What they produced was a conventional wisdom that ran something like this:
Catholic higher education maintains Catholic identity through a) Catholic theology courses; b) visible Catholic spaces (chapels, churches, basilicas, shrines); c) Catholic accoutrements & material culture--crucifixes in classrooms, statuary, even meatless Fridays during Lent in the dining facilities; and d) tradition--a sort of tautological "it's Catholic because it's always been Catholic" idea. This CHE conventional wisdom worked well in both cities and rural/suburban areas.
Yeah, what if I told you that this narrative missed about half--if not more--of the fuller history of CHE? The entire narrative structure above presumes one unexamined presupposition: "Catholic higher education" means institutions founded by men's orders. Y'know--Notre Dame, Fordham, Boston College, Marquette, Catholic University, all the Loyolas, St. Bonaventure, St. John's (in NY or MN), etc. The conventional wisdom distinguished between all these using religious order charism, e.g., part of Providence College's uniqueness stems from its being the only Dominican-founded college in the US.
Here's the problem: all of the Catholic universities granting doctoral degrees in....just about everything (humanities, sciences, education, and, yes, theology) were institutions founded by men's orders. So when it comes to this core issue of who and what is "American Catholic higher education" the apples did not fall far from the trees.