Land O' Lakes at 50: The State of Catholic Higher Education

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Various Speakers and Panelists

Date: October 11, 2017

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Co-sponsored with The Institute for the Liberal Arts, Office of the Dean of Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, and the Office of the Provost and Dean of Faculties at Boston College.


In July 1967 a small group of Catholic educators and religious leaders convened at a conference center in the tiny town of Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin to discuss how North American colleges and universities could participate in the post-Vatican II renewal of the Church. They produced an historic memorandum, later known simply as "Land O’ Lakes,” that outlined a new understanding of relations between Catholic universities and the Church hierarchy in areas including governance, academic freedom, and academic theology. This document proved to be both influential and controversial, and the path it laid down continues to have a profound impact on Catholic higher education.

To mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Land O’ Lakes, the Boisi Center is convening a group of distinguished scholars and university presidents for a public conference at Boston College in October 2017 to reflect on the impact this agreement had on Catholic higher education, the Catholic intellectual tradition in America, and, more broadly, the relationship between religion and American public life.

Speaker Bios

Steven R. DiSalvo

Steven R. DiSalvo, Ph.D., is a longtime leader in higher education and philanthropy with a history of executive positions at colleges and universities throughout the United States. The tenth president of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH, and its first lay president, he joined the college in July of 2013 after serving as president of Marian University in Wisconsin. Dr. DiSalvo also serves on the boards of leading national higher education organizations like the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), where he is a member of the Board of Directors representing the northeastern states and leads the Committee on Student Aid.

Massimo Faggioli

Dr. Massimo Faggioli is professor in the department of theology and religious studies at Villanova University. He writes regularly for Italian and English-speaking journals and magazines on the Church, religion and politics, has a column in La Croix International, and is contributing editor for Commonweal. His most recent book in English is Catholicism and Citizenship: Political Cultures of the Church in the Twenty-First Century (Liturgical Press 2017).

Michael Hemesath

Michael Hemesath is the 13th president and first lay president of Saint John’s University in Collegeville, MN.  Prior to returning to his alma mater, he served on the economics faculty of Carleton College for 23 years.

John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

Elected in 2005 as the University of Notre Dame’s 17th president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., has devoted himself to fostering the University’s unique place in academia, the Church, our nation, and the world. A philosopher trained in theology and a member of Notre Dame’s Department of Philosophy since 1990, Fr. Jenkins earned undergraduate and advanced degrees from Notre Dame, a doctorate of philosophy from Oxford University, and a master of divinity and licentiate in sacred theology from the Jesuit School of Theology. As president, Fr. Jenkins has been committed to combining teaching and research excellence with a cultivation of the deeper purposes of Catholic higher education. While pursuing academic distinction, he has brought renewed emphasis to Notre Dame’s mission, rooted in the tradition of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the University’s founding community, to educate the whole person – mind, body, and spirit – to do good in the world.

Gregory Kalscheur, S.J.

Gregory Kalscheur, S.J. is the Dean of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences at Boston College. Fr. Kalscheur joined the faculty of the Boston College Law School in 2003, and from August 2012 to May 2014 he served as the Senior Associate Dean for Strategic Planning and Faculty Development in the College of Arts and Sciences. He received his A.B. in 1985 from Georgetown University and his J.D. in 1988 from the University of Michigan. After law school, he clerked for Judge Kenneth F. Ripple, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and worked as a litigator at Hogan & Hartson in Washington, D.C.

William Leahy, S.J.

William Leahy, S.J., a member of the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, became the 25 th president of Boston College in July, 1996. He came to Boston College from Marquette University, where he served as a faculty member for six years and then as Executive Vice President. Father Leahy holds a Ph.D in history from Stanford University, an MA in US history from Saint Louis University, and master’s degrees in divinity and sacred theology from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California. He is the author of Adapting to America: Catholics, Jesuits and Higher Education in the Twentieth Century, as well as scholarly articles on religious and educational history in the United States. Father Leahy is a trustee of Santa Clara and Creighton universities and the Ecclesiastical Faculty at Boston College.

