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Student/Community Programs

Work focuses on three major areas of interest: education, dialogue, and outreach.

Each of these areas includes numerous programs and activities that aim to fulfill our mission on the University campus and beyond. Each of these areas involves numerous people, including students, faculty, staff, visitors, celebrities, experts, and donors.

To learn more about how we "open the door" to the engagement of faith and culture in our world, just as St. Francis de Sales did in his time, follow the links below:

Student Retreats
Annual retreats for students to gather, reflect, and share their faith guided by faculty and staff. 

Educational Initiatives
Include continuing education programs in Salesian spirituality, research projects linking faith and culture, and student groups for specialized learning

Dialogue Opportunities
Include various presentations, focused discussions, and inspiring arts.

Partnership Ventures
Include groups of professionals, both on- and off-campus, who collaborate in areas of ethical concern, such as healthcare, business, sports, and communications.

Salesian Honors Program

The Salesian Honors Program will shape the next generation of Christian humanists through a three-fold focus on deep intellectual and experiential engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition, service to the community, and spiritual formation. Students who complete the Salesian Honors Program will earn a minor in Catholic Studies.

The Salesian Honors Program has four pillars:

  1. Social engagement and community formation
  2. A humanities-intensive alternative core curriculum
  3. Experiential learning, innovative pedagogy, and student leadership
  4. Travel and service opportunities.
  • Applying to the Program

    Incoming first-year students may apply for acceptance to the Salesian Honors Program as part of their Common Core application to DeSales University. To be considered for the Salesian Honors Program, prospective students must do the following:

    • Demonstrate high academic achievement on high school transcripts, including a 3.5 cumulative GPA;
    • Submit a resumé that includes biographical information, extracurricular activities and interests, and community service;
    • Submit two short essays composed in response to prompts through the Common Core Application.
    • A letter of recommendation from one of their high school academic instructors discussing their fitness for the Honors Program.

    Currently enrolled Freshmen (‘late applicants’) may apply to the Honors Program at the end of the Fall and Spring Semesters. To be considered for the Salesian Honors Program, currently enrolled students must submit an application to the Honors Program Director demonstrating the following:

    • High academic achievement, as evidenced by a 3.5 cumulative GPA at DeSales;
    • A resumé that includes biographical information, extracurricular activities and interests, and community service;
    • Two short essays composed in response to essay prompts;
    • A letter of recommendation from one of their Freshmen instructors, preferably from a full-time faculty member, discussing their fitness for the Honors Program.
  • Honors Curriculum

    The Honors Program curriculum includes six courses intended to replace specific components of the Core Curriculum, and eight credits of Experiential Learning. Included in the coursework are two year-long course sequences, two upper-level seminars, and a senior capstone project.

    First Year

    Course Timeline Credits
    Honors Philosophy Fall and Spring 6
    Experiential Learning Fall and Spring 2
      Total Credits 8

    Second Year

    Course Timeline Credits
    Honors Theology Fall and Spring 6
    Experiential Learning Fall and Spring 2
      Total Credits 8

    Third and Fourth Years

    Course Timeline Credits
    Salesian Honors Seminar 1 Third Year 3
    Experiential Learning Leadership Role, Both Semesters 2
    Salesian Honors Seminar 2 Fourth Year 3
    Capstone Project Both Semesters 2
      Total Credits 10


    Salesian Honors Seminars are semester-long courses for upperclassmen that engage themes, topics, or thinkers in the Catholic intellectual tradition. Honors Seminars can be taught on any subject, by any faculty member at the University.

    Honors students will spend the fall semester of their senior year engaging in academic research or a creative project under the direction of a faculty member of their choice. They will then present their research or project in an appropriate venue in the Spring, e.g., the Undergraduate Research Conference, the DeSales film festival, etc.

  • Experiential Learning

    Experiential learning, innovative pedagogy, and student leadership play a fundamental role in the Salesian Honors Program. The activities below are designed to provide students with non-traditional learning experiences, cultural enrichment, and spiritual formation, as well as leadership opportunities which are not available to other undergraduate students. Experiential Learning opportunities are graded, credited parts of the Honors Program. Students are expected to participate in at least one experiential learning event per month, and a minimum of three events per semester. All experiential learning events are free for honors students.

