Fittingly, the announcement came inside Xavier University of Louisiana’s convocation center, the newest of many green-roofed monuments that Norman C. Francis, the longest-serving university president in the U.S., had built through charisma, prayer and personal witness.
Francis, 83, the patriarch of the Xavier family since 1968, told thousands of students, faculty and staff earlier this month that he would step down in June, 2015 as president of the only historically black Catholic university in the Western Hemisphere.
“After nearly 47 years, I know the time has come to take the brightly burning torch turned over to me by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and pass it on to new leadership,” he said.
“I do this with a passionate confidence and absolute certainty that Xavier is better prepared than ever to continue its educational and spiritual mission and to build on its tradition of excellence.”
Francis’ tenure spanned generations and overcame many obstacles, not the least of which was restoring a campus inundated by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
When he went to Xavier as a freshman on a work scholarship in 1948, the campus consisted of a few permanent buildings, several small houses and Army surplus trailers. Today, Xavier’s campus has 16 buildings on 63 acres, and the endowment has grown from $2 million to over $160 million.