Xavier University of Louisiana is the first and only Black Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States. It was established on this day in 1915, and several notable alumni have passed through its halls en route to a variety of high-profile careers.

The school was the brainchild of Saint Katherine Drexel of Philadelphia and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to serve Black and Native American high school students. In 1925, the school became a four-year university and attracted many Black Catholic students to the Pelican State.

In 1970, the Sisters transferred power of the university over to a Board of Trustees that included past Xavier students and religious leaders. In 1968, Dr. Norman C. Francis began his tenure as school president and presided over the Xavier until 2015. Dr. Francis was among the board members slated to handle the school’s business and academic affairs.

Dr. C. Reynold Verrett is Xavier’s sixth president. The school boasts a student body of around 3,000, of which 70 percent are Black. The school has long since opened its doors to all who wish to attend, with over half of the students hailing from its home state.

Notable alumni include former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, who was the first Black woman and the first under 40 to be named to the American Medical Association’s Board of Trustees. U.S. Air Force Four-Star Gen. Bernard P. Randolph, just the third African-American to achieve the rank, attended Xavier in the ’50’s. The first African-American U.S. Secretary of Labor, Alexis Herman is also a Xavier graduate.

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