Leaders of Catholic schools would do well to examine Trinity College, a small women’s Catholic college in Washington D.C. that has rebounded under the leadership of Patricia McGuire, who took over the school’s presidency in 1989.
McGuire’s vision and commitment to mission helped her retool the school in a way that kept it solvent, said Jeanne Lord, Ph.D., associate vice president for student affairs at Georgetown.
Lord delivered “Historic Mission vs. Transformative Change in a Catholic Women’s College: Reflections from Trinity College in the District of Columbia” on March 3 in Tognino Hall on the Rose Hill campus. It was the fourth lecture in the Rita Cassella Jones Lecture Series, and was sponsored by the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies.
Lord detailed the fortunes of Trinity College, which was founded in 1897 by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to keep Catholic women from attending secular institutions. Trinity saw its fortunes rise, to the point where in 1969, it was included in conversations with the Seven Sisters, a set of prestigious women-only colleges in the northeastern United States.
But the social upheaval of the early 1970s, the changes wrought by Vatican II, and an increase in coeducational opportunities, took a heavy toll on Trinity. In one 10-year span, the school had six presidents, and when McGuire took the reigns, Lord said the school, which counts House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a graduate, was on the verge of collapse.
McGuire succeeded in turning it around, Lord said, because she embraced five leadership strategies that all colleges can emulate: personalization of mission, communication, collaboration, balance of identity and promotion of social justice.
“McGuire’s presidency has been characterized by a resurgence in enrollment, the addition of significant academic programs and a dramatic change in demographics, but the course of the presidency has not been easy,” she said. “What makes the conclusion of this story compelling is the message that each of us who toils in the fields of Catholic higher education must believe that we, too, can and must do this work.”
In the question-and-answer period that followed, Lord acknowledged that a small but vocal group of Trinity alumnae have taken issue with the fact that, as part of its revival, the college has embraced a more local demographic, going so far as to open a satellite campus in the less-affluent section of Washington D.C. east of the Anacostia River. As a result, she agreed that it would no longer be appropriate to call it the “Eighth Sister.”
“I’m very sympathetic and support very much what Pat McGuire has done, because she is addressing contemporary needs, and if other people like Pat McGuire don’t do this, there’s going to be huge societal costs,” she said.