As a product of Franciscan and Jesuit education throughout his life, Dennis DePerro acknowledges his lifelong goal was to someday head one of the nation’s Catholic colleges.
St. Bonaventure University granted the Buffalo native’s wish Friday when it announced his appointment as its 21st president. The dean of the Purcell School of Professional Studies at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, DePerro will take office June 1 and succeed Sr. Margaret Carney, who retired on Aug. 1.
He is the second layman to head the Allegany institution founded by Franciscan friars in 1858.
“The Jesuits have had a profound impact on my life, but my foundation is Franciscan,” said DePerro, who attended Bishop Timon High School and Canisius College in Buffalo. “To have the opportunity to lead this remarkable institution is something I never could have imagined as a student at Timon. I’m deeply grateful to the members of the board of trustees and those members of the campus community who have extended this measure of faith in me. I’m humbled and honored.”
The new president will be officially introduced to the campus community by Robert Daugherty, chairman of the board of trustees, at a press conference at 10 a.m. Monday in the Rigas Theater of the university’s Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. Daugherty called DePerro “a great fit for St. Bonaventure University.”
“His innovative enrollment efforts, allied health program development, and commitment to the liberal arts in a Catholic setting make him an ideal president,” Daugherty said.
“Every single person we heard from was so consistent in talking about the genuine authenticity of the man, his deep belief and his love for the Catholic-Franciscan tradition,” he added. “At his core, he is Franciscan. We wanted someone who breathes it, lives it, exudes it — and I think he will do all of that.”
DePerro, 57, served for 18 years as LeMoyne’s vice president for enrollment management before becoming the first dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies in 2013. He will take over on June 1 from Dr. Andrew Roth, who has served as interim president since Carney’s retirement.
In a Friday interview with The Buffalo News, DePerro acknowledged he assumes the presidency at a time when small, private colleges throughout upstate New York are struggling to maintain enrollment in the face of the region’s declining population and other factors. But he brings enrollment and admissions experience to his new post, he said, adding he is heartened by St. Bonaventure’s recent admissions uptick and establishment of a new School of Allied Health expected to attract students interested in the burgeoning health care field.
“I’m impressed with what has been done in the past year and they seem to be moving in the right direction,” he said. “I think my experience will guide us as an institution in terms of attracting students. And there has been tremendous interest in the health professions and the need for health care professionals.”
He also envisions recruiting efforts in new markets beyond traditional St. Bonaventure strongholds like Buffalo, Rochester and metropolitan New York. He said the university’s participation in the Atlantic 10 Conference in Division 1 athletics should expand recruiting to those cities while building the brand through basketball and other sports. He will also rely on the university’s alumni.
“You will not find a stronger alumni base than at St. Bonaventure, where the alums bleed brown and white,” he said. “I hope to really engage alumni in the work of attracting students.”
DePerro said he learned early the value of Franciscan education while at Bishop Timon, also founded by the Franciscan Order. He worked to enhance Jesuit ideals at LeMoyne, he said, but thinks it will remain critical for St. Bonaventure to emphasize its “Franciscan charism and mission.”
“That Franciscan heritage is what makes St. Bonaventure distinctive,” he said. “I think Bonaventure is one of the finest Catholic universities in this region of the country. As a university community, we have to determine what we want to become, but also recognize the excellence we have.”
DePerro also said he remains committed to maintaining the university’s position in the competitive A-10 Conference even as its smallest member. He called athletics of “premium importance.”
“It is key to bringing together alumni and as an opportunity to build relationships,” he said. “From that the university garners the opportunity for the philanthropy to move forward.”
DePerro earned a doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a master’s in educational administration and supervision and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Canisius.
Before working at Le Moyne, DePerro was dean of admissions and financial aid at Marietta College in Ohio from 1990 to 1995. Prior to that, he worked in admissions and alumni relations at Canisius for eight years.
DePerro’s wife, Sherry, is a vice president of Syracuse-based Cadaret, Grant and Co., a financial advisory firm. They have two sons who attend Providence College.