The identity of an American Catholic college in transition: A study of Iona College

James Kevin Devlin, Fordham University


Since Vatican II (1962-1965), a radical transformation has taken place within the Roman Catholic Church, affecting its social institutions in the United States and elsewhere. As today's American Catholic colleges and universities are experiencing an identity crisis, there is an effort to reestablish a working definition of what is meant by the term Catholic identity when it refers to American Catholic higher education. The purpose of this research study was to identify, describe, and analyze the concept of Catholic identity in one Catholic college in transition. Through the perceptions and lived experiences of senior administrators and faculty, both present and immediately past, the study focused on four major frameworks: (a) Identity and Mission, (b) the Congregation of Christian Brothers, (c) Student Centeredness, and (d) Service and Academic. The study utilized the methodology of qualitative research through an analysis of the cultural content of open-ended, in-depth interviews. Data were gathered through the stories, perceptions, and experiences of 4 former and 4 present senior administrators as well as 12 participants in two focus groups. The study concludes that there are various levels of awareness of identity and differing points of view as to its importance. Catholic colleges and universities face challenges in finding ways to promote their institutional identity, ways to encourage and build upon their history, tradition, and mission. The research shows that the presence of the sponsoring religious community is still a major factor in this institution's identity. The type of campus ministries is of importance in addressing faith dimension, worship, volunteerism, and service learning, while the Religious Studies Department is a necessary component of an institution's Catholic identity and mission. The challenge is to implement Catholic social teachings in an integrated curriculum and how members of the community are viewed and treated. While identity may limit in its exclusiveness, the mission of an institution is inclusive to all who choose to participate. Catholic institutions of higher learning can strengthen their identity by building up an inclusive intentional community of teachers and learners. This academic community manifests the process of learning and sharing in a life-giving educational enterprise.

Subject Area

Higher education|Religious education

Recommended Citation

Devlin, James Kevin, "The identity of an American Catholic college in transition: A study of Iona College" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9839525.