Webster University was owned and operated by the Sisters of Loretto from 1915 to 1967. In 1967, permission was granted by the Catholic Church to transfer ownership to an independent board of directors, the first time such a change had ever been made at a Catholic college. This change in status was controversial at the time and earned the school national headlines.
Three main reasons were given for the change:
- "It is becoming more and more difficult for a religious order to finance a college adequately from internal resources."
- "The administration of an expanding college where lay faculty members constitute seventy-five percent of the faculty is becoming far too complex to be adequately directed by a Board of Directors made up exclusively of members of a religious order, charged with many and diverse responsibilities."
- "We currently lack adequate and qualified sister-personnel to continue to fill all the administrative and faculty posts in the college which were formerly filled by sisters."1
The request for the transfer coincided with that of then Webster College President Jacqueline Grennan to be released from her vows. The reason given was that "she has continued to experience a personal conflict between her administrative responsibilities for an institution in the public sector and her voluntary submission to external juridical control by the church." 1
Permission to transfer ownership was granted in May, 1967.2 By October, 1967, a chairman of the board had been announced: Sanford J. Zimmerman, president of Famous Barr (a local department store).3 On November 17, 1967, Sister Mary Luke Tobin, Superior General of the Sisters of Loretto, announced that the transfer had been legally concluded.4
1 Webster College news release dated January 12, 1967.
2 Formal degree of alienation of property of Webster College, May 10, 1967.
3 Memo re appointment of Sanford Zimmerman as first chairman of the board of directors, October 11, 1967.
4 Memo and press release announcing completion of transfer and new board of directors, November 16, 1967.
President announces institutional move to secular. (1967, January 18). The Web, vol. 44, no. 7, p. 1.
Dornblaser, Judy. (1967, January 18). Sr. J. obtains dispensation from vows. The Web, vol. 44, no. 7, p. 1.
Problematic structure change result of self-analysis by college. (1967, January 18). The Web, vol. 44, no. 7, p. 1.
Astin, Kathy. (1967, January 18). Lay board established to ensure growth. The Web, vol. 44, no. 7, p. 1.
Eden, Webster faculty considers import of recent announcement. (1967, January 18). The Web, vol. 44, no. 7, p. 3.
Varied reactions accompany change. (1967, February 3). The Web, Vol. 44, no. 8, p. 1, 4.
Legally secular status becomes a reality for Webster College. (1967, November 17). The Web , vol. 45, no. 5, p. 1.
Board of Trustees includes many prominent people. (1967, November 17). The Web, vol. 45, no. 5, p. 1.
Lay board established to insure growth. (1967, November 17). The Web, vol. 45, no. 5, p. 1, 3.