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Center Valley, Pennsylvania
Shortly after being named to lead the new Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1960, Bishop Joseph McShea began to plan for a Catholic college. Allentown, located between the Philadelphia metropolitan area and former coal towns of northeastern Pennsylvania, was one of the few growing cities in the state. The need for a new college in the five-county diocese seemed clear. The responsibility for developing this vision fell to the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales, and Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales welcomed its first students in 1965. Graduate programs were offered in the 1980s and, reflecting its expanding role, the institution was renamed DeSales University in 2001. The fact that the school chose to change the emphasis from a well-known locality, Allentown, to its Catholic roots, DeSales, underscores its ongoing commitment to the spiritual identity that was its foundation two generations ago. The campus is located on 450 acres in Center Valley, near the city Allentown, and closer still to the old steel city of Bethlehem. The area, known as the Lehigh Valley, has an industrial heritage and a working-class aura. The university also offers adult and graduate programs in nearby cities of Easton and Lansdale. While taking advantage of this metropolitan location, DeSales provides an attractive campus where 1,561 undergraduate students from 16 states and several countries can
Founded: 1965 Type of institution: Medium-size university Setting: Suburban Undergraduate enrollment: 1,561 (2008–09 academic year) Total undergraduate cost: $35,750 (tuition, room and board for 2009–10) Undergraduate majors: 32
five key Points
1. Strong Salesian tradition defines Catholic identity of the university. 2. Solid theology and philosophy are part of 16-course core curriculum. 3. The Physician Assistant program is nationally recognized. 4. The drama and performing arts programs are extensive. 5. Residential Center for Discernment was established in 2008.
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pursue 36 majors and prepare for the various professions. In addition to offering study in traditional areas, students can focus on forensics, pharmaceutical marketing and two of the university’s standout majors, performing arts and the physician assistant program. Undergraduates can choose up to 16 courses in a core program, which includes: Basic Requirements—two communications and three physical fitness courses; Cultural Literacy—six Western Civilization-related courses; Modes of Thinking—five courses covering broad liberal arts areas; and Christian Values and Theology—three courses. Among recent graduate school developments, DeSales began an M.B.A. program with the Romanian-American University at Bucharest in 2007. Pennsylvania has numerous private colleges and universities, but DeSales’ tuition tracks well below the state average. The total cost for tuition, room and board in 2009-10 was $35,750. About 90 percent of DeSales students receive financial aid, including several generous scholarships and federal aid.
From the Financial Aid Office
“Nine out of 10 DeSales University students receive financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, work study and loans. Scholarships available include: “Presidential Scholarships: Full-tuition scholarships that are awarded on a highly competitive basis. Minimum criteria for consideration are those who rank in the top 5 percent of their high school graduating class, score at least 1300 on the SAT and have demonstrated significant leadership. “Trustee Scholarships: $6,000 to $10,000 per year scholarship for those who rank in the top 15 percent of their graduating class, score at least 1200 on the SAT and have demonstrated leadership. “DeSales Scholarships: A $4,000 per year scholarship for those who rank in the top 25 percent of their graduating class, score at least 1100 on the SAT and have demonstrated leadership. “Departmental Scholarships: Academic departments at DeSales University sponsor competitions in December and January. You must have a B average in high school to be eligible to compete. Awards for high school teaching are also available. “Catholic Schools Grants: Awards of $3,000 are offered to graduates of Catholic, parochial and private schools. Graduates of the Allentown Diocesan schools and Oblate high schools are offered $5,000 awards through the Tuition Incentive Program.”
The 35 members of the board of trustees include 11 Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, including the president, Father Bernard O’Connor, O.S.F.S. Previous presidents have been Oblates, as is the senior vice president. Father John Harvey, O.S.F.S., founder of Courage, the Church’s primary outreach to faithful and chaste homosexual Catholics, is a life member of the board and resides at DeSales. Father O’Connor, who assumed the presidency in 1999, has been a faculty member or administrator at DeSales for 35 years. He has served in the roles of chairman of the theology and philosophy departments, academic dean and vice president for academic affairs. He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at 132
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The Catholic University of America. Father O’Connor is the author of A Dialogue between Philosophy and Religion: The Perspective of Karl Jaspers.
