Our Mission

The Collegium Institute is a vibrant intellectual community devoted to fostering the Catholic intellectual tradition, and the liberal tradition of humane studies more broadly, within the University of Pennsylvania community.

Founded by faculty, alumni, students, and friends of Penn, the Collegium Institute is an independent organization that seeks to enrich academic culture by sharing the intellectual fruits of the Catholic tradition with a mainstream audience, both secular and religious, and by supporting scholarship, teaching, and learning that engages across the disciplines.

The institute’s name, collegium, serves as a reminder that the pursuit of knowledge, which is the principal object of all universities, is a communal enterprise. Its flourishing depends upon its members working together to cultivate certain virtues of mind and character, such as humility, trust, honesty, justice, and the love of truth. By witnessing to these enduring virtues, the Collegium Institute aims to serve contemporary academia and become a vibrant center of learning within it.

The Need

Academic enquiry today is increasingly fragmented. Although scholarly output today is impressive, indeed staggering, the extreme specialization of scholarship in all fields continues to widen the distance between them and to disintegrate knowledge as a collective human project. Together with our colleges and universities, we seek to propose conversations that move beyond any epistemological skepticism that would stifle the pursuit of wisdom and commit to a humane education beyond more narrow models of pre-professional training.

The Catholic intellectual tradition is a reservoir of profound thinking about the synthesis of knowledge. By bringing this tradition into conversation with the secular academy and by encouraging a holistic approach to scholarship that transcends disciplinary boundaries, the Collegium Institute affirms the unifying and truly liberal ends of education — namely, freedom in truth.



Daniel J.M. Cheely

Daniel J. M. Cheely, Ph.D., Executive Director  

Dr. Cheely is a historian of the Renaissance and Reformation.  He graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and completed his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.  His research has been supported by grants from the Social Science Research Council, the Pew Charitable Trust, the Huntington Library, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Witherspoon Institute, the Bradley Foundation, the Catholic Record Society, and the Harvey Fellows Program of the Mustard Seed Foundation.  His scholarship has been published in Church History: Studies in Christianity & Culture (Cambridge), The European Legacy (Routledge)and The Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (DeGruyter)and has been presented at the Institute for Historical Research, the American Academy of Religion, Sixteenth Century Society & Conference, the Renaissance Society of America, the American Society for Church History, the Mid-Atlantic Conference of British Studies (where it was awarded the annual prize for best graduate student paper), and other conferences in the United States and Europe.

Before beginning doctoral studies at Penn, he joined Teach For America in Chicago, where he taught eighth grade for R.S. Abbott School, chaired the social science division and partnered it with local universities through the Chicago History Project, and was awarded his school’s teacher-of-the-year distinction.  He is now, while serving as Executive Director of the Collegium Institute, also a Resident Senior Fellow of the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania and Lecturer in Penn’s History Department.


Jessica Sweeney

Jessica Sweeney (Ferro), Program & Communications Coordinator 

Jessica comes to the Collegium Institute after completing her Master of Arts in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota where she wrote her thesis, “How Did I Forget You? How Did I Lose You?: An Augustinian Exploration of Childhood and the Cosmic in Malick’s Tree of Life.” After her graduate studies, she went on to teach at Trinity School in Eagan, MN where she cultivated a sense of wonder and love of learning with her students, teaching art history, Spanish and Humane Letters. 

Jess completed her undergraduate studies in Art History and English with work at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Florida. Her research focuses on the artistic trope of hortus conclusus, or enclosed gardens, and their continued use to the present, as well as the visual theology of Terence Malick. She gave the keynote for the University of Pennsylvania’s Slavic Bazaar, with a paper titled, “O Cursed Night: Smerdyakov’s Nativity and Lizaveta’s Hortus Conclusus Gone Awry,” analyzing Dostoevsky’s use of gardens in the Brothers Karamazov. 

As Collegium’s Program and Communications Coordinator she has brought her knowledge of art history and visual aesthetic to develop our visual presence and hopes to develop an arts initiative for students and the wider Philadelphia community to explore the intersection of art and the life of the mind through workshops, artist retreats, and lectures. Jess recently married and met her husband at Collegium’s first Genealogies of Modernity summer seminar. 

