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Breaking a 75-Year Habit

Mount St. Mary's will join a growing trend among Catholic women's colleges July 1 when Jacqueline Powers Doud becomes the first non-nun to serve as president of the school.

January 05, 2000|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Jacqueline Powers Doud stands out from earlier leaders of Mount St. Mary's College for something she is not: a nun.

The decision to break from the college's 75-year tradition and pick a laywoman as its next president reflects a sister shortage that is changing the face of Catholic women's colleges throughout America.

Only about a third of the nation's remaining 42 Catholic women's colleges are now run by nuns, said Sister Karen M. Kennelly, Mount St. Mary's outgoing president. Kennelly, 66, will retire June 30, making way for her successor.

"It's a sign of the times," said Kennelly, a historian of women in religious congregations. "There are many fewer sisters, so our pool of candidates is much smaller."

Indeed, the number of nuns nationwide has plummeted by 51% between 1965 and 1997, while the U.S. Catholic population increased by more than 30%.

Although nuns were actively recruited by Mount St. Mary's presidential search committee, none emerged among the three finalists.

In the end, the college's Board of Trustees and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, which founded Mount St. Mary's, picked Doud over two other finalists, who happened to be men.

"The Sisters of St. Joseph don't have a monopoly on the mission of the college," said Sister Jill Napier, chairwoman of the board of trustees. "Jackie has proven herself in higher education. She is committed to promoting our Catholic tradition and has a vision that is in sync with our mission."

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Doud, 60, an education professor and longtime academic administrator, was the inside candidate in the seven-month nationwide search. She has spent the last nine years at Mount St. Mary's, rising from dean of the faculty and academic vice president to the No. 2 job on campus as provost.

Her life history reflects the changes that have taken place in both the Catholic church and women's role in society and the workplace.

Doud spent the first 15 years of her adult life as a nun. She took her vows--of poverty, chastity and obedience--at a time when entering an order provided women with opportunities to rise to leadership positions in colleges and hospitals.

She quickly became a French professor at a small Catholic college in Chicago.

All that began to change when the Vatican II Council in the mid-1960s declared the 20th century the "age of the laity," giving Catholics who were not nuns or priests the power to become nurses and professors in Catholic institutions, as well as pastoral ministers and religious educators.

Many nuns and priests concluded that they could continue their service in the church outside of living the celibate, religious life.

Doud left her teaching order of nuns in 1973 while she was pursuing her doctorate in education at Claremont Graduate University.

"Basically," she said, "I wanted to be open to the possibility of marriage." That happened four years later when she was a humanities professor and associate dean at the University of La Verne. She married Robert E. Doud, a fellow Claremont graduate student who is now a philosophy professor at Pasadena City College.

"There are lots of my kind around who used to lead a religious life," Doud said. "We are doing a lot of the same things that we used to do in education and health care."

Doud said her years with the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary were "a strong formative influence" in her life which, in many ways, makes her perfect for the role of first laywoman president to carry out the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Sisters continue to live and work at Mount St. Mary's two campuses, one perched on a hilltop in Brentwood overlooking the Getty Center and the other in central Los Angeles.

But their dominance has diminished over the years. For decades, the college administration was made up entirely of sisters, as was a majority of faculty and staff. Today, only 10 of 65 full-time faculty are nuns.

"This is part of a national pattern," said Father Thomas Rausch, chairman of the department of theological education at Loyola Marymount in Westchester. The plunging numbers, he said, make "it more and more difficult to find religious priests, nuns and brothers to head schools."

All of this, Rausch said, doesn't necessarily mean the secularization of Catholic colleges. "It means that the religious communities are giving up the top executive office, which, in a sense, diminishes their ability to affect the direction of the college."

The history of American higher education is replete with examples of institutions that lose their religious identity. Harvard and Yale, for instance, were founded as Protestant institutions, but have long since drifted from their religious moorings.

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A decade ago, Pope John Paul II issued an edict known as the "Ex Corde Ecclesiae" ("From the Heart of the Church"), ordering the church to take steps to ensure that Catholic colleges and universities maintain their distinctively Catholic character.

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