Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

At Catholic Colleges, a Shift to Lay Leadership

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

At Catholic Colleges, a Shift to Lay Leadership

Article excerpt

CALDWELL, N.J. * When Sr. Patrice Werner retired in June after 15 years as president of Caldwell College, the school founded by the Sisters of St. Dominic 70 years ago witnessed the end of an era--in more ways than one.

A layperson--Nancy Blattner--took over as head of the 2,300-student college.

"We're handing over a position," said Werner, who was the school's eighth president, all Dominican nuns, "but we're not handing over the college."

While the shift may be new to Caldwell, it's increasingly familiar on America's Catholic campuses. For decades, the number of nuns nationwide has steadily and dramatically thinned. As a result, it has become increasingly rare for a nun to lead a Catholic college.

Of the 18 Dominican colleges and universities in the United States, Werner said, her retirement will leave just three with presidents from the religious order.

Fewer than half of the roughly 250 Catholic institutions nationwide are headed by nuns or priests, according to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, compared with 70 percent in 1993, the year before Werner became president at Caldwell.

At Caldwell, the changing of the guard has sparked a renewed focus on emphasizing the values and history of the Dominican order.

Several years ago, the college named one of its youngest nuns, 40-something Sr. Kathleen Tuite, to a high-level position with the goal of promoting the school's distinct religious identity.

Looking to ensure that everyone on campus understands the "four pillars" of Dominican life, including prayer and community, Tuite prepares information on traditions and hosts special lectures on topics such as Catholic identity.

She also heads an educational program that annually sends 35 campus representatives to meet those of other Dominican colleges in Fanjeaux, the town in southern France where St. Dominic sowed the seeds of his education-centered philosophy more than 800 years ago.

Blattner, who served as vice president and dean of academic affairs at Fontbonne University in St. Louis, was selected after a search that revealed just how much attitudes about governance at Catholic institutions have changed. …

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