Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Thomas L. Fish

Second Advisor

Donald R. LaMagdeleine

Third Advisor

Laurie Anderson Sathe


From a high of over 200,000 women religious in the early 1960s the number of Catholic nuns has dropped to 59,000 in 2011. Their average age has risen to 69 years of age. This has created a crisis in definition and purpose of the traditional missions of education of healthcare that many orders consider a prime piece of their work in the community.

This qualitative study takes a look at the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul Province (CSJ) and their change from traditional brick and mortar hospitals to a neighborhood system of primary clinics, St. Mary‘s Health Clinics (SMHC). Using an oral history approach 14 individuals with key relationships to these events were interviewed for their perceptions and memories. Use of archival historical resources coupled with these oral history interviews resulted in several conclusions about the nature of mission, leadership, and change in this organization.

First, this change was found to be consistent with the original mission of the CSJs which included the dual roles of direct service and advocating for others. This mission is central to the identity of the Clinics and serves many purposes including creating pride in SMHC by the CSJs, a source of positive outcomes, both at the individual level and system level, and as a way for the larger community to become involved in the CSJ mission. It uses the heritage and the traditions of the CSJs to create a meaningful way of engaging with the community despite a decrease in the numbers of individual nuns in the order.

Second, collaboration and collaborative-based leadership have become the major methods of organizational leadership with the CSJs. However the CSJs were able to use more direct and hierarchical methods of leadership when the situation demanded it.

Individual leaders in the organization have different styles which have been successes, and transition between leaders has been effective and allowed SMHC to strengthen its position in the community.

Thirdly, balancing resources and being creative in meeting healthcare needs has been a constant challenge for the CSJs and SMHC. Collaboration has been useful here as the Clinics have been able to draw multiple resources from the community to meet the needs of the clients they serve. The realization that this is a never ending battle engages much of the effort and thinking of the day-to-day life of the organization.

The unique history, vision, and position in the Twin Cities community have made this switch a successful one and a model to be considered as the nation looks to participate in health care reform. While there are some unique circumstances that have allowed the CSJs to develop the SMHC organization, their success begs for its application to other parts of the country for healthcare and the role of Catholic nuns in America. This experience can be used as a starting point in the discussion to determine how healthcare might change and how Catholic nuns can continue to make a contribution.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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