Skip to main content

What does it mean to be a Catholic, Salesian University?

DeSales University provides a transformative environment for learning and growing in light of the Gospel grounded in tradition of Catholic higher education and the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales.


Foreshadowing the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, St. Francis de Sales, whose spirituality is called Salesian, believed that all people, in all walks of life, are called to develop an enriching relationship with God that leads to a life of charity called holiness.  He taught that the love of God unfolds naturally into a love for all persons, and his life was a model of servant leadership and gentleness.  A prolific writer, St. Francis is the patron for authors, journalists, and also the deaf.

We believe that as a Catholic university, DeSales has a critical role in our rapidly changing world. We balance the pursuit of knowledge with a search for meaning, and we seek to ensure that knowledge and technological advancements are used for the good of individuals and human society.

We pursue this mission through the lens of Christian humanism, the legacy of our patron saint.  At the heart of St. Francis’ spirituality was his vision that the human being is the perfection of the universe, the mind the perfection of the person, love the perfection of the mind, and charity the perfection of love.  His deep optimism about humanity drives the University’s mission and underscores his popular maxim: Be who you are and be that well. 

St. Francis de Sales’ favorite gospel verse was “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart” (Mattew 11:29).  Here, our patron focuses on the twin virtues of gentleness and humility as a privileged way for the disciple to grow in holiness, which is the life of charity.  Gentleness that counters violence in all forms and humility that challenges unbridled and unhealthy competition at all levels are necessary tonics for our contemporary world and church.    


In addition, 16 themes from Ex Corde Ecclesiae, an apostolic constitution that highlights important values, including Catholic identity, hiring faculty for mission, and dialogue with culture, canon law, and the papacies of Popes Benedict XVI and Francis provide somewhat of a roadmap for DeSales University to arrive at strong Catholic identity. 

The sixteen themes listed below provide somewhat of a roadmap for DeSales University to arrive at strong Catholic identity.  Furthermore, in an address on Catholic education, Pope Francis encouraged school leaders to form students to use their “head, hands, and hearts” to serve the world and build the Kingdom of God.  He said that educators must have one of their feet in the security of the tradition and the other in the zone of risk, for this leads to the freedom that is called for in education.   

  1. Access for the poor: Catholic college and universities provide necessary resources for students from poor families to attend their schools (Congregation for Catholic Education, 2017a).
  2. Activities guided by the Catholic faith:  “Catholic ideals, attitudes, and principles should appropriately penetrate and inform all university activities” (Miller, 2007, p. 175).
  3. Campus Ministry:  The school is responsible for fostering a robust spiritual and sacramental life for its Catholic students, who are called to worship, pray, and serve. Additionally, the university “collaborates in ecumenical and interfaith efforts to care for the pastoral needs of students, faculty, and other university personnel who are not Catholic” (Miller, 2007, p. 186).
  4. Care for Creation:  Pope Francis’ call for integral ecology and his publication of Laudato Si (2015), a papal encyclical raised this value to an essential element of the faith formation of the human person.  
  5. Cooperation and Catholicity:  “As direct personal contact between faculty and students is a hallmark of U.S. Catholic education,” pastoral relationships provide the foundation for the network of interactions among the school community (Miller, 2007, p. 182).  “The university’s learning atmosphere should encourage the proper befriending of students” (Miller, 2007, p. 182). 
  6. Curriculum and the Catholic intellectual tradition:  Catholic schools advance “an all-embracing vision that animates their intellectual life for comprehensive worldview grounded” in the Catholic educational tradition that unites faith and reason to serve the church and society (Miller, 2007, p. 179).
  7. Dialogue with culture:  The school is providing a context for current issues to be debated, discussed, and argued with the voice of the church accurately represented from the tradition and the voice of the culture respectfully listened to with appropriate regard for the students’ development of their minds and attitudes (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating for Fraternal Humanism, 2017).  
  8. Faculty selection:  Finely academically prepared faculty “outstanding in their integrity of doctrine and probity of life” will be hired for mission (Code of Canon Law, 1983, in Miller, 2007, p. 177).
  9. Hospitality and Inclusion:  The ongoing vehemence, volume, and volubility of Pope Francis on welcoming and accompanying the stranger and those marginalized, especially migrants, calls for Catholic communities of all sorts, including those in Catholic higher education, to integrate hospitality in every context.  Additionally, he has taken the heretofore curial responsibility of Care for Migrants into the personal office of the pope.  In other words, the pope did not delegate this church matter.
  10. Institutional commitment to Catholicity:  The school is a “publicly recognizable institution whose activities of teaching, scholarship, and service ‘are connected with and in harmony with the evangelizing mission of the Church’” (John Paul II, 1990, as cited in Miller, 2007, p. 174).
  11. International solidarity:  “A mark of a university’s Catholicity is whether it tithes its own academic and financial resources so as to help build up systems of Catholic higher education in the local churches of developing countries.  Two matters to consider with regard to international solidarity” include links to other schools, especially in the developing world, to promote the common good and making a priority the exchange of academic resources (Miller, 2007, p. 184).
  12. Jesus:  The Catholic school shows a primacy in its culture for the presence and place of Jesus in its culture (O’Connell, 2012, p. 157).
  13. Scholarship and research:  All research from the Catholic institution must respect the norms and teaching of the church (Miller, 2007, p. 178).
  14. Social Justice and Fraternal Humanism:  The Church’s Catholic Social Teaching, coupled with Educating for Fraternal Humanism, a document of the Congregation of Catholic Education which he authorized in April 2017, positions the education to place the person at the center of education with the host of accompanying values from the corpus of social teaching and this most recent Vatican statement on education.
  15. Student life:  The university hosts a “commitment to create a campus culture and environment that is expressive and supportive of a Catholic way of life, respects the religious liberty and freedom of conscience of all students, and strives to form graduates whose faith enlightens their everyday lives” (Miller, 2007, p. 185).
  16. Theology and Catholic identity:  A Catholic university graduates “students with a suitable level of theological literacy” (Miller, 2007, p. 180).  Here, it is important that “those teaching theology are in full communion with the Church (Miller, 2007, p. 181).


Miller, J. M.  (2007). The role of the Holy See in fostering the identity of Catholic higher education.  Current Issues in Catholic Higher Education, 26(2), 165-186.  Retrieved from; 

O'Connell, D. M.  (2012). Our schools--our hope: Reflections on Catholic identity from the 2011 Catholic higher education collaborative conference. Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice, 16(1), 155-186. Retrieved from