In 1961, Loyola University-Chicago was scheduled to play a basketball game against Loyola in New Orleans. It was a time when many white-owned hotels refused to accommodate anyone of color. The Loyola men’s basketball coach called Dr. Norman C. Francis, who was Xavier’s Dean of Men, and asked if Francis could house the team’s black athletes on Xavier’s campus. Francis responded: “I have room for everyone, not just the black players.”
Francis shared this and many other stories during a panel discussion with Xavier alumni at the University Center on Feb. 5. “Conversations Celebrating Xavier” included Vivian Guillory, ’75, who is president of Xavier’s National Alumni Association; Dr. Rosalind Pijeaux Hale, ’69, professor/chair in XU’s Division of Education and Counseling; Dr. George McKenna, ’61, who sits on the Board of Education in California; and William Rouselle, ’67, who founded Bright Moments Inc., a public relations and marketing firm.
Dr. Pamela Franco in the Office of Academic Affairs said this and two more panel discussions are part of a warm send-off for Francis, who is retiring in June after 47 years as Xavier’s president. Franco described Francis as a man of unwavering faith in God and in the mission of Xavier, and who has inspired decades of students to challenge the status quo in society.
Hale told the audience she never regretted her decision to attend Xavier University. Unlike her peers, Hale said she attended Xavier for a sense of spirituality to guide her success, and religion was as important as academics to her.
“Dr. Francis has been a dynamic leader across many different genres, not just in education but in service to the community and his faith,” Hale said. “Just being able to come back to Xavier after graduating and work here, even to work here during his presidency, really meant a lot to me.”
Guillory said there was a sense that the university was a tight unit with faculty and staff who looked out for students and fostered their success.
“Xavier was an extension of our family. It was a place of safety,” Guillory said. “We all felt like they cared about our success.”
McKenna recalled tough financial times Xavier faced as more universities integrated and enrollment dropped. Xavier’s football, basketball and baseball programs were jeopardized, but Francis remained determined and focused, McKenna said.
“Although Katharine Drexel gave her money to establish Xavier, Dr. Francis gave his life to make Xavier into what it is,” McKenna said.
The Office of Academic Affairs will host two more events to honor Francis: March 4 at 6:30 p.m. in the UC ballroom, “Celebrating Xavier: Women Stepping Outside the Box”; and April 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the UC ballroom, “Celebrating Xavier: Living the Mission.” For more information, contact Dr. Pamela Franco at 504.520.7462 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.