According to the students and faculty whom we interviewed, the consensus is that not so long ago DeSales was in the middle of the road regarding its Catholic identity, but today that identity is strong. In 2007, a faculty member told us that the Catholic emphasis “has become noticeably stronger during the seven or eight years that I’ve been here. When I first came, there were people here who definitely did not buy into the Catholic mission of the university but, for the most part, those people have left.” When we again interviewed faculty in 2009, they said that DeSales remains on the same track. One faculty member said that the Catholic identity has strengthened further over the last few years, even as the university expanded. Another gave credit to Father O’Connor, who—together with the provost—interviews final candidates for faculty positions and favors those who support the university’s Catholic mission. Father O’Connor asked faculty and trustees to watch the video of Pope Benedict’s April 2008 address to Catholic educators at The Catholic University of America. He asked for discussion on the Holy Father’s vision and how it can be applied at DeSales.
In addition to faculty and staff commitment, there is “a growing number of students who are ‘on fire for God,’” according to one university official. Part of the resurgence is due to the continuing presence of the Salesian Fathers who reside on campus at Wills Hall and who also are scattered throughout leadership positions and university departments. Further supporting the Catholic identity are strong theology and philosophy departments. The university website has a page dedicated to its Catholic identity and includes a quote and support for Ex corde Ecclesiae. In discussing its Faith and Reason Honors Program, the website prominently features a quote from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio. DeSales sponsors an annual Heritage Week that commemorates its patron, St. Francis de Sales, each January. In 2009, EWTN personality Raymond Arroyo, distinguished professor of political science Dr. Peter Lawler, and Mount St. Mary’s University vice president Msgr. Stuart Swetland were among featured speakers. A Salesian Center for Faith and Culture promotes the congregation’s mission through research, dialogue on a number of vital issues and several university-community partnerships. Initiatives include the Baranzano Society, which provides a forum on bioethics; the DeSales Leadership Institute; and a monthly Bulldog Breakfast (with prayer service) for DeSales student athletes.
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Most of the notable speakers who have come to campus have been part of the Rev. Thomas J. Furphy Lecture Series, which was started in 1984 to honor a late Salesian faculty member. Among its annual speakers have been the late Cardinal John O’Connor; the Vatican’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore; Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; former FBI director Louis Freeh and former education secretary William Bennett. In 2009, theologian Michael Novak delivered the annual R. Wayne Kraft Memorial Lecture. Other than these series, campus lectures have been generally low-key, including appearances by a chastity promoter and a state legislator. The university hosted the annual convention of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists in October 2008; the theme of this 16th gathering of academics defending authentic Catholic social teachings was “Re-Establishing All Things in Christ.” DeSales sponsors an annual National Catholic Essay Contest, which awards three scholarships. The university also provides financial assistance pools for Catholic high school students; there is a Tuition Incentive Program for those within the diocese and Catholic Schools Grants for those outside.
The university is undertaking a core curriculum review and considering an overall restructuring of its departments. The Catholic mission, we understand, is to be a vital part 134
of the deliberations. In an effort to integrate Catholic teaching with all areas of life, one goal here will be to find ways to link academic efforts with student affairs programs. Currently, DeSales freshmen participate in Character U, which orients them to several of the Golden Counsels of St. Francis de Sales, including love, hope and forgiveness. Completion is noted on the student’s transcript, and some prizes are awarded. An important part of the program is peer mentoring. Also, each year up to 15 highachieving first-year students are invited to join the Faith and Reason Honors Program, which is administered by the Salesian Center for Faith and Culture. The four-year program includes seminars, cultural events and a senior thesis. All students are required to take the introductory Catholic theology course, one “intermediate theology” course and a Values Seminar. The theology department offers 34 courses plus special topics, readings, independent study and internships. One of the goals of the theology courses, according to the 2007–09 catalog, is: “To facilitate within all students the formation of a basic understanding of the central tenets of Roman Catholic theology.” Philosophy is also regarded as dependably Catholic, as is the unique interdisciplinary major in marriage and family studies, which draws from the works of Pope John Paul II. Otherwise DeSales generally promotes “marketable majors,” and these include a high-
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ly regarded undergraduate degree in medical studies and a fifth-year master of science in physician assistant studies. Graduates of the 12-year-old physician assistant program have achieved a near-perfect passing rate on the National Certifying Examination—10 percent higher than the national average—and all of the 200-plus graduates have been employed in the growing field. Students in the program bested 47 other college teams in May 2008 to win the 18th Annual National Medical Challenge Bowl. They previously won the competition in 2002 and
2004. Another niche program is an interdisciplinary pharmaceutical marketing degree available through the business department. Students take courses ranging from microbiology to marketing research as part of the 16course major requirement. DeSales has one of the most extensive drama and performing arts programs at any Catholic college. More than 20 percent of undergraduates major in theatre, film or dance; the department employs 37 faculty and staff members.
