The Columbus Dispatch
‘A wonderful move forward’: Xavier names first woman as its president
Xavier University’s 35th president, Colleen Hanycz, PH.D., will be both the first woman and the first layperson to serve as president in the university’s 190-year history, officials announced Monday.
Currently there are 15 lay presidents and three female presidents across the nation’s 26 other Jesuit, Catholic universities. Xavier first admitted women in 1969, 52 years ago.
Hanycz, who now is president of La Salle University in Philadelphia, will take over this summer and succeed Xavier’s longest-tenured president, the Rev. Michael Graham, S.J.
Graham announced his plans for retirement in March 2020, stating “because the University has never been stronger than it is now, it has therefore never been better prepared to attract a visionary and capable leader.”
Vince Caponi, chairman of Xavier’s board of trustees, says it had found that visionary in Hanycz after a nationwide candidate search.
“We were so impressed with all the candidates,” Caponi told The Enquirer. “I mean, quite frankly, from my perspective, I don’t think we could have made a bad choice. But, having said that, I think we made the best choice.”
Before becoming La Salle’s president in 2015, Hanycz, 54, served for seven years as principal (president) of Brescia University College in London, Ontario, a Catholic women’s university in the Ursuline tradition. Brescia is the only women’s college in Canada. She is also a former associate professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.
A native of Toronto, Hanycz attended Senator O’connor College School in the Toronto suburb of North York, according to her official La Salle University biography.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, Hanycz completed her law degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and her master’s and doctorate from Osgoode Hall.
After working for several years as a securities and employment litigator at the former Heenan Blaikie LLP law firm in Toronto, she became assistant dean and associate professor at Osgoode Hall in 2003.
‘It’s a wonderful move forward’
Hanycz recognizes that there will be an adjustment period as she becomes the university’s first lay and women president. She’s done this before, as both firsts at La Salle University.
For starters, she will be bringing a family with her to Cincinnati. Hanycz and her husband, Peter, recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. They have two children, Erik and Claire. Another daughter, Emily, died in 2017.
She says she has admired Graham from afar for many years.
“He is a pastoral, warm, engaged president,” Hanycz said in an interview with The Enquirer. “So many of the things that he has led at Xavier and the way that he has been within the Xavier community is something that I am so excited about continuing in my presidency.”
Hanycz is deeply committed to girls’ and women’s leadership, and says she feels honored to be Xavier’s first female president. Caponi says he was an undergraduate at Xavier when women were first eligible to enroll in 1969.
“It was a real change,” he said in an interview with The Enquirer “But what I can tell you is women on the campus of Xavier University have enriched, and I think expanded, and just improved the whole campus in terms of how we think, how we interact (and how we) think about social justice.”
Catholic higher education is becoming more and more open to diversity, Hanycz said.
“It’s a wonderful move forward,” she said. “Our institutions, to the extent possible, have to continue to reflect the world around them.”
Hanycz says she will spend her early days as Xavier president getting to know the culture and talking to as many students, faculty and staff members as possible so she can set appropriate goals in her leadership.
Hanycz will make her first appearance in Cincinnati as Xavier’s president-to-be on Jan. 25, university officials said. The in-person event will be invitation-only due to COVID-19 protocols and a livestream will be available for those that cannot attend.
Graham’s last day as president is scheduled for June 30 and Hanycz will take over the role on July 1.
Graham, who turns 68 in March, said in an interview last March that if he gets to write the script, he will take a oneyear sabbatical, travel to Italy and Ireland, and eventually return to Cincinnati to assist Xavier’s new president on a part-time basis “in some suitable emeritus role that makes it sound totally honorary.” He also said he wanted to increase his pastoral work.” It’s incredibly rewarding, but I haven’t had the time for it,” he said.
Any future assignment for Graham is subject to what Hanycz and the leaders of the Jesuits want.