Saint Xavier University
Offering undergraduate degree completion in professional studies and business plus graduate degrees in business and education. Classes begin in October.
92 W. Vaughn Ave., Gilbert
[/quote_box_left]GILBERT — The Diocese of Phoenix, which already has two schools and a parish honoring St. Francis Xavier, welcomed a new “Xavier” to its fold.
It came in at four-stories tall, spans 87,000-square-feet and honors Mother Frances Xavier Warde who established the Sisters of Mercy in the U.S. with a mission to educate. Saint Xavier University representatives, alongside plenty of community and diocesan leaders who led the initiative, celebrated the town’s first collegiate institution during its grand opening celebration Aug. 4.
The new Catholic campus in downtown Gilbert brings a rich teaching history via the Sisters of Mercy — who opened a still-thriving Chicago campus nearly 170 years ago — to Arizona.
Paul DeVito, provost, said the university has a long heritage of educating men and women who search for truth, think critically, and compassionately and wisely serve the common good in support of human dignity.
“We’re so excited to begin that mission here in Arizona, specifically Gilbert,” DeVito said.
The lineage that the Sisters of Mercy have in Arizona healthcare — including Mercy Gilbert Medical Center less than eight miles away — was an added bonus, he said.
Soon, even more will understand Saint Xavier University’s hallmarks with an ultimate charism of making a difference in people’s lives, DeVito said.
The Gilbert campus is ready to welcome, at least for now, students seeking to finish degrees in business administration and professional studies plus a variety of master-level business and education programs. Degrees in nursing will be added shortly. All of them will be grounded in Catholic intellectual and theological principles.
For a small institution, the programming is highly accredited. Christine Wiseman, president, spent several days in Arizona sharing Saint Xavier’s track record with various media outlets.
All of its business programs are accredited by the highest accreditation body in the nation and world. Its nursing school consistently ranks high in excellence from the National League for Nursing, and its online program — which is available to Arizona’s graduate students already — has claimed the top two national spots in recent years. Graduates from the education program typically enter their field of study and accrue a 12-year tenure on average.
Wiseman also touted the university’s diversity. It continues to address the needs of the underserved just like the Sisters of Mercy did when they opened the college exclusively for women. The fall freshmen class in Illinois is projected to be 48 percent Hispanic-Spanish-speaking, 29 percent white and 15 percent African-American. The number of Caucasian students has consistently decreased in recent years with other ethnic groups consistently growing, making it the 10th most diverse student body of any master’s institution in the Midwest.
“And still, our students today are 62 percent first generation,” Wiseman said.
About one-third of its budget goes back to students via financial aid. Marianne Roccaforte, an ’81 graduate of Saint Xavier University who has lived in the Valley for some time, called her alma mater a “genuine place” that reached out and provided support to people who otherwise might not go to college.
Roccaforte and her brother were first-generation college graduates and inspired their mother to also earn a degree. She described professors as rigorous and loving who set the stage for critical thinking.
“What was most important to me was the mission, vision and values of the university because it is so strong on respect and inclusiveness and service,” Roccaforte said. “People all the way through have big hearts.”
Joe Godawski graduated in the spring and agrees that Roccaforte’s description holds true today. As a one-time resident peer minister, he can also attest to campus life. The clinical psychology and religious studies double major now plans to bring that same hospitable spirit by staff and faculty to Gilbert. Godawski is supporting campus technology efforts.
The school’s modern infrastructure and design impressed many as they toured the campus following a formal ribbon cutting and blessing. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, who blessed the university with holy water from Saint Xavier’s Chicago chapel, and Gilbert Mayor John Lewis noted the central staircase and natural lighting as important symbols during brief remarks at the Gilbert campus.
A wide yet simple staircase greets visitors and students who enter campus. There’s natural and soft light throughout.
“The role of the Church and especially of Catholic universities in the Church, is to create a space to encounter truth and love and beauty. In other words, a place to encounter God,” Bishop Olmsted said. “And this invites us to do that. You come in, there’s steps; it takes effort. You’ve entered into a space with all the light that invites you into something that contains the possibility of finding truth and goodness and beauty. And that’s what we want our young people to do here and maybe not so young to enter into.”
The mayor shared an excerpt from a testimony Dolores Yanez wrote for the town’s “Growing Up Gilbert” series. Yanez went to the original St. Anne’s church location and once lived where Saint Xavier University now stands. It was sold to the town 15 years ago. She said her parents believed in the value of education and would be comforted to know what has become of the property.
“Progress is a natural part of the world we live in,” Yanez wrote. “Saint Xavier represents the future of my old neighborhood, and as long as we don’t lose sight of the roots of our community, the future is bright.”