Message from the President
Dear Parents and Prospective Students: In the 1600s, St. Francis de Sales tried to debate John Calvin in Geneva so that ordinary citizens could decide between Roman Catholicism or Calvinism. St. Francis de Sales believed that ordinary people were loved by God, as much as monks and clergy. He felt that the common people were called to holiness, and that faith and reason worked together to guide people on their journey. John Calvin refused to meet De Sales. In fact, De Sales was outlawed from the city and never was able to assume his rightful seat as Bishop of Geneva. When another duke arrived with an army to forcefully take the city for Francis, he said, “We will take Geneva only by prayer and persuasion.” Today, the largest religious denomination in Geneva is Roman Catholic. DeSales University shares this enthusiasm of the great saint. We like to debate and argue about the great issues of the day, knowing that faith and reason are our guides. Like Francis de Sales, we seek to develop the virtues of gentleness and strength. We like to proclaim the message of the Lord in a loving way and patiently wait for the wonderful activity of God’s grace in the world. Come join us. Yours in Christ,
Fr. Bernie O’Connor, OSFS
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In 2009, the university launched a competitive writing program which will allow periodic groups of 12 students to study notable writers and sharpen their appreciation for writing techniques. This program, known as DiScoUrse, will further expose these student writers to local literary events. The sports management major in the business department prepares students to hold positions in schools and nonprofits. This is one of only 20 such undergraduate programs endorsed by the Sport Management Program Review Council. The theology faculty is solid. All fulltime professors are strong, orthodox Catholics who have received the bishop’s mandatum. One campus administrator told us, “They are very good teachers and are very well liked by the students. They are very outgoing about the faith and they are very good examples for being Catholic.” Other interviewees agreed. Among notable faculty members in other fields is Dr. Brennan Pursell, an associate professor of history and author of the widely-acclaimed 2008 biography of the Holy Father, Benedict of Bavaria: An Intimate Portrait of the Pope and His Homeland. Dr. Pursell served as a Newman Fellow for the Cardinal Newman Society’s Center for the Study of Catholic Higher Education in 2008. Another young and impressive faculty member is Dr. Andrew Essig, an associate professor of political science. He begins his classes with a prayer and works to bring Catholic social teachings into the classroom.
A landmark was achieved by DeSales in July 2008 when they announced their first endowed chairs; they are in three areas: Salesian spirituality, moral theology and business. The university provides for limited study-abroad opportunities, especially in conjunction with the American University in Rome. It participates in programs with the local Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges. In addition to a two-week study tour in Peru, the university announced a study abroad partnership with St. Mary’s University College in England in 2008.
The spiritual life on campus is stronger that what we reported in the 2007 edition of this Guide. One faithful Catholic faculty member described it as “busy, lively.” Overall, campus ministry was complimented by those we talked to for its efforts. There are eight Masses per week at the Connelly Chapel or the Oblates’ Wills Hall Chapel: Monday through Friday at 5 p.m., a largely faculty and staff Mass on Wednesday at 12:05 p.m. and a morning and evening Mass on Sunday. Daily Masses attract only 10 to 35 students despite being, as one student noted, “excellent, faithful and with nice music.” Sunday morning Masses attract about 40 students, and the 8 p.m. has around 180 students. Confessions are scheduled once a week and by appointment. Currently, there is Eu-
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charistic Adoration on Friday afternoons, Rosary times and retreats. In 2008 DeSales announced the creation of a Center for Discernment which will aid students on campus in determining whether a religious vocation is appropriate for them. The Center is a residential community for men and women that includes daily Mass, prayer, meetings and information on discernment. The Center expects to attract students from all four undergraduate classes, and the university sent out a mailing to more than 250 high schools in the Mid-Atlantic region to alert prospective freshmen to this opportunity. One university official said the Center is “going beautifully and is a big step forward” and expects it to become spiritual “leaven for the college.” Campus ministry offers study and discussion groups on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and the writings of St. Francis de Sales. A new women’s group, Philotheas, centers on spiritual formation. A unique initiative is a pen-pal program through which students exchange faith-sharing letters with peers at other colleges, modeling St. Francis de Sales who is famous for his written correspondence with many individuals. Numerous social service projects are cosponsored by campus ministry and the Center for Service and Social Justice. Alternative spring break trips are among the outreach activities.
