Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


Leadership Studies


Catholic Educational Leadership EdD

First Advisor

Desiree Zerquera

Second Advisor

Aldana Ursula

Third Advisor

Erin Brigham

Fourth Advisor

Mary Johnson


The Catholic schools of women’s religious congregations in the United States possess a distinctive Catholic identity, owed in great part to the charism of their founders and the feminist worldview that emerged in the sisters’ mission, communal narratives, and ministries. With the decline of women religious across the country, schools and congregations ask questions for the future of that identity in the hands of lay educators. As with many religiously sponsored schools, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and their lay partners in education are engaged in these critical questions for their own learning communities across the country.

This study proposes feminist Catholic organizational identity, a charism inspired phenomenon present in the Catholic schools of women’s religious congregations. This organizational phenomenon arises from the lived experience of lay educators as they seek to embody the charism and Catholic identity of the sponsoring congregation. Using an emergent and feminist hermeneutic phenomenology, this research provides understanding for how female lay educators in a Notre Dame de Namur learning community construct and enact this distinctive identity. Narrative phenomenological data was collected from eight, diverse female lay educators in semi-structured interviews. Feminist and hermeneutic research principles centered the life experience, professional contributions, and reflections of the participants.

An interdisciplinary conceptual framework rooted in feminist theories of Catholic theology, organizational theory, and education was applied as a hermeneutic lens in the generation of participant themes and a general description of the organizational phenomenon. Key findings were organized in thematic categories aligned with individual life experiences prior to and during one’s relationship with Notre Dame de Namur as well as organizational experiences for the learning community. First, feminist Catholic organizational identity became a source of attraction for those potential educators whose personal formation and feminist perspective aligned with that vision in the learning community. This inclusive worldview and experiential resonance led to a deeper relationship with Notre Dame de Namur. Second, the lived experience of the lay educator revealed the significance of belonging, mentorship from sisters, and partnership with female lay colleagues for imprinting newer educators with the feminist Catholic beliefs, stories, and practices of the Notre Dame de Namur community. Third and finally, feminist Catholic organizational identity is the visible witness of a systemic and integrated 21st century iteration of Notre Dame de Namur charism in these lay women and their learning community. In this, these educators claim the call and responsibility to embody a charism and legacy that is much bigger than they are: “We are Notre Dame de Namur.”