Xavier’s first madam president

Colleen Hanycz, Ph.D. is slated for a visit to the university next week

By Alex Budzynski and Robbie Dzierzanowski, managing editor and staff writer
Photo courtesy of Xavier.edu
Continuing the trend among Jesuit academic institutions, Xavier’s presidential selection committee chose lay woman Colleen Hanycz, Ph.D.. Hanycz currently serves as president for La Salle University in Philadelphia.

After a 10-month search, the Board of Trustees announced Colleen Hanycz, Ph. D., as the 35th president. She will be the first woman and the first layperson to serve as Xavier’s president.

Next week she will visit the university for the first time following the decision, and a press conference will be held on Monday. 

Dr. Hanycz is the current president at La Salle University in Philadelphia, a LaSallian Catholic university with approximately 3,600 undergraduate students. Prior to this, she served as principal of Brescia University College, an all-women’s Ursuline school in London, Ontario. 

She will follow the longest tenured president in school history, Father Michael Graham, S.J., who will officially step down on June 30. Upon the announcement of his retirement last spring, Hanycz was energized about succeeding her warmly admired acquaintance. 

“I’ve had a great opportunity to see your president, Graham, in action,” she explained. “He has done such incredible things with the university… and it is because of that strength that I was interested in helping to write the next chapter in Xavier’s history.” 

Of the 27 Jesuit colleges in the U.S., there are merely three female presidents and 15 lay presidents. As such, Dr. Hanycz brings a number of firsts to both Xavier’s 190-year history and to the wider community of Jesuit schools, something she is not afraid to lean into. 

“It will be a different chapter coming from the perspective of somebody who’s not a Jesuit priest, but I will bring different lived experience. I’m a wife, I’m a mother, and I’ve had this whole other set of experiences that will inform my leadership as well.”

Dr. Hancyz further elaborated on her rich commitment to women’s leadership, especially in her career as a lawyer and educator. 

She recognizes the importance of diversity in an ever-changing world, particularly within Catholic education. 

“When we have the most diverse set of voices around a table, the best decisions come out of that table,” she commented.

Several students identified Dr. Hanycz’s selection as a powerful and exciting action. One such student was sophomore business analytics major Gabriela Salazar. “As a young Latina woman, it is profoundly inspiring and empowering to see a woman fill a powerful leadership position in a historically male dominated field,” she said. “Xavier is taking a significant step forward, and I’m thrilled to finish my remaining years at a university that demonstrates what it means to be All for One.”

In addition to advocating for gender equity, her mission at LaSalle has included anti-racism work as of late. 

“I launched a presidential commission on diversity, equity and inclusion, and that is a body that is working right now towards what will ultimately be a very comprehensive report and a number of changes that (La Salle) needs to make,” she said. “This (work) is something that I have been deeply committed to at La Salle, and I’ll bring that commitment to Xavier as well.” 

One of the many facets which drew Dr. Hanycz to become a Musketeer is the well-established Xavier community. 

“What excites me, among other things, is just a really hyper-engaged, committed, active student body that I have been able to identify already, as well as the faculty and staff…who are really supporting you in becoming the best possible version of yourself through your years at Xavier,” she said.  

She went on to explain that at La Salle, engaging with students is one of the most meaningful parts of her day. 

She plans on spending the early days of her presidency familiarizing herself with the school’s culture.

“I will be looking for opportunities to connect with student government and other student leaders in the various clubs and organizations across the university,” she said. “(I want) to really understand, from your perspective, what is different about a Xavier education.”

For other students, Graham’s departure leaves a gaping hole at Xavier.

“I definitely think she has big shoes to fill after Graham, because he is the heart and pride of Xavier,” junior Joe Henry said. “However, I have confidence that she is more than qualified… and I’m excited to see what she can do for the Xavier community.” 

In his final months as president, Graham will oversee a smooth transition. 

He also revealed in March that he will likely be around Xavier’s campus post-presidency to assist Dr. Hanycz as she acclimates to the university. 

Hanycz and her husband of 25 years, Peter, will move to Cincinnati this summer along with their two children, Erik and Claire.