John Richard Wilcox, Ph.D.


Catholic higher education faces a crisis of identity as members of the founding religious communities continue to diminish in numbers in virtually all of these institutions. Critical to facing this challenge is the commitment of lay faculty and others to the future of Catholic education. Eliciting this commitment requires the transmission of a body of knowledge about Catholic culture and intellectual life as well as the heritage of the founding group.

This essay assesses James Luther Adams’ contribution to Catholic colleges and universities. A Unitarian Universalist theologian and professor of Christian ethics at Harvard Divinity School, JLA thought with great deliberation abut the importance and longevity of what he terms voluntary associations. What advice would Adams offer Catholic university presidents and others committed to the continuance of these institutions as Catholic? In answering that question I will use the Catholic university [an umbrella term inclusive of colleges] as the case study of a voluntary association, but much of what I write will apply equally to universities sponsored by mainline denominations and evangelical Christian institutions.


De La Salle Christian Brothers; Future of Catholic higher education; Founding congregation; James Luther Adams; Manhattan College; Mission Community; Unitarian Universalism; Voluntary association;


Together and by Association: The Legacy of James Luther Adams and the Future of Religious Colleges and Universities


Adams, James Luther. “A Faith for the Free.” in The Prophethood of All Believers, Edited by George K. Beach, 43-56. Boston: Beacon Press 1986.

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—. “Taking Time Seriously.” In The Prophethood of All Believers, Edited by George K. Beach, 33-42. Boston: Beacon Press 1986.

Botana, Antonio. Thematic Vocabulary of Lasallian Association. Rome: Brothers of the Christian Schools, 2008.

Brothers of the Christian Schools. “Associated for the Lasallian Mission…an act of HOPE.” Circular 461: 18-19. Accessed November 20, 2011.

Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. “Catholic Data, Catholic Statistics, Catholic Research.” Accessed November 20, 2011.

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Dorrien, Gary J. The Making of American Liberal Theology: Crisis, Irony, and Postmodernity 1950-2005. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Ford, John T. Glossary of Theological Terms. Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 2006.

Robertson, D.B., ed. Voluntary Associations, a Study of Groups in Free Societies; Essays in Honor of James Luther Adams. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1966.

Wilcox, John R. Taking Time Seriously: James Luther Adams. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1978.

About the Author

John Richard Wilcox, Ph.D.

John R. Wilcox is the director of the Center for Lasallian Studies and professor emeritus of religious studies at Manhattan College, Bronx, NY. He holds a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics from Union Theological Seminary, NYC. Wilcox taught in and chaired the religious studies program at Manhattan College for twenty-nine years. From 2002 to 2010, he served as the first vice president for mission at Manhattan. He has focused his attention on raising the consciousness level of the Manhattan community about the Catholic culture and religious heritage of the founding congregation (the De La Salle Christian Brothers). Through Lasallian luncheons, lectures, convocations, seminars, and recruitment for Lasallian education programs, he continues developing a cadre of dedicated administrators, faculty, and staff committed to the future of Catholic higher education. He is the creator of the International Lasallian University Leadership Program held in Rome each year for Lasallian university educators worldwide.

ISSN: 2151-2515
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