    Examples of experiential learning include the following:

    • Field Trips
      Travel could include visiting art museums in New York or Philadelphia; attending scholarly lectures at neighboring universities; touring historic churches and shrines in the region; and attending cultural events, such symphonies and plays.
    • Weekend Intensive
      A three-part seminar on a single topic taught by a visiting scholar or professional. The opening seminar will take place after dinner on Friday night and will be followed by a social hour; the subsequent seminars will take place on Saturday morning and afternoon.
    • Public Debates
      After researching and preparing their positions, teams of Honors students will compete in Oxford-style debates before the university community. The topics to be debated may either be of contemporary or perennial relevance to the Catholic intellectual tradition.
    • Community Service
      Working with the Center for Faith and Social Justice, students will contribute their time and labor to various volunteer activities organized by the Center, e.g., working at local food pantries, participating in Habitat builds, or Spring Break service trips.
    • Spiritual Retreat
      The honors program will organize an optional spiritual retreat for students, either at DeSales or at a retreat house.
    • Undergraduate Research Conference
      Students will organize an honors undergraduate research conference geared towards honors students in the region. Students in leadership roles will run the conference, while others will present the fruits of their academic research.
  • International Travel

    Each summer, after their Sophomore and Senior years, Honors students will be offered opportunities to explore the world through international travel. These faculty-led trips may emphasize locations which are historically or culturally significant expressions of Catholicism. Examples of such destinations include (1) Rome and Athens, (2) Spain and Portugal, (3) England and France, and (4) Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

    Honors students receive a $1,500 credit towards international travel for each year of the program they complete, resulting in $3,000 to defray the cost of each trip.

  • Honors House

    The honors program has a house on the edge of campus renovated to include innovative classrooms and quiet study spaces just for honors students.

The Ryan Leadership Institute

This institute emerged in collaboration with the Catholic Leadership Institute in Philadelphia. This leadership institute represents a uniquely designed two-year initiative to provide students with a program of personal growth and leadership training in the context of Catholic spirituality.

Membership in the Salesian Leadership Institute is by invitation only and is ordinarily limited to 15 students each year.

  • What Can I Expect As A Member?

    The Ryan Leadership Institute offers many benefits and opportunities for invited participants, including:

    • An opportunity to forge close, personal relationships that will positively affect your life and work in the future;
    • A new vision to help you see how religious faith is a key element for my happiness and success in whatever career you enter;
    • The development of personal and interpersonal skills taught in the best management training programs in the corporate world.

    This membership is provided at no cost, thanks to the generous financial support of the Ryan family, alumni, and benefactors who believe in the Institute’s value and in my own potential.

    Therefore, members of the The Ryan Leadership Institute commit themselves to:

    • Maintaining good academic and disciplinary standing as a full-time DSU student.
    • Attending and participating fully in two (2) weekend retreats (Friday evening through Sunday noon) held off campus at the beginning and near the end of the Junior year.
    • Responsible preparation for and active participation in the ten (10) evening discussion sessions held during the academic year.
    • Active leadership engagement during the senior year, in a University-sponsored club, team, or organization, working to complete a leadership program, in cooperation with other program members and program advisors
    • Active participation in three evening discussion and workshop programs held each semester during the senior year.
    • Participation in the annual program dinner at the beginning of the second semester of each year. During the senior year dinner, presentation of a brief report on their leadership activities.
    • Active support, communication, and participation as a graduate of the program, providing mentorship and guidance to members of the program who follow in their footsteps.
  • Applying to RLI


    • The Faculty/Staff Review Committee of the Salesian Center' for Faith & Culture nominates prospective members
    • The members of the RLI Staff evaluate the students' academic achievement (minimum 2.75 GPA required ) and involvement in student activities and generates a list of students to invite.
    • The Director of the Salesian Center extends the invitation to apply for membership in the institute and conducts interviews with the applicants.


