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Xavier inaugurates C. Reynold Verret as sixth president

29th February 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Kendall Lawson
Contributing Writer

Despite a mid-week storm threatening to derail the pomp and circumstance, Xavier University was determined to officially inaugurate its sixth president Dr. C. Reynold Verret following a 47-year presidency by Verret’s predecessor.

Dr. Norman C. Francis retired as president in June 2015, citing the need to spend more time with his wife Blanche Francis, who died shortly after in October 2015. Francis’ held the record as the longest-serving university president in the U.S. at the time of his retirement.



The university sought to usher in a new era under Verret, a biochemist, who last served as provost and chief academic officer at Savannah State University, another historically Black university. From alumni to officials including Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Congressman Cedric Richmond, and over 1,000 guests, attended an inaugural mass and reception on Feb. 25 and then the inaugural investiture ceremony and reception on Feb. 26.

“I am joyful for the call to serve Xavier,” Verret said in an interview before the inaugural mass on Thursday. “[Xavier is] an institution of higher learning dedicated to bringing justice through education and our dedication to education as a gift that is multiplied through the service of its graduates throughout the nation.”

Verret, a Haitian-American, became the Catholic university’s second lay president. After a nationwide search, Verret was selected as president and began the transition in July 2015.

Verret graduated cum laude from Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. He holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He then served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Howard Hughes Institute for Immunology at Yale University and at the Center for Cancer Research at MIT.

His academic career started in New Orleans in the early 1990s as an assistant chemistry professor at Tulane University. Verret hopes to build on the work that Francis has done in setting Xavier apart in the sciences. He said his predecessor has helped with the transition by providing him with a historical context for Xavier, and New Orleans.

At the inaugural mass, Archbishop Alfred Hughes and Sister Consalata Beecher officiated, providing Verret with blessings to carry out his new role with success.

“There’s a special presence of the Lord and St. Katharine Drexel on this campus,” said Peter R. Quirk, the executive director of the office of Stewardship and Development of the Archdiocese in New Orleans and a member of Xavier’s presidential advisory board. “I wanted to be involved with the mass and other events to celebrate the new president.”

Jose Bautista, a member of the inauguration Mass Committee and a J.P. Morgan Chase Endowed Professor of Economics at Xavier, said the tradition was one that embodied the university’s religious values.

“The Mass is the inaugural mass of the new president. We want to thank God for a new president and pray that he will be successful at his tenure as president,” Bautista said. “Xavier is the only historically Black Catholic university on this side of the world, therefore to emphasize its uniqueness, every event is more than appropriate,” Bautista added.

Verret said he already feels at home. Students see their new president walking across campus, accessible and open to chats as he adjusts to the new position and the university adjusts to a new face as its leadership. “I have witnessed the commitment of Xavier students to each other, how you support and encourage each other,” Verret said. “That is the example of our mission and an essential element of Xavier culture.”

Verret said he will work hard to do “Xavier proud,” and to build on the legacy left before him.

“Through the achievements of Xavier students, through the excellent learning that they demonstrate in their careers and lives, they set an example to the nation,” Verret added.

This article originally published in the February 29, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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