Linda M. LeMura

Dr. Linda M. LeMura became the 14th president of Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., on July 1, 2014. She is the first female layperson to ascend to the presidency of a Jesuit institution in the United States. Before being named president, Dr. LeMura served for seven years as the College’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. She joined the College in 2003 as dean of arts and sciences. Prior to Le Moyne, she served as a professor, graduate program director and associate dean at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include pediatric obesity, pediatric applied physiology, lipid and energy metabolism. A summa cum laude graduate of Niagara University, she received an M.S. and Ph.D. in applied physiology from Syracuse University. She and her husband, Dr. Lawrence Tanner, a professor of environmental systems science at Le Moyne, have a daughter, Emily.

Brian F. Linnane, S.J.

Since his inauguration as the University’s 24thpresident in July 2005, Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J. has led Loyola University Maryland with vision and dedication. A native of Massachusetts, he formerly served at a sister Jesuit institution, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., as assistant dean and associate professor of Religious Studies. Fr. Linnane holds an A.B. degree from Boston College, an M.A. from Georgetown University’s department of government, and a master’s degree and Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. He earned master’s degrees from the Yale department of Religious Studies, as well as a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. In 2015, he received a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Loyola University Maryland, in recognition of his first 10 years of service at Loyola’s president.

Mark Massa, S.J.

Mark Massa, S.J., is the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, where he is also professor of Theology. Massa received his Ph.D. in American religion from Harvard University, and is the author of seven books. His most recent book, The Structure of Theological Revolutions: Catholic Debates About Natural Law, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. His monograph published in 1999, Catholics and American Culture: Fulton Sheen, Dorothy Day, and the Notre Dame Football Team, received the Alpha Sigma Nu Award for Best Work in Theology for 1999-2000. His ongoing area of research is American Catholic faith and culture of the past century.

John McGreevy

John McGreevy received his B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and his Ph.D. from Stanford University. He joined Notre Dame’s faculty in 1997, coming from Harvard University. He served as chair of the History department from 2002 – 2008, and since 2008 has served as I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. He is the author of three books. The first, Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Twentieth Century Urban North was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1996. The second, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History was published by W.W. Norton in 2003. The third, American Jesuits and the World, was published by Princeton University Press in spring of 2016. He has received major fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Louisville Institute and the Erasmus Institute, and has published numerous articles and reviews in the Journal of American HistoryCommonweal, the New Republicthe Chicago Tribune and other venues.

James O'Toole

Professor James O'Toole is the Clough Millennium Chair in History at Boston College. He teaches courses in the history of American religion and the history of American Catholicism. His interests lie in the history of religious practice and popular devotional life. He is the author, most recently, of The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America (Belknap, 2008) and he has just completed a new history of Boston College.

Sean O. Sheridan

Father Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, JD, JCD, began serving as president of Franciscan University of Steubenville on June 1, 2013. A Third Order Regular Franciscan Friar, Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, he was ordained a priest in 2006. Father Sean obtained a doctorate in Canon Law from The Catholic University of America in 2009, writing a dissertation titled “Ex corde Ecclesiae: A Canonical Commentary on Catholic Universities ‘From the Heart of the Church’ to Catholic Universities.” Before entering the Franciscan Third Order Regular, Father Sean obtained a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy from the University of Pittsburgh in 1985, and in 1990, a juris doctor from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. His law practice in Sacramento and Pittsburgh focused on healthcare litigation, primarily with the representation of hospitals and physicians. An assistant professor in the School of Canon Law at The Catholic University of America (2009-2012) and a professor of theology at Franciscan University (2012-Present), Father Sean concentrates his research and canonical consulting in the areas of Consecrated Life and the Teaching Office of the Church.

