Institutionalizing Catholic Identity

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James L. Heft, S.M, Ph.D.

Abstract

The organizers of the conference on Renewing Mission and Identity in Business Education invited me to offer a description of the efforts made at the University of Dayton to institutionalize its Catholic identity. Until 2006, when I left Dayton to begin leading full-time the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California, I worked steadily, first as chair of the Religious Studies Department, then as Provost, and finally as the University Professor of Faith and Culture and Chancellor, to strengthen that unique mission and identity. With the strong support of the administration and in collaboration with many faculty, we were able to make progress in formulating that mission and finding ways that it could shape our research, teaching, curriculum building and co-curricular dimensions. It could be said that what follows is both empirical and original. In the broad sense, it is empirical in that it describes the lived experience of a sustained twenty-five year effort to clarify and strengthen the University’s mission. While we learned from everyone we could, it is also original since we found it necessary, first, to adapt what we learned to the particular ecology of Dayton, and second, to create new approaches and structures that would work for Dayton. Serious thought is now being given by faculty leaders and deans as to how to assess more rigorously the fruit of these efforts.

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