"Deja Vu All over Again": Commentary on the Catholic Higher Education Collaborative Conference on Leadership at Loyola University Chicago

By Schuttloffel, Merylann J. | Catholic Education, September 2010 | Go to article overview

"Deja Vu All over Again": Commentary on the Catholic Higher Education Collaborative Conference on Leadership at Loyola University Chicago


Schuttloffel, Merylann J., Catholic Education


In 1960, while I sat in my fifth grade classroom, was anyone thinking about the potential catastrophic events that would turn the Catholic Church and Catholic schooling into a proverbial tailspin for the next 50 years? At that time the Benedictine Sisters provided all the educational leadership for my grade school with one exception: My fifth grade teacher, a married lay woman, had abandoned public school teaching to donate her time to the parish grade school. Mrs. Day and the Benedictine Sisters were minimally compensated for their teaching and there was no significant tuition except the occasional special collection on Sunday. The entire parish supported the school financially, as everyone was strongly encouraged to attend. This was the typical scene in Catholic parishes across the country at that time. The familiar parish model remained unchanged for 100 years.

Then larger historical events began to impact the parish school: John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States and Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council. American Catholics were accepted as good citizens and became more financially secure outside their ethnic ghettos (Dolan, 2002; Gibson, 2003; O'Toole, 2008). American Catholics became part of the cultural mainstream. Some individuals went so far as to suggest that Catholic schools were an antiquated concept in light of Vatican II (Ryan, 1964). Over the decades a parochial school seemed inappropriate for more and more assimilated Catholics. At the time did anyone question the parish school model's viability? "If it isn't broken, don't fix it" was a default adage. Eventually, Catholics and Catholic schools parted ways. The intersection of student enrollment demographics, diminished religious congregation numbers, and strained parish financial reports frame the Catholic school crisis that continues today (Youniss & Convey, 2000).

The 1970s was a decade lost to disbelief and disorder. Whatever had stabilized Catholic schooling in the past was weakened. Diminished numbers in the various teaching religious congregations opened the door to lay teachers who wanted to serve the Church (Przygocki, 2004). Lay teachers were formed teaching side by side with the remaining religious. In addition, schools were staffed by the former religious who remained loyal to their educational vocation. So while there was a vacuum, there was also a new hopefulness fueled by Church documents that highlighted the role of the laity.

But by the 1980s my own experiences in the Midwest and southern states were evidence to a steadily decreasing number of religious in school leadership positions. Lay leadership was on the rise and it was clear that lay school leaders required a more formalized preparation if they would maintain the Catholic identity within the schools. The Association of Catholic Leadership Programs (ACLP) was the product of the intersection of Catholic higher education and the needs of K-12 schooling. Encouraged by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), the ACLP, founded in 1983, aggressively worked to develop, standardize, and support the preparation of school leaders through its collegial network. Recently, the ACLP changed its name to Catholic Higher Education Supporting Catholic Schools to emphasize its broad commitment to pre-K-12 schooling beyond leadership preparation.

The preparation process was greatly enhanced in the 1990s with the publication of Ciriello's (1993, 1994, 1996) leadership formation tripartite. These texts institutionalized the key competencies for management, instructional, and spiritual leadership. This valuable contribution to the curriculum for leadership formation programs provided definitions for the knowledge and skills required for Catholic school leadership.

Following further analysis of the growing body of leadership research, the Chief Administrators for Catholic Education (CACE) department of NCEA commissioned a monograph series dedicated to fleshing out leadership competencies further within the Catholic school context. …

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