Erik Owens

Erik Owens is associate director of the Boisi Center and associate professor of the practice in theology and international studies at Boston College. His research explores a variety of intersections between religion and public life, with particular attention to the challenge of fostering the common good of a religiously diverse society. He is the co-editor of three books: Gambling: Mapping the American Moral Landscape (2009), Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning (2004) and The Sacred and the Sovereign: Religion and International Politics (2003), the last of which was called a "must read" by Foreign Affairs in 2009. At the American Academy of Religion, he chairs the Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion and leads its Public Scholars Project. He received his Ph.D. in religious ethics from the University of Chicago, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from Duke University.

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels is a writer and editor. She has edited a number of magazines and journals including CommonwealChurchChristianity & Crisis, and The Hastings Center Report. She is the author of Who’s Minding the Children: The History and Politics of Day Care in America and editor of American Catholics and Civic Engagement: A Distinctive Voice, (Sheed and Ward, 2003) and American Catholics and American Culture: Tradition and Resistance, (Sheed and Ward, 2004). Those volumes were the result of  “American Catholics in the Public Square,” a three-year Commonweal Foundation project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Her reviews and essays have appeared in America, Dissent, the Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, The New Republic, The New York Times, Slate and the Washington Post Book Review. She retired as co-director of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture in 2012, and currently writes a column for Commonweal and blogs at dotCommonweal.

Peter Steinfels

Peter Steinfels has been an editor at Commonweal and a reporter and columnist at the New York Times. With Margaret O'Brien Steinfels he founded and directed the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture. A Ph.D. in history (Columbia), he has been a visiting professor at Georgetown, Notre Dame, Dayton, and St. John's in Queens. He is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of Roman Catholicism in America

Event Photos

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Opening keynote speaker John T. McGreevy, dean of the College of Arts & Letters, University of Notre Dame.

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Panel 1: The Legacy of Land O’ Lakes in Catholic Higher Education Today Sean Sheridan, T.O.R., Linda LeMura, John Jenkins, C.S.C., Michael Hemesath, Peter Steinfels, and moderator James O’Toole.

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Panel 2: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition and Catholic Higher Education (Left to Right) Steven R. DiSalvo, Massimo Faggioli, Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., Brian Linnane, S.J., Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, and moderator Erik Owens.

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Closing keynote speaker William P. Leahy, S.J., president of Boston College.

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Closing panel with university presidents.

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Father Mark Massa, S.J., leading question and answers. (Photos by MTS Photography)

Event Recap

On October 11, the Boisi Center hosted “Land O’ Lakes at 50: The State of Higher Education.” This conference, co-sponsored with The Institute for the Liberal Arts, Office of the Dean of Morrissey College of the Arts and Sciences, and the Office of the Provost and Dean of Faculties, marked the 50th anniversary of the seminal document, signed in 1967 by a group of Catholic educators and religious leaders, that outlined a new understanding of relations between Catholic universities and the Church hierarchy in areas including governance, academic freedom, and academic theology. A dozen distinguished panelists—including seven sitting presidents of Catholic universities—gathered to discuss this influential and controversial document. Keynote addresses were given by University of Notre Dame historian John T. McGreevy and Boston College president William P. Leahy, S.J. 

The morning’s keynote address was given by John T. McGreevy, I. A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame. McGreevy noted three concurrent shifts within Catholic higher education that contextualize the Land O’ Lakes statement. First, the influence of Vatican II and the papal encyclical Gaudium et Spes cannot be understated. Just as Pope Paul VI called for the Catholic Church to engage the modern world, the Land O’ Lakes statement called for Catholic universities to modernize. The alternative to modernization, the argument went, was mediocrity.

Second, Catholic universities were increasingly turning to lay governance and faculty consultation regarding curriculum. While seeking to preserve their distinctive charisms, the attendees recognized that college faculty, many of whom had neither attended a Catholic university nor worked at one previously, held greater allegiance to their academic disciplines than to the Church.

Third, the Land O’ Lakes meeting was but one of many such gatherings convened around the world. Similar meetings in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Philippines, and France resulted in similar documents that would establish the vitality of Catholic education, especially in what was then called the “Third World,” now the “Global South.”

