Alice Gallin, O.S.U.: Negotiating Identity: Catholic Higher Education Since 1960

(Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000)

Beginning where Philip Gleason's Contending With Modernity leaves off, this book chronicles a tumultuous, frightening, promising, hopeful era of Catholic higher education. As Gleason's book showed, all of these adjectives could have been aptly applied to Catholic higher education through most of its history, but beginning in the 1960s the institutions faced challenges that clearly could never have been predicted. Compared to 1960, the present-day situation is quite a new, formerly unimaginable, situation.

Negotiating Identity represents the most recent contribution from Sr. Alice, a former dean, Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and author/editor of two other books on Catholic higher education. Here she takes advantage of her particular vantage points to provide us with a very helpful overview. It is based not only on what she knows firsthand and from the leaders of Catholic higher education in this era, but also from documentary sources, primarily in the university and association archives.

This is most of all an institutional history, from the vantage point of administrators, bishops, associations, and trustees. Yet Gallin does an admirable job of identifying the larger cultural contexts and showing how legal and ecclesial demands impacted the life of the institutions, sometimes in a tug-of-war. She does take care to devote a chapter to the contribution of lay people to Catholic higher education, which has barely been done in the past, but this chapter is perhaps the weakest in the book. Perhaps it highlights most of all not only the need for further research in this area, but the need for allowing and enabling stronger leadership to emerge from this group of Catholics.

Most interesting, perhaps, is how she lays out a thirty-year history of struggle between the Roman curia and American presidents and hierarchy over the kind of norms that are now being imposed under Ex Corde Ecclesiae. It is telling to see how a powerful American figure like Cardinal Spellman at one time rebuffed the curia's efforts, while others tried later more diplomatically to soften the blow and to help Rome to see the nature of the particularly American legal situation.
The book draws on the archives of eleven colleges and universities, including Gallin's own College of New Rochelle, where it is also interesting to note the contrast to Burtchaell's own scorched earth reading of the college's history in the same era. Gallin still deals repeatedly with the question "But are they still Catholic?," which dogs the whole of the era she studies. She manages, however, to raise it in what seems to me to be a much less polemical fashion, from the point of view of a woman who believes that in very many ways they are very much Catholic, though much more needs to be done to strengthen that identity in a way appropriate to a post-Vatican II context.

Having read a good deal about Catholic higher education in this era, I still found a great deal that was new and interesting in this book, and would highly recommend it for those who want to understand an era that is still unfolding. Gallin very clearly set out some of the factors that have brought us to where we are today, and does so in a manner that will be accessible to novice and expert alike. -- Thomas M. Landy.