The sixth president of Xavier University of Louisiana, Dr. Reynold Verret, is the University’s second lay president. Throughout his career, Dr. Verret has worked to enhance student achievement and progression to degrees. He has contributed to increasing the number of US students pursuing degrees in STEM and related disciplines and continuing to advanced study. This has included initiatives to mitigate the shortage of qualified science and math teachers in K-12.
From 2012 - 2015, Dr. Verret served as provost and chief academic officer at Savannah State University. There he led the university’s initiatives to build enrollment, enhance the quality and diversity of academic programs, and create cooperative relationships with neighboring institutions and international partners.
Prior to his position at Savannah State University, Dr. Verret served as provost at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania and as Dean of the Misher College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. At these institutions, he led the revision of the general education curricula, oversaw accreditations, developed international programs, established collaborative agreements with K-12 and higher education schools, instituted new state-approved academic programs, promoted interdisciplinary efforts between the humanities and sciences, and planned new facilities. Dr. Verret also served on the faculty at Tulane University and also at Clark Atlanta University, where he was chair of the department of chemistry for many years.
As a scientist, Dr. Verret’s research interests have included the cytotoxicity of immune cells, biosensors, and biomarkers. He has published in the fields of biological chemistry and immunology. At the University of the Sciences, he led a faculty effort establishing a knowledge network on social exclusion in support of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health within the World Health Organization.
He has served on many professional organizations and advisory bodies, including those of the National Institutes of Health, the Board of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and the Georgia Coastal Indicators Coalition. He has received awards and fellowships for teaching and scholarship.
Dr. Verret earned his undergraduate degree cum laude in biochemistry from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was also a postdoctoral fellow at the Howard Hughes Institute for Immunology at Yale University and at the Center for Cancer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
There are over 100 historically black and 262 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, but Xavier University holds the distinction of being the only Catholic HBCU in the nation.
Xavier University was founded by St. Katharine Drexel (1858–1955), who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000. St. Katharine was the daughter of banker-financier Francis Drexel and was born into a deeply religious Catholic family. Her profound love of God and neighbor led her to challenge her nation and her Church to end their discriminatory mistreatment of Native Americans and African Americans. She believed that serving the needs of others, preaching God’s love for every person, and quality education were the keys to racial justice and empowerment. To this end, St. Katharine used the interest from her inheritance to establish and staff many elementary and high schools throughout the country to educate Native Americans and African Americans. St. Katharine also founded a congregation of religious women, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (SBS), to share in her dedication to God and work for justice.
Aware of the dearth of Catholic-oriented higher education available to young African Americans in the South and with a desire to train students who would become servant-leaders in society, government, and the Church, St. Katharine came to New Orleans in 1915 and established Xavier as a college-preparatory high school. She chose the words on the cornerstone of Xavier’s main administration building to reflect her vision: “God’s greatest work on earth is man; man’s master art is leading men to God.” A Normal school for the training of teachers opened on the campus in 1917; then, in 1925, Xavier University was born when the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences opened its doors. The first degrees were awarded three years later and the College of Pharmacy was established in 1927.
Although many local residents were aware of Xavier’s existence, it was not until the 1932 dedication of the beautiful main building of Xavier’s current campus that the University’s identity as Black and Catholic was proclaimed more broadly in publications throughout the United States, including Time magazine. Today that identity remains strong and Xavier’s brand as the only Catholic HBCU continues to be a source of pride, dignity, and inspiration for the Xavier community and beyond.
Up until 1968, the SBS owned and operated Xavier with a commitment to developing leaders and encouraging self-determination for the University. In that year, control was transferred to a lay board, and Dr. Norman C. Francis, a Xavierite, was appointed president, therein realizing the Sisters’ and the institution’s commitment and mission. While the Sisters retained no “reserved powers,” the by-laws of the corporation mandated that one-third of the trustees be SBS. The congregation has continued to provide human and financial resources, but Xavier is not funded by the SBS. Currently, there are six SBS serving in the capacity of faculty or staff at Xavier.
Today, as always, Xavier is committed to helping students reach their highest potential while fostering their development into well-rounded citizens, as espoused in the mission statement: “The ultimate purpose of the University is to contribute to the promotion of a more just and humane society by preparing its students to assume roles of leadership and service in a global society. This preparation takes place in a diverse learning and teaching environment that incorporates all relevant educational means, including research and community service.”
St. Katharine was clear about the purpose of Xavier University. Xavier was to provide students with a liberal and practical education that also ingrained in them the importance of giving back to society. Close to 100 years later, these founding principles remain at the core of a Xavier education.