During a question and answer session, audience members raised issues of the document’s reach and the make-up of the Land O’ Lakes meeting’s attendees. McGreevy suggested that the document itself was of modest significance because it was vague, but its drafting began a wider movement to strengthen the vision of American Catholic higher education.

The first panel, moderated by James O’Toole, the Clough Millennium Chair in History at Boston College, reflected the changing demographics of Catholic university leadership. The panel’s discussion focused on some of the institutional changes facing the administrations of Catholic colleges and universities. John Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, started by describing the complexity of running a modern institution of higher learning and the necessity of lay leadership. Le Moyne College president Linda LeMura noted that Le Moyne faces competition from new tuition-free state schools in New York. She warned her peers that free education will come sooner or later to the whole nation, and Catholic institutions must demonstrate what they add that public Ivies do not. Sean Sheridan, T.O.R., president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, noted a revitalization of Franciscan University’s heritage in recent years, which helped define what it means to be both Catholic and Franciscan. Michael Hemesath, president of St. John’s University in Minnesota noted that the school stresses its Benedictine roots despite an increasingly lay faculty. To this end, all of the panelists spoke to the distinctive curricula of Catholic education and Catholic social teachings, the formations of students, and mission-oriented hiring. Journalist and author Peter Steinfels noted the exchange of quantity for quality of theological education.

The second panel was moderated by Erik Owens, associate director of the Boisi Center, and associate professor of the practice of theology. This panel addressed the role of the university as “critical reflective intelligence” and the Catholic intellectual tradition. Boston College’s Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., Dean of the Boston College Morrissey College of the Arts and Sciences stressed the Catholic focus on the education of the whole person and respecting the human dignity of students. Brian Linnane, S.J., president of Loyola University Maryland, praised the university as a place which can examine and regenerate the Church in response to its public failings. The panelists also expressed some anxiety regarding the state of Catholic intellectuals. Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, brought a European perspective, noting that Europe is grappling with a Catholic intellectualism dangerously influenced by a far right political vision. Margaret O’Brien Steinfels commented that university autonomy has distanced the bishops from the intellectual centers of Catholicism; few bishops have experience with the academic freedom or rigorous theological inquiry that characterize higher education. To this point, St. Anselm College president Steven DiSalvo stressed the importance of regular communication between colleges and the local bishops.

William P. Leahy, S.J., president of Boston College, gave a concluding keynote address, which examined the legacy of the Land O’ Lakes statement, most readily visible in its use in later documents, notably Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

Following Father Leahy’s keynote, the sitting presidents returned for an extended question and answer session. Audience members raised issues of the cost of Catholic education. One attendee, whose four children all attended Catholic colleges, expressed appreciation for the commitment to academic excellence and Catholic values.

Read More


50 Years of Land O’Lakes (7/22/2017), National Catholic Register staff


Stephen Beale, Land O’Lakes 50 Years Later: How the Statement Affected Academia, National Catholic Register

Stephen Beale, Response to Land O’Lakes: ‘In a Word, It’s Fidelity’, National Catholic Register

Anthony Esolen, Land O’Lakes at 50: Catholic Universities Cave to Culture, National Catholic Register

John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., The Document that Changed Catholic Education Forever, America Magazine

John Garvey, Land O’Lakes (1967-2017): What Have We Learned About Falsely Framed Freedom?, National Catholic Register

David J. O'Brien, The Land O'Lakes Statement, Boston College Magazine

Patrick Reilly, The Land O’ Lakes Statement Has Caused Devastation For 49 Years, National Catholic Register

Michael Sean Winters, For 50 years, Catholic Higher-ed has Followed Land O'Lakes Roadmap, National Catholic Reporter

Michael Sean Winters, Keep Conversation Going on Land O'Lakes, Catholic Higher Ed, National Catholic Reporter


Cushwa Center, Notre Dame University, Land O'Lakes panel discussion