W. Douglas Brown, chairman of DeSales University Board of Trustees, announces the retirement of the Very Rev. Bernard F. O’Connor, OSFS. Fr. O’Connor has served as the University’s third president since July 1, 1999, and has overseen DeSales’ continued growth and academic success. The University recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and welcomed the largest freshman class in school history.
Fr. O’Connor is currently the longest-serving president of a college or university in the Lehigh Valley. He joined Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales as an instructor in 1974. He served as an assistant professor of philosophy and chair of the Philosophy Department from 1980 through 1987, at which time he was named associate professor and chair of the Philosophy and Theology departments. He became associate vice president for academic affairs in 1993, academic dean in 1994, and executive vice president of the College in 1995.
The University has undergone significant changes during Fr. O’Connor’s leadership. Formerly known as Allentown College, DeSales received university status from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and officially changed its name on January 1, 2001.
The University also has grown both in size and student population. A number of new residence halls and academic facilities have been renovated or built, including Aviat Hall, Welsh Hall, and Donahue Hall. The Salesian Center for Faith & Culture, the first and only center for research and development at DeSales, was established in 2000.
Opened in 2013, the Rev. Daniel G. Gambet, OSFS, Center for Business and Healthcare is the school’s newest and biggest academic building. It boasts state-of-the-science simulation laboratories and the area’s only human gross anatomy laboratory.
During Fr. O’Connor’s tenure, DeSales has provided students with expanded course offerings, including new undergraduate majors in homeland security, health communication, healthcare administration, and supply chain management.
The University also advanced its nationally recognized healthcare curriculum, launching new undergraduate majors and graduate programs, as well as two doctoral programs—the Doctor of Nursing Practice and the Doctor of Physical Therapy. The DeSales Free Clinic at the Allentown Rescue Mission, founded and staffed by physician assistant students and faculty, builds upon the school’s tradition of Christian humanism and provides care for the less fortunate. It will mark its 10th anniversary in January.\
Thanks to Fr. O’Connor, DeSales students also have more opportunities to study abroad and explore the world. He signed official exchange agreements with institutions in other countries, including Greece, Spain, Ireland, England, and Australia. DeSales also offers degrees at Lumen Christi Institute, a higher education seminary in Arusha, Tanzania, and at Suvidya College in Bangalore, India.
Fr. O’Connor will step down after the May 20, 2017, Commencement Ceremony. The University’s Board of Trustees has a search committee that will find the next president, who must be a priest from the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales order.
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