La Salle University, for the first time in its 151-year history, will be led by a lay president rather than a Christian brother - and its new leader might be a woman.
"This will be quite a transition," said James Gallagher, interim president of the 6,200-student university in Philadelphia's Logan section. "I believe the university is ready for it."
La Salle has announced two finalists for the post: Colleen M. Hanycz, head of Brescia University College, a Catholic school in London, Ontario, that is Canada's only university-level women's college, and Anthony Joseph Aretz, president of Mount St. Joseph University, a Catholic school in Cincinnati.
This month, La Salle's board of trustees plans to name one of them as the next president, Gallagher said.
Of the seven universities run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers throughout the United States, three are now led by lay presidents for the first time in their history - a result of declining numbers among religious vocations.
"We have a number of brothers in active ministry, but they may not have all the best qualifications to run a college or university," said Philip DeRita, a spokesman for the District of Eastern North America, Brothers of the Christian Schools, based in Eatontown, N.J. "We want the best person in the seat to do that job."
Both finalists have been presidents at their schools, which are smaller than La Salle, since 2008 and have ties to the Christian Brothers, who founded La Salle in 1863.
Hanycz went to a high school run by the Christian Brothers in Toronto, and Aretz previously worked as academic vice president at Christian Brothers University in Memphis.
The final choice would culminate a search that began in May 2013 with Brother Michael McGinniss' retirement announcement and stalled last year when two finalists fell through. One decided to stay at his school and the other became president of her institution, Gallagher said.
That's when Gallagher stepped in to lead while the university conducted another search.
This time, the university drew 50 candidates for the post, Gallagher said, only a few of whom had been candidates in the previous search. The finalists were identified by a university search committee and brought to campus over the last month to meet with faculty, students, alumni, and members of the board of trustees.
"Both are very interesting people, somewhat different, but equally talented," Gallagher said. "We find ourselves in a very pleasant conundrum."
Hanycz, a lawyer with a bachelor's degree in history, is a native of Toronto and has spent her entire career in Canada. Early on, she did work in the securities exchange in Toronto. She is only the second lay president at Brescia, where she is in her second term.
She said she would embrace La Salle's roots as a Christian Brothers' institution and emphasize it.
"What we have seen at many colleges is this academic sprawl, where schools try to become everything to everyone," she said. "My thinking about La Salle [is] around the idea of focusing in on what is unique and spectacular about" an education at La Salle.
Aretz is an Indiana native and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he taught for 17 years. His area of expertise is "human factors" engineering and "human factors" psychology, an interdisciplinary degree that combines social science with systems design.
He was the first lay president in 30 years at Mount St. Joseph's; it was run previously by two sisters from the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. And he oversaw the school's transition from a college to a university.
Aretz emphasized that his wife, Terry, would be his partner in running the university, as she currently is at Mount St. Joseph's.
"We would both love to come to Philadelphia and get involved in the community," he said.
Beth Paulin, an economics professor who served on La Salle's search committee, said the university is ready for a lay leader.
"I'm very excited about it,"said Paulin, past president of the faculty senate, who has taught at La Salle since 1988, "and I think that La Salle has done an excellent job of preparing the lay community at La Salle to kind of step up to the plate when it comes to carrying on the mission."
Finalists for La Salle University President
Colleen M. Hanycz
Education: Bachelor's in history, University of Toronto; bachelor of laws, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia; master of laws, York University, Toronto; doctor of philosophy, York.
Current position: Principal of Brescia University College in London, Ontario, since 2008.
Anthony Joseph Aretz
Born: Lafayette, Ind.
Education: Bachelor's in human factors and counseling, U.S. Air Force Academy; master's in applied behavioral sciences in human factors, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio; doctorate in engineering psychology, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.
Current position: President, Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati since 2008.