Paper Type

Doctoral Dissertation


College of Education and Human Services

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EdD)



First Advisor

Dr. Marcia L. Lamkin

Second Advisor

Dr. Katherine L. Kasten

Third Advisor

Dr. Elinor A. Scheirer

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Julie Ingersoll

Department Chair

Dr. Jennifer J. Kane

College Dean

Dr. Larry G. Daniel


For over a century, Catholic Sisters have assumed leadership roles in higher education. They have impacted the lives of future leaders and empowered women to explore options to domesticity. Despite their profound contribution to higher education leadership, their history is missing from textbooks and library shelves. The purpose of this qualitative and phenomenological research study was to examine the lived experiences of Catholic Sisters who have served as college president; to gain an understanding of their perceptions and perspectives as they relate to leadership and leadership efficacy; to identify the role, if any, that gender and religion have played in institutional and societal acceptance of their leadership in higher education; and to present an argument for further research. Eleven participants participated in semi-structured, in-depth interviews. They responded to 12 research questions and provided feedback and stories representing their experiences as leaders. In order to sharpen the focus of the study, a set of lenses was selected to frame the analysis: feminisms, constructed self, and Catholicism. Participants perceived that gender and religion played key roles in their leadership construct. Religious authority impacted perceived societal acceptance of these participants as leaders, but participants perceived that individual characteristics contributed equally to that acceptance. Participants described the role of stereotypes as they pertained to societal expectations for leadership characteristics of a woman and for a Catholic Sister. Participants defined leadership efficacy in terms of success, which was directly related, in most cases, to the number of lives touched through education and service. These Catholic Sisters open doors for future women leaders through training, high standards, and belief systems. Committed to social justice, most of the participants expressed concerns with the Church‟s failure to change with the times and to promote gender equality. Most of the participants described personal conflict with conscience and the Church, especially in terms of women‟s and gay rights.