By Rev. Bernard O'Connor, OSFS
January 26, 2006
As we celebrate our 40th birthday this year, DeSales University is greatly blessed. On January 24, we honor the feast of our patron, Saint Francis de Sales, and reflect upon those blessings. While we have many individuals to thank for our brief history, it is clear to us that God is our greatest benefactor. The beauty of the Lehigh Valley, the dynamic energy of the people of the region, the geography of Center Valley with its proximity to major centers of commerce, the strong religious faith of the community, and the rich diversity of educational, governmental, and civic institutions all point to the loving hand of God. We are truly fortunate to be in a community where families flourish and people care for one another.
DeSales University is the product of two parents, the Catholic Diocese of Allentown and the religious congregation of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales. Both played key roles in the establishment of DeSales and like proud parents watch in admiration as the child matures into adulthood. The inspiration for our existence came from the founding bishop of the diocese. On January 28, 1961 Pope John XXIII signed the document creating the Diocese of Allentown out of the five northern counties of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (Lehigh, Berks, Carbon, Northampton, and Schuylkill). Bishop Joseph McShea, an auxiliary bishop to the Archbishop of Philadelphia and pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church, became the leader of this new diocese. The Philadelphia Archdiocese has more Catholic colleges and universities than any city in the world, except for Rome. Bishop McShea knew that the Lehigh Valley had a rich tradition of religiously affiliated institutions of higher education. For him, a Catholic college in the Lehigh Valley was a must.
The Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales were well-known to Bishop McShea. We were one of the largest religious congregations serving in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The Oblates conducted Northeast Catholic High School, at one time the largest Catholic high school in the world, Father Judge High School, Archbishop Wood High School, and many parishes within the boundaries of the archdiocese. Bishop McShea approached the Very Reverend John Conmy, OSFS, Provincial of the Oblates, to see if we might be interested in pursuing his grand idea. Within a year, a handshake sealed the partnership. Fr. Conmy went to the Catholic University of America, where one of our priests was teaching physics. By the end of the year, Fr. J. Stuart Dooling, OSFS, was packing up his few belongings and heading for Center Valley to begin work on the dream.
In an age when many were finding it difficult to believe, this was an act of incredible faith. Fr. Dooling, Fr. Conmy, and Bishop McShea had chosen one of the most challenging periods in the history of the American church to launch this new adventure. At that time, many Catholic colleges were experiencing declining enrollments. Dissent from formal Catholic teaching was emerging as a theme in American life. Lesser men would have hesitated. But not these three! On September 22, 1965, Allentown College of Saint Francis de Sales, with only two buildings completed, opened its doors and welcomed 156 male freshmen.
I came to DeSales University in 1974. I had just completed my theological studies and received ordination to the priesthood. I came as an instructor in philosophy. It has been my delight to participate in this enchanting story in many ways: teacher, administrator, colleague, advisor, planner, and minister. It has been an honor. I attribute our success to three crucial phenomena.
First, the Diocese of Allentown has embraced DeSales University with an enthusiasm that is rare in American higher education. Bishop McShea was a visionary. Way before it became common in the Catholic community, he insisted that the new college be independent from both the diocese and the religious order. DeSales University was incorporated as a separate entity. Its Board of Trustees was established with ownership rights and responsibilities for the University. Committed and dedicated laypeople have overseen the growth and development of the University. These people have been primarily from the diocese. This combination of affirmation from the clergy and dedication from the laity is essential to the vitality of the University.
Second, the extraordinary talent and dedication of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales is crucial. The founders mixed their life's blood, sweat, and tears with the mortar for the construction of the school. When the scriptures speak about a temple built of living stones, they clearly point to these valiant men. Their legacy is everywhere on the campus. The spirituality of Christian humanism developed by Saint Francis de Sales also speaks powerfully about collaboration between the clergy and laity in the various ministries of the church. This spirit of communion is so needed in our age and contributes immeasurably to our success.
Finally, the fertile soil of the Lehigh Valley produces great fruit. DeSales University has taken root in the Lehigh Valley. We have a modest and humble mission. We do not seek to be a national or international university. We are here for the people of our region. Our ACCESS program began because people in the Valley asked us to provide an opportunity for working adults to complete an undergraduate degree in a flexible and convenient way. Each of our masters' degrees is a result of a request by segments of the community to provide the skills that they needed to advance in their chosen paths of life.
DeSales University does not live in an abstract universe. We respond to specific needs raised by people in our community. This ability to respond, quickly and professionally, to present needs is a hallmark of DeSales University and a keystone to our 40 years of service. We love this region of the country. We are here to serve you in excellent and caring ways. This is our honor and our joy. And we have only begun.
Rev. Bernard F. O'Connor, OSFS, is the third President of DeSales University and has served since July 1999. He joined the faculty of DeSales University, then known as Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales, in 1974.
Press Release: DeSales' first 40 years rest on vision, talent, region By Rev. Bernard O'Connor, OSFS | Posted on: 1/26/2006
For more info:
Tom McNamara, Executive Director of Communications
DeSales University | 2255 Station Avenue | Center Valley, PA 18034
610.282.1100 x1219 | Tom.McNamara@desales.edu