Our Lady of Holy Cross College, the West Bank’s only four-year college, has changed its name and ownership, officials announced Thursday.
The Roman Catholic institution, which has been known by its current name for more than 50 years, will now be called the University of Holy Cross.
The Congregation of Marianites of Holy Cross, who a century ago launched what would become the college, also is surrendering its land to its lay partners and changing its role in the school’s governance.
The moves will have no effect on faculty or students, officials said.
The name change, unanimously approved by the school’s board Wednesday night, is effective immediately, though it will take a while to change the signs at the campus on Woodland Drive in Algiers.
It is the Marianites’ second planned property transfer in New Orleans in a little more than a year. The first, a sale of the sisters’ convent and congregational center on St. Claude Avenue, was announced in November 2014 and is still in the works.
That site also housed the sisters’ Academy of the Holy Angels, which closed in 1992 because of waning enrollment. It is now an affordable-housing development for the elderly.
As discussions continue with potential buyers for the St. Claude site, the sisters have purchased land on Smith Road in Covington to house their new center, congregational leader Sister Ann Lacour said.
The latest move means the Marianites will no longer own an educational institution in a city where they have taught and served for 166 years.
The moves also come as the religious order, like many other Catholic orders, comes to grips with its dwindling, aging population. Though officials said last year that a mere 15 sisters remained on the premises and that 155 were in service worldwide, Lacour said this week that there are 40 sisters in the city overall and 143 around the world.
Some are in nursing homes, including Our Lady of Wisdom Health Care Center on Gen. de Gaulle Drive, a short walk from the college. Others continue to teach or serve, though the sisters’ average age is about 80.
Lacour said the time is right for a handoff.
“We have a strong board of regents who will become the board of trustees,” she said. “In this 175th year for the Marianites, it’s an act of trust, in the board and the administration.” The order was established in France in 1841.
Holy Cross College’s 40-acre campus will be given to a newly created corporation that bears the institution’s new name. No less than three seats on the new board will be held by members of the Holy Cross family, which includes Marianites.
Until now, the college has operated under a two-tier governance structure: the Marianite-managed nonprofit Our Lady of Holy Cross Corp., which owned the land and buildings, and the college’s board of regents, which consisted of Marianites and laypeople who governed the school.
Also under the new agreement, the sisters will advise college President David “Buck” Landry on the appointment of the vice president for mission integration, a cabinet leader tasked with ensuring that the college’s mission, which, in part, calls for “the education of the total person,” is central to campus operations and initiatives. The sisters also will promote the school’s mission in other ways, Lacour said.
In exchange for the property, the new board will donate money to the order over the next 20 years. Lacour declined Wednesday to disclose the size of the donation, which she said was not finalized.
Making the switch from college to university will put Holy Cross “on the level that we should be,” said board of regents Chairman Kyle France, who will continue his leadership role on the new board. The ownership switch preserves the Marianites’ legacy, he added.
He cast the name change as a mere formality, noting that school has awarded graduate degrees for a number of years and that it recently awarded its first doctorate degree.
According to the nation’s leading framework for college and university classification, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, institutions that award four-year degrees are generally deemed colleges, while those that award at least 50 master’s degrees are universities.
Our Lady of Holy Cross, which federal records show awarded 38 master’s degrees in the 2013-14 academic year, is still deemed a “baccalaureate college” by that group. However, more than 250 Holy Cross students are now in graduate programs, and about 65 are pursuing doctorates, officials said.
Two students had mixed reactions about the name change Thursday. Tracey Allen, an undergraduate who plans to obtain a doctorate in counseling, said it boosts the university’s status, while Gabriel Buras, an elementary education major in his final year, said the school is well-respected in education circles locally and elsewhere, and the new name on his diploma could hurt his chances of getting a teaching job outside the state.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.