DeSales has sanctioned 36 clubs and societies, including a pro-life club, Knights of Columbus, St. Thomas More Society and Esto Vir, a men’s fellowship and service group; Drs. Essig and Pursell are the faculty advisors to Esto Vir. The student affairs office is run by people very interested in and committed to the Catholic mission. To encourage and to acknowledge student involvement in extracurricular activity, the university issues a co-curricular transcript which identifies involvement in several areas, including campus ministry, and is accompanied by an academic transcript. The DeSales Pro-Life Club has about 50 members, and 37 of them went by bus to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January 2009. The campus community benefits from the modern Labuda Center, which has two theaters with a combined seating capacity of 663. Included among its 2008-2009 Act 1 theater schedule were Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Since 1992, DeSales has housed The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, which includes Shakespearean, modern and children’s plays. There also is a Summer Theatre Institute and Summer Video Institute. Opportunities exist for individual volunteer efforts, including such programs as a
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two-day Urban Plunge among homeless people in Washington, D.C. There is an Office of Social Outreach designed for volunteer work in the Lehigh Valley. The university also has sponsored a Catholic Volunteer Service Fair for students interested in post-graduate community service. Among other extracurricular opportunities are intramural leagues in six sports. For the more competitive, the DeSales Bulldogs compete in eight women’s and eight men’s sports at the NCAA Division III (non-scholarship) level. The baseball and men’s and women’s basketball teams have been quite successful in recent years. The 2008-09 men’s basketball team (24-5) went to the NCAA tournament’s “Sweet 16” in March 2009. One year earlier, the women’s basketball team was 26-4 and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s women’s “Sweet 16.”
residence halls and on floors. It also notes: “Because the full expression of love through sexual union requires the commitment to a total living and sharing together of two persons in marriage, the university believes that sexual union should only occur in marriage.” Drinking problems, which sadly seem to be present on many campuses, exist but the residential staffers are reported to be vigilant on the issue. There also is a disciplinary board. The handbook points out in detail laws violated by underage drinking and substance abuse and identifies health problems associated with such use.
The Lehigh Valley is a vibrant small metropolitan area. Nearby Bethlehem has a quaint downtown area, which includes art shops, bookshops and numerous restaurants. The neighboring city of Allentown, with a population of about 106,000, offers a number of economic, shopping and cultural opportunities. One example of cultural offerings is the Allentown Art Museum, which contains the works of a number of masters. Also, the list of performances of the internationally-known Bach Choir of Bethlehem includes the Bethlehem Bach Festival, which held its 102nd annual event in May 2009. Befitting its name, Bethlehem is noted for its distinctive Christmas Star and Christmas activities. The area, with a strong industrial heritage associated with Mack Trucks and BethThe Newman Guide
Seventy percent of undergraduates live on campus, and they are housed in eight residence halls and a townhouse complex known as University Heights. Two of these are female only, one is reserved for men and the others are coed. Residence halls that are coed are segregated by gender in separate wings. Aviat Hall has a chapel. The university handbook—which is replete with quotes from St. Francis de Sales— lists the hours for opposite-sex visitation in 138
lehem Steel, now has a more diversified economy. It also has a more diverse population, straying far from its one-time Pennsylvania German influence. Crime is at or above the national average in various categories, with a notable problem with drugs and gangs. The DeSales campus, located in a quiet suburban area, is relatively safe. Still, the campus police have been diligent, recently initiating a student escort program. Campus crime violations seem to be for non-violent offenses. Bethlehem is located about one hour north of Philadelphia along Route 309. New York City is one and one-half-hours away. The local road systems provide easy access to these major cities as well as to Harrisburg, the state capital, about 75 miles west of Bethlehem. There is no train service, but the Lehigh Valley International Airport has eight regional commuter carriers. Major airports are located at Philadelphia and Newark.
The Bottom Line
One long-time staff member at the university told us, “The difference between DeSales today and 18 years ago is like night and day. In the 1980s, there was not much going on here in terms of Catholic identity.” That’s different now, and the Salesian identity is pervasive. Today, there are a number of areas worthy of praise, including a strong, orthodox department of philosophy and theology. The university has created some impressive and marketable majors for students whose primary focus is not the strict liberal arts. These have benefitted from DeSales’ Catholic values, including the physician assistant and sports management programs. Students here can be exposed to a quality core curriculum and receive a good Catholic education, and for that reason DeSales is well worth considering.
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