The University of St. Thomas may be about to break a century-old tradition and name a non-priest and a woman as president.

University officials and members of the board declined Monday to identify the candidate, but the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reported that it's Julie Sullivan, executive vice president and provost at the University of San Diego, a Catholic university.

The school's Board of Trustees is scheduled to select a new president at a meeting Thursday.

Up until now, the 14 presidents who have headed the University of St. Thomas since 1885 have all been Roman Catholic priests as dictated by the school's bylaws. But in 2011, the university changed that bylaw to allow a Roman Catholic lay person or religious person to serve as president.

The change was made knowing that the current president -- the Rev. Dennis Dease -- was nearing retirement, said university spokesman Doug Hennes. Dease, 69, announced last May that he planned to retire on June 30, 2013, after 22 years as president.

Opening the search for his successor to lay people would allow the university to get the "strongest possible pool of candidates," Hennes said. "There are fewer priests that are involved in higher education."

Most Catholic universities throughout the country are now being led by lay persons. In Minnesota, the College of St. Benedict, St. John University and the College of St. Scholastica are headed by lay leaders, Hennes said.

The search for a new president at the University of St. Thomas, which began last summer, was overseen by a 13-member committee that included nine trustees, three faculty members and one staff member. A small group of university leaders recently met with the search committee's leading candidate, who will oversee a school with 10,316 students with campuses in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Owatonna and Rome, Italy.

At least a half-dozen trustees contacted by phone on Monday declined to comment, saying the recommendation had not yet been presented to the board.

Sullivan, the reported presidential prospect, couldn't be reached for comment Monday, and none of her colleagues returned phone calls.

According to her university biography, Sullivan, who joined the University of San Diego in 2005, is an internationally known scholar in accounting and taxation.

Jenna Ross contributed to this report. Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788