Lay leader will be first for La Salle University

 A late snow dampens the La Salle campus (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A late snow dampens the La Salle campus (Emma Lee/WHYY)

La Salle University’s search for a new president is down to two finalists, and for the first time in its 151-year history, the school will not be led by a member of its founding religious order, the Brothers of Christian Schools.

Instead, the job will go to one of two educators from outside the order. It’s part of a growing trend of lay leaders taking over Catholic colleges.

The finalists for the La Salle position both run Catholic colleges: Colleen Hanycz is the head of Brescia University College in Ontario, Canada, and Anthony Aretz is president of Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hanycz would be the first woman to lead La Salle.

James Gallagher, La Salle’s interim president, wasn’t available for comment Tuesday. However, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the hire would represent “quite a transition,” but that the school was “ready for it.”

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Philip DeRita, a spokesman for the regional office of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (also known as the Christian Brothers), said it’s no surprise that finalists for the La Salle job are from outside the order.

Shrinking membership has made it harder to find brothers in the order who are qualified and available to run a college, DeRita said.

In recent years, three of the order’s seven universities have hired lay leaders to run its schools.

“We do have qualified brothers, but they’re active in our other ministries,” DeRita said. “So [La Salle’s] going outside is not something that surprises me.”

DeRita said he was confident that La Salle will continue to uphold the Christian Brothers’ values, even if its leader is not a member of the order.

“I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “I think the brothers have understood for a while that we have the numbers that we do, but we also have great folks who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the brothers in order to move this mission of education to the most economically vulnerable moving forward.”

DeRita said it was part of the order’s tradition to be “open and inviting” to people from all walks of life, especially those who share the its commitment to education and justice.

“We want the best person for the job, but we also want them to understand what our Catholic, Lasallian university is all about,” he said. “And I believe that’s what happening with our searches right now.”

La Salle’s trustees reportedly expect to make a final decision before the end of the month.

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