Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Alfredo Ortiz Aragon


Julie Nadeau


John De La Garza


This interpretative phenomenological study explored the mission and identity integration experiences of nine academic lay leaders of diverse religious affiliations across the three Catholic universities of San Antonio, Texas, United States: Our Lady of the Lake University, St. Mary’s University, and the University of the Incarnate Word. I employed a purposive sampling strategy to select the participants and collected data through two semi-structured in-depth interviews with each participant. In analyzing the findings, I applied an integrated theoretical framework consisting of theories on virtue ethics (Aristotle, trans. 1980; MacIntyre, 1981), organizational assimilation (Jablin, 1982; 2001), reflective practice (Dewey, 1933; Kolb, 1984; Schön, 1983), person-organization fit (Chatman, 1989; Kristof, 1996; Pervin, 1968), and servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1977; Spears, 2003).

Six conclusions emerged from the study: (a) Interactive stages of mission integration: The academic lay leaders’ experience of mission and identity integration of the Catholic university was a progressive, lifelong journey that involved multiple and interactive stages, angles, and layers. (b) Critical reflective practice: The participants’ life strategy of reviewing, reflecting on, and critically analyzing their behaviors deepened their experience of mission and identity integration. (c) Ongoing renewal of compelling purpose: The academic lay leaders’ engagement with the Catholic university’s mission is strongly related to their ongoing search for meaning and purpose beyond themselves. (d) Relationality and relationship building: Building relationships and the experience of a sense of community were integral to the mission and identity integration of academic lay leaders. (e) Servant leadership: The behaviors of the academic lay leaders who integrate the mission and identity of a Catholic university align with the servant leadership model’s behavioral competencies. (f) Commitment to the mission: Academic lay leaders across diverse religious affiliations sustain and strengthen the following mission aspects of a Catholic university: advocating social justice, open-mindedness and respect for diversity, willingness to serve, support for Catholic intellectual tradition, support for Catholic social teaching, respect for the dignity of the human person, the expression of Catholic identity in the curriculum, and permeation of mission and identity in research initiatives.

The study contributed to the discourse on lay leadership in Catholic higher education. The findings of the study are insightful for institutions of Catholic higher education to strengthen the existing and introduce new processes that aim to institutionalize mission engagement, impart mission-centered education, hire for the mission, develop new leaders, and foster ecclesial lay ministry. The conclusions imply that Catholic universities and colleges should develop a strong community of committed lay leaders across various faith traditions to support and enhance its mission and identity. This will also require significant changes in the ways in which the mission and identity of Catholic colleges and universities are sustained, strengthened, and transmitted.