La Salle University Tuesday named a Canadian educator its 29th president, an historic choice that marks the first time the 152-year-old university will be headed by a lay leader and woman rather than a Christian brother.

Colleen M. Hanycz, head of Brescia University College, a Catholic school in London, Ontario, will take the helm of the 6,200-student La Salle on July 10.

"I can't tell you how excited I am at having this opportunity," said Hanycz (pronounced Han-ich), 48, who was on the Philadelphia campus for the announcement. "It is really a tremendous opportunity for me."

Hanycz, a lawyer with a bachelor's degree in history, is a native of Toronto and has spent her entire career in Canada. Early on, she did work in the securities exchange in Toronto. She is only the second lay president at Brescia, where she has served since 2008 and is in her second term.

Under her leadership, Brescia saw a 60 percent jump in enrollment to 1,500 full-time equivalent students – which she sees as one of her top accomplishments. She also cited more community partnerships that put students in prime service-learning positions and a focus on creating young women to be leaders.

Her selection culminates a 21-month search that failed to turn up a new president last year and had to start anew.

Hanycz replaces Brother Michael McGinniss, who retired last spring after serving 15 years as president of the Catholic university. James Gallagher, former president of Philadelphia University, has been serving as interim leader.

"This is a pivotal moment in La Salle's history," William R. Sautter, chair of the university's board of trustees said in a statement. "We are very pleased and excited to name Dr. Hanycz as the next president of La Salle University. She is an innovative academic leader with an impressive record as an agent of positive change. She is ideally suited to maximize La Salle's potential while continuing to honor our distinctive mission and values."

Hanycz was one of two finalists for the job announced by La Salle earlier this month. The other was: Anthony Joseph Aretz, president of Mount St. Joseph University, a Catholic school in Cincinnati.

She has prior ties to the Christian Brothers – she went to a high school run by them in Toronto.

"I understand that the educational charism of the Christian Brothers emphasizes a commitment to academic rigor, a strong sense of social justice and service, and dedication to a transformational educational experience," she said.

"I am eager to work with the entire La Salle community to build upon La Salle's strengths and to position it as a leading Catholic university."

She has a bachelor's in history from the University of Toronto, a bachelor of laws from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, a master of laws from York University, Toronto; and a doctor of philosophy from York.

Before Brescia, Hanycz was assistant dean and associate professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School. Previously, she worked as a securities and employment litigator in Toronto.

La Salle is not the first Christian Brothers' university to turn to a lay leader.

Of the seven run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers throughout the United States, three are now led by lay presidents for the first time in their history - a result of declining numbers among religious vocations.

The Christian Brothers endorsed Hanycz' hiring.

"Dr. Hanycz is passionate about sustaining and enhancing the values and attributes that are central to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, such as commitment to academic excellence, a spirit of community, and an ethos of social justice and care for the most vulnerable in society—all of which are at the core of our Catholic Lasallian tradition," Brother Dennis Malloy, a , La Salle trustee and official for the District of Eastern North America of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, said in a statement.

La Salle made it clear that it would only consider a practicing Catholic for the post – and Hanycz, who describes herself as a "cradle Catholic" with a social justice perspective, fit the qualification.

Her husband, Peter, is an insurance executive and the couple has three children, 18, 15 and 11.

She was one of 50 candidates for the job, and had visited La Salle earlier this year to meet with faculty, staff, students, alumni and others in the college community.

One big change for Hanycz will be the addition of sports. Brescia has student athletes but they play for Western University.

"I realize that Division 1 athletics play a key role at La Salle, and I want to understand that better," she said. "..I'm going to start going to games.

"I have a family that is sports crazy," she added.