    To be selected for membership, students must commit to:

    • Attending two (2) weekend retreats and all ten (10) meetings throughout their Junior year at DSU
    • Participating actively in all activities of the Institute
    • Attending six (6) leadership workshops throughout their Senior year at DSU
    • Serving in a leadership capacity in a recognized student club, team, or organization during the student's Senior year at DSU
    • Engaging in follow-up evaluations at the end of each year of the institute and following graduation from DSU


  • How does the two-year participation work?

    Each cohort or “class” is built in the Junior college year and capped by completion of an on-campus major leadership project Senior year.

    All of this takes place in a Salesian framework, which begins each gathering with a time of prayer in the model which St. Francis de Sales taught us.

    You will hear from such diverse “coaches” as Bobby McFerrin, Maxie Maltsby, Edwin Land, and of course the Saints themselves as you discover your own particular gifts and talents.

  • Being Energized and Inspired Together (BE IT) Meetings

    The Being Energized and Inspired Together program is a series of ten (10) two-hour meetings, held on campus in the evenings, which focuses on personal reflection and group discussion. 

    Materials for these sessions promote skills development in terms of leadership of self, creating winning relationships, and leading others to a better future. The sessions are facilitated by faculty/staff trained in Salesian leadership. 

  • Junior Year: Leaders Experiential Adventure Program (LEAP)

    The Leaders Experiential Adventure Program is a three-day retreat, held off-campus at the beginning of the academic year, which focuses on the discovery of one's personal profile and the development of one's personal mission. 

    Through participation in a "mountain adventures" experience, the retreat promotes skills development in terms of clarity, courage, choice, and support. 

    A second retreat at the end of the academic year, also held off-campus, draws the year-long program to its conclusion with a co-missioning ceremony for the class.

  • Senior Year: Business Education in Skills & Techniques (BEST) Workshops

    The Business Education in Skills & Techniques program consists of six (6) workshops, conducted three times each semester, in which business professionals offer a variety of skills that would be applicable in any career or corporate setting, such as:

    • projects: proposals and formal presentations
    • personnel: personal branding and networking, conducting interviews and performance appraisals
    • communications: active listening, generational differences, and public relations
    • groups: efficient meetings and successful navigation of corporate culture
    • finances: operating budgets and financial statement
    • events: planning, promotion, and activities
  • DO IT - Senior Service Project

    Ryan Leadership students are required to take an active role in a campus organization of some kind — a team, a club, a committee, etc.

    The purpose of these service projects is to put into practice all of the valuable tools students have learned on their RLI journey. 

    Senior project proposal form

  • Institute Objectives

    • To support the future life and work of the Church, by fostering a deeper commitment to the Roman Catholic faith and to campus/parish communities
    • To disseminate the distinctive charism of Salesian Spirituality, by providing a more in-depth education in this religious tradition
    • To effect a transformation of individuals, by developing an awareness of personal talents and inter-personal communications
    • To inspire future leadership of self and others, by developing practical skills through individual reflection, expert coaching, and group activities
    • To effect a transformation of culture, by enacting the spiritual and personal dynamics of the institute through leadership in student, civic, and ecclesiastical organizations

    Students also benefit:

    • personally—forging relationships that positively influences one's future
    • spiritually—seeing how faith is a key component to human happiness in any career
    • educationally—learning skills taught in the best executive training programs in the corporate world
  • A brief history of the Ryan Leadership Institute

    1990: During an executive leadership retreat, Timothy C. Flanagan felt a profound calling to bring the best in leadership and personal development programs to the Catholic Church. To help people understand their purpose in life and to reach their God-given potential as leaders in our world, he founded the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI). 

    1999: Matt Manion (married to Kerrianne Dougherty ’96), volunteered to serve CLI, and, four years later became its President/CEO. Under Matt’s leadership, the programs were revised to include college and university groups. 

    2004: Faculty Oblates approached CLI with a proposal to reflect the distinctive teaching of St. Francis de Sales into the leadership training experience at DeSales.

    2005: In collaboration with CLI, the first cohort began the two-year pilot program during the 2005-2006 academic year.

    2012: Members of the Ryan Family Foundation established an endowment to honor the founding role in this Institute played by their parents, Jane and Frank Ryan, and to provide a stable financial foundation for its future. 

Contact Us

The Center for Faith & Justice at DeSales University