For Your Life's Purpose

CatholicHigherEd is derived from the academic research of Timothy J. Collins, Ed.D. He currently serves as the seventh president of Walsh University, located in North Canton, Ohio. Dr. Collins has reflected on organizational identity that asserts to be aligned with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church for over three decades.
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His children experienced Catholic education attending 11 different elementary and secondary schools during 21 relocations around the world. In the domain of higher education, his children experienced three different Catholic universities. Finally, his very focused experience with institutional Catholicity throughout his doctoral studies reaffirmed his deep appreciation for this gift of “higher” education born “from the Heart of the Church.” He continues his research across the landscape of Catholic higher education in America—a tradition that traces its roots to the archetype institutions of the 11th and 12th centuries at Bologna, Oxford, Paris, and Prague.

Dissertation Abstract

Catholic colleges and universities in America have significantly changed philosophically, demographically, legally, and financially during the past 5 decades. Since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, there has been considerable focus on attempting to accurately describe the Catholic identity for institutions affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Called to embrace the modern world, Catholic institutions of higher learning have been challenged to retain their distinctiveness even as they have become more closely aligned with secular institutions within the academy. Because of this convergence of institutional similarities, how does a potential student come to understand institutional Catholic identity during the search process? With over 230 Catholic degree-granting institutions to choose from in the United States alone, the task of determining a "best-fit" for the student can be challenging. It is important to have a framework for independently determining the strength of institutional Catholicity for a student seeking a uniquely Catholic undergraduate experience.

Specifically, this research identifies a set of 15 signal features for identification of a distinctively Roman Catholic institution of higher education within a framework for understanding institutional positioning with respect to the Roman Catholic Church from an external, or off-campus, perspective. In addition to the exploration of public documentation and the campus environment, select faculty and student leaders were interviewed at "Holy Catholic College" (a pseudonym) to understand their perspectives on the strength of Catholicity of their particular institution in the development of the framework and associated signal features.

Challenges to Institutional Catholic Identity



The catholic, or universal, Church is open to all of mankind. Likewise, a Catholic college or university is open to students of all faith traditions. How do institutions respect other religions while retaining and remaining faithful to the tenants of the Catholic faith?



Faculty, as holders and agents of the core institutional activity, are interacting with students regularly and become the face and voice of an institution. How committed are the faculty to the institutional mission?



Intellectual freedom has been the cornerstone of true academic freedom. How does the governance of an institution, whether by regulators, civil government, or appointed Board, impact an institution’s ability to pursue truth?



An institution’s ability to pursue truth and mission without interference from societal, cultural, or political forces is paramount. How does the institution handle the external pressures that are ever-present?



Institutional leadership is responsible for setting into motion the strategic vision for the school. The strategic planning and execution on that plan, developed within the shared governance context, has lasting impacts on an institution’s ability to maintain integrity in its mission. How well does the leadership understand and implement mission into the planning process?



The Catholic college serves its students. Is the school building upon the students’ faith foundation and is the impact noticed in the behaviors and activities of students?

Signal Features

Through nearly four years of diligent and scholarly research, 15 characteristics (or signal features) have emerged that help to assess how well a Catholic school is maintaining its Catholic identity as it seeks to accomplish its educational mission.

Below, you can learn about the features as well as some examples of the guideposts supporting the signal feature.


  • Materials
    Catalog(s), fliers, and campus extracurricular information explicitly highlight relationship to the Catholic Church
  • Physical Signs
    Chapel, statues of Church figures, crucifix publicly displayed, and Catholic art
  • Campus Activities
    Student clubs and initiatives, commencement speakers, lecturers, and honor award winners that support the teachings of the Magisterium
  • Coursework & Lectures
    Philosophy and theology courses; a faculty department or Chair of Theology; theologians with the mandatum; teachers that respect Catholic doctrine, and topics discussed during open campus lectures that include the teachings of the Magisterium
  • Service
    Student clubs that focus particularly on the poor, underprivileged, and vulnerable members of society, with meaningful numbers of members and frequency of participation
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  • Culture Gives Witness
    School calendar acknowledges Catholic liturgical rhythm; faculty, staff, and student participation in the Sacraments; Catholic College/University (CCU) president is a Catholic
  • Campus “Way of Life”
    Behaviors are considerate of others; active behavior focused on the needs of others; student gatherings to help each other; faculty readily available to assist students; significant presence of Catholics in the faculty, on the staff, and in the student body; religious devotions and Catholic spirituality opportunities highlighted on student activity calendars; encouragement of students to participate in campus ministry programs
  • Sacraments
    Opportunities for participation in the Catholic Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation, are well published and attended; opportunities for prayer and individual spiritual reflection
  • Active Involvement
    Extensive student participation in activities that promote societal justice; presence of a pastoral ministry
  • Community
    Programs and services available for the health and welfare of the community in conformance with the teachings of the Church
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  • Campus Discussions
    Frequent public discussions on theological and ethical issues
  • Presence of Christ
    Public prayer for ceremonies, meetings, classes, and special events; mission statement reflects importance of Catholic Church; symbols of Christian life seen in the physical plant such as building names, statues, or infrastructure to support Catholic devotions
  • Scholarly Viewpoints
    Catholic teachings always presented; respectful of the rights of individuals and the community
  • Institutional Heroes
    The lives of institutional role models reflect the Christian virtues that guide conduct (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) in a relationship with the Holy Trinity (faith, hope, and love), such as exhibited by the Saints
  • Role of Faith & Reason
    Search for truth includes both faith and reason
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