Past Presidents of Xavier University

Dr. Norman C. Francis, served 1968-2015

During his 47-year tenure as president, Dr. Norman C. Francis and Xavier University of Louisiana were virtually synonymous. 

As the leader of the nation's only historically Black and Catholic university, Francis guided Xavier's growth both in size and dimension. During his presidency, the University more than doubled its enrollment, broadened its curriculum, expanded its campus, and strengthened its financial base. Its tradition of academic excellence was further enhanced.

Francis, a 1952 Xavier alumnus, went on to earn his J.D. from Loyola University and soon after was offered the post of Xavier University dean of men by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.  He then rose to higher administrative positions at the university; advancing to director of student personnel services in 1963, assistant to the president for student affairs in 1964, assistant to the president in charge of development in 1965, executive vice president in 1967, and finally president in 1968. He was credited with being the catalyst for nearly every building constructed on the campus during a period of four decades. The campus itself was physically enlarged with the acquisition of the adjacent properties to the East and West of the original main campus.

Among the major accomplishments of Francis' tenure was the successful completion of several capital campaigns. 

Through his leadership, the University instituted a core curriculum, becoming nationally recognized as a leader in education.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Xavier continues to rank first nationally in the number of African American students earning undergraduate degrees in the biology and the life sciences, chemistry, physics and pharmacy. Xavier was one of only six schools chosen to participate in the National Science Foundation’s Model Institutions for Excellence in Science, Engineering and Mathematics program.

Xavier has been especially successful in educating health professionals. In pre-medical education, Xavier is first in the nation in placing African American students into medical schools, where it has been ranked #1 since 1993. The College of Pharmacy, one of only two pharmacy schools in Louisiana, is among the nation's top three producers of African American Doctor of Pharmacy degree recipients.

Named by his peers as one of the 100 most effective college and university leaders, Francis is often cited for his involvement in the community and his work on the national, state and local level to improve education. 

Francis enjoys a prestigious national reputation, of which Xavier is still a primary beneficiary. He has served in an advisory role to eight U.S. presidential administrations – not only on education issues, but civil rights as well – in addition to serving on 54 boards and commissions. In 2006, then-President George W. Bush presented him with the nation’s highest civil award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2009, he was named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News Media Group and the Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at Harvard Kennedy's School of Government.

He has received 40 honorary degrees from other universities, and at least 20 major awards in recognition of his leadership in higher education as well as his unselfish service to New Orleans and to the nation.

Among Francis' civic endeavors, he has served as chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, chair of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, chairman of the board of Liberty Bank and Trust and a member of the Times-Picayune Advisory Board. In the past he has been chairman of the New Orleans Aviation Board, the Metropolitan Area Committee Education Fund and the board of directors of PBS-affiliate WLAE-TV.

On the national level, Francis' activities include serving as past chairman of the boards of the Educational Testing Service, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, The College Board, the Southern Education Foundation and the American Association of Higher Education. In the past he was president of the UNCF, a member of the Board of Trustees of Catholic University, and chairman of SACSCOC, the southern regional accrediting agency for more than 11,000 institutions in 11 states.

Francis was named Xavier University “President Emeritus” in 2015.

Sister M. Maris Stella Ross, S.B.S., served 1965-1968

Sr. Maris Stella received an A. M. degree from Villanova.  She was Director of the Division of Education at Xavier from 1959 until 1965, and then again from 1968-1970. She was the last of the religious to lead Xavier University of Louisiana in a formal capacity as president.  Although little is known about Sr. Maris, her name tells us a great deal about her faith and her leadership. Maris stella is one of the many names Catholics use to refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The literal translation is 'Star of the Sea'. The name became associated with the Blessed Mother by seafarers, who ask her to intercede on their behalf to guide them safely into port. Maris stella is understood to be our “guiding star” leading us evermore to be and do better.

Sister M. Josephina Kenney S.B.S., served 1955-1965

Sr. Josephina came to Xavier University in 1949. She taught education and eventually headed the Department of Education.  She was the Supervisor of Elementary Schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans from 1952-1955. She taught at Corpus Christi in New Orleans and St. Cyprian's in Columbus, OH, and was Principal at St. Elizabeth's in Chicago and Xavier Prep. She received her B. A. from Loyola of the South and her M. A. from Catholic University.   

Mother Agatha Ryan, S.B.S., served 1931-1955

Mother Agatha was a native of Philadelphia who received her undergraduate degree from Catholic University and her M. A. from Villanova. She was a pioneer in the teaching of Native Americans.  As Directress of Schools for the S. B. S. she was responsible for the establishment of 48 elementary schools and 14 high schools.  Under her faithful leadership at Xavier she oversaw the development of the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Pharmacy, and the graduate school. 

Rev. Edward Brunner, S.S.J., served 1928-1931