A qualitative study of power and empowerment as perceived by women Catholic school superintendents

Louise Diane Cababe, Fordham University


This qualitative study was designed to explore what women Catholic school superintendents' perceptions of power and empowerment and what their experiences of them are; also, how they perceive their values and beliefs as influencing their exercise of power or empowerment. Seidman's (1991) in-depth interview method was used in this descriptive study. Tape-recorded interviews were analyzed using inductive phenomenological approach. "Purposeful" and "snowball" sampling was used. Eleven volunteers, six lay and five Sisters, from each of the five Chief Administrators of Catholic Education regions in the United States were selected. Four conclusions resulted. (1) Women have a variety of perceptions about power which are similar to ones held by society at large. Women are not afraid of power. They know how to use it, but resort to it only when they deem it appropriate. (2) They do not think in terms of power. It is not a motivational factor nor a personal possession for them. They prefer sharing power. (3) While power has both negative and positive connotations they perceive empowerment as a good. They are experienced practitioners of empowerment. They know how to create and fashion it. They have sophisticated insights about it and its effects. Empowerment is a generative notion for them. (4) They are strongly committed to the church, to education and in particular to Catholic school education. Because of their strongly held interpersonal and ecclesial values and beliefs they tend not to use their power. However, when justice is at risk they will use formal, positional, or legitimate power. Power when equated with force or control over others had a negative connotation. Being hierarchical or authoritarian was viewed negatively. Rewards and punishments were not used as means of exercising their power. Empowerment was more amenable to them then the word power which was closely aligned to androcentric definitions. Growth of the person was the most frequent perception of empowerment. They frequently used affirmation, shared successes with others, valued working together and consultation. They sought to foster lasting change, growth and the development of gospel values. They emphasized interpersonal values and beliefs which generated their affinity to empowerment.

Subject Area

School administration|Womens studies|Religious education

Recommended Citation

Cababe, Louise Diane, "A qualitative study of power and empowerment as perceived by women Catholic school superintendents" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9830598.