Emmie Brown

Emmie Brown, Program Fellow and Operations Coordinator

Emmie joined Collegium’s staff in August 2019 as Program Fellow and Operations Coordinator after spending a year as a Research Assistant at IESE Business School’s Manhattan Campus, where she explored the business models, technology, and political effects of the changing news industry. She graduated from Eastern University’s Templeton Honors College in 2018 with a BA in Philosophy and minors in European History and Orthodox Thought and Culture. It was during her undergraduate years that Emmie first encountered the Collegium Institute as a student participant in Collegium’s regional Paideia Seminar. 

As an undergraduate, Emmie also completed a term abroad at Oxford University (Trinity College) where she studied epistemology and philosophy of language, as well as the work of Søren Kierkegaard. She currently serves on the St. Basil Center for Orthodox Thought and Culture’s Board of Trustees and is one of the founding editors of their newly published Basilian Journal of Orthodox Thought and Culture


Joe Perez-Benzo

Joe Perez-Benzo, Recruitment & Development Assistant

Joe will lend a hand over the next two years while he completes his Master of Liberal Arts at Penn.  A recent graduate of Princeton University in History, Joe has spent the last two years at Princeton developing and conducting seminars that integrate humanistic studies in philosophy, literature and theater.


For the Collegium Institute’s Academic Fellows, please click here. 


Board of Trustees

Daniel J. M. Cheely, Ph.D., Executive Director.

Matthew B. O’Brien, Ph.D., Chairman.  Dr. O’Brien is an equity research analyst with O’Brien Greene & Co., an investment management firm in suburban Philadelphia.  Before beginning his career in finance, he taught humanities at Villanova University, where he was a Veritas Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Ryan Center in the Department of Political Science, and philosophy at Rutgers University, where he was a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy.  Dr. O’Brien has served as a director on the boards of the Neumann Forum, the Princeton Club of Philadelphia, and Regina Luminis Academy.  He received his A.B. in philosophy cum laude at Princeton University and studied Greek and Latin in the post-baccalaureate program in classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin.

Mark G. Brennan, Ph.D., Trustee  Dr. Brennan is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Business Ethics NYU Stern School of Business.  He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Pennsylvania under the guidance of Bruce Kuklick, Walter McDougall, and Jonathan Steinberg.  A graduate of the College of the Holy Cross (A.B.), Cornell University (M.B.A.), New York University (M.A.), and the University of Pennsylvania (MA), Dr. Brennan has lectured and taught at both the College of Arts and Sciences and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, and in Cuba, at the University of Havana.  Prior to joining the Stern School, Dr. Brennan worked as an equity analyst and portfolio manager covering the financial services industry for several asset management firms and hedge funds.  He began his career as a CPA at Price Waterhouse working for a variety of banking and financial services clients. He has served on the boards of the Bank and Financial Analyst Association, the Rude Mechanicals Theater Company, and policy think tanks. Dr. Brennan is also the American editor of the Quarterly Review, a British literary magazine founded in 1809.

Peter C. Ferry, Trustee 

Michael T. Kane, Ph.D.Trustee  Dr. Mike Kane is the founder and president of Kestrel Investments, a single family office in suburban Philadelphia focused on private investments.  Prior to founding Kestrel, he worked in a finance role for a family business and also founded a technology start up.  Dr. Kane has twelve years teaching experience at the undergraduate level, including six years at Boston College where he was twice honored with excellence in teaching awards.  He received an A.B. degree in classics and philosophy from Georgetown University, summa cum laude.  On graduating from Georgetown, he received a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities for graduate studies and completed an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston College.  He has also studied at Oxford University and Freiburg University, Germany.

Francis X. MaierTrustee.  Mr. Maier serves as senior advisor and special assistant to the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.  Before coming to Philadelphia, Mr. Maier was chancellor of the Archdiocese of Denver.  He began his career in screenwriting and journalism, serving as editor-in-chief of the National Catholic Registerand as a story analyst and screenwriter for United Artists, Warner Bros., and various independent producers and agencies.

Vincenzo La RuffaTrustee.  Mr. La Ruffa is a partner with Aquiline Capital Partners, a private equity firm focused on financial services.  Prior to joining Aquiline, he was managing director of Susquehanna Growth Equity, a private equity group he co-founded. Vincenzo serves on the boards of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Foundation for Excellence in Higher Education as well as the investment committee of Mercy Investment Services. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania summa cum laude with a B.A. in classics and a B.S. in economics from The Wharton School.