among the lay leaders of American Catholic colleges and universities.

Subject Area

Educational administration|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Petriccione, Richard Charles, "A descriptive study of lay presidents of American Catholic colleges and universities" (2009). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3361361.