La Salle University in Philadelphia has made history by choosing a laywoman as its new president.
Colleen N. Hanycz is the first female president in the school's 152-year history and also the first lay president, other than interim presidents. Her appointment was announced Tuesday and she will begin her tenure in July.
La Salle was founded by the Brothers of the Christian Schools and she succeeds Br. Michael McGinniss, the most recent in a line of 28 Christian Brothers to lead the school. He stepped down from the presidency after 15 years of service last May. James Gallagher is serving as interim president until Hanycz's term begins.
Currently, Hanycz is head of Brescia University College in London, Ontario, a Catholic college founded by the Ursuline Sisters and the only all-women college in Canada.
La Salle, on the other hand, was an all-male college for its first century, although now women make up almost two-thirds of the student body.
This will not be Hanycz's first encounter with the Christian Brothers. As a high school student in Toronto, she attended Senator O'Connor College High School, run by the congregation.
"What stands out for me is that Lasallian tradition of building authentic community," she said in an interview with CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Philadelphia archdiocese. "It is something I saw very much as a high school student when we were required to complete a service project in order to graduate.
"That was unheard of then, although it is common now. That same charism runs through the university and that was very instrumental in my coming here," she said.
"This is a pivotal moment in La Salle's history," said William Sautter, La Salle's board chair. "She is an innovative academic leader with an impressive record as an agent of positive change. She is ideally suited to maximize La Salle's potential while continuing to honor our distinctive mission and values."
"Dr. Hanycz is passionate about sustaining and enhancing the values and attributes that are essential to the Brothers of the Christian Schools," said Br. Dennis Molloy, a La Salle trustee and his congregation's provincial/visitor for the District of Eastern North America. "The Christian Brothers look forward to working collaboratively with Dr. Hanycz and the board of trustees as she takes office."
Hanycz earned her bachelor of arts degree in history from St. Michael's College of the University of Toronto, her law degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and she has a postgraduate law degree, known internationally as a master of laws, and a doctorate from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto. Osgoode is considered Canada's premier law school.
After a period as an employment litigator, she returned to Osgoode, where she was assistant dean and associate professor of law, specializing in dispute resolution. She was there from 2003 to 2008.
Hanycz was the second lay president in the history of Brescia when she was named to the post in July 2008. During her tenure, the school saw an increase in its national profile and a dramatic growth in enrollment and retention of students, faculty and staff.
Brescia is much smaller than La Salle and London is much smaller than Philadelphia.
"I was born and raised in Toronto and I spent most of my life in Toronto," she said. "It will be wonderful to return to a large urban center as multicultural and diverse as Philadelphia is. Having grown up in another similar city, my family and I look forward to returning to that."
Hanycz's family includes her husband, Peter, and three children: Erik, a college student who looks toward a career as a Catholic high school teacher; Emily, a high school sophomore; and Claire, a fourth-grader.
[Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.]