Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Identity Theft? at Catholic Colleges, Who's in Charge of Identity?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Identity Theft? at Catholic Colleges, Who's in Charge of Identity?

Article excerpt

Before Loyola University Chicago introduced Jo Ann Rooney as its 24th president in May of this year, Jesuit Father James Prehn delivered an invocation to a packed campus auditorium: "We pray for our new president, that she will be given the Holy Spirit, (and) for the gifts of fortitude and courage, to lead us in who we claim to be," Prehn said. "Give her the wisdom and prudence to discern your holy will for Loyola," he continued. "Finally, give her joy and peace in fulfilling the role of president."

The college had not released information about the candidates, and "at the mention of the first 'she' a low murmur spread throughout the auditorium," according to an account in Catholic New World, Chicago's diocesan newspaper. Rooney is the first layperson and the first woman to serve as president of Loyola Chicago. She succeeds Father Michael J. Garanzini, a Jesuit who resigned after 14 years.

Bob Parkinson, chair of the board of trustees and of the search committee, told the campus gathering that the announcement was both exciting and historic. The search committee sought the "best-suited person," he said, and was "compelled by Dr. Rooney's commitment both to her Catholic faith and our message as a university."

In her introductory speech, Rooney focused on how members of the Loyola community describe the university's character and mission. "I consistently heard about how it is about more than just the work," she said. "It's a passion; it's a calling. It's about making sure that this is a community that respects each other but that challenges each other to be the best possible people we can be, no matter what your role."

A shift in leadership

Rooney's appointment reflects just how common lay presidents have become at Catholic colleges. Rooney is the second female and 12th lay president among the 28 Jesuit colleges in the United States. Only about 40 percent of the country's more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities that belong to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) are led by men and women religious.

Many have welcomed lay presidents as a sign that the Second Vatican Council's call for increased roles for laypeople is being taken more seriously, but some bemoan the watering down of Catholic tradition. Lay presidents highlight the reality of declining vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. They're at the center of cultural debates about the place of religious institutions in a secular society where students increasingly identify as religious "nones." And they're on the financial hot seat, under constant pressure as costs rise and government aid declines.

Because the pool of professed religious men and women continues to decline, the number of lay presidents is likely to increase. In 1965 there were 58,632 priests in the United States, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. Of that number, 22,707 belonged to religious orders, founders of the majority of Catholic colleges. In 2015 those numbers had dropped to 37,578 total priests and 11,710 religious order priests, according to CARA. Women's religious communities have seen even steeper declines in numbers, dropping from almost 180,000 in 1965 to just under 49,000 in 2015.

Perhaps the most closely watched lay appointment came at Georgetown University, which in 2001 appointed John DeGioia as its first lay president. "It was not without grumbling from some Jesuits and Georgetown graduates who felt it represented a major breach with tradition," National Catholic Reporter (NCR) reported in 2004. Georgetown, founded in 1789, is the oldest Catholic institution of higher education in the United States.

Three years after his appointment, DeGioia had proven his fundraising abilities by helping close a $1 billion campaign--a skill at any institution of higher education. He also quickly showed a commitment to social justice, a key to the identity of Catholic universities. …

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