Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Graham hopes to build on success

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Rev. Michael J. Graham is hugged by administrative assistant Teri Korbee.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        Six years ago, Xavier University's president told a recently tenured scholar, “Mike, I'm going to turn your life upside down.” It was no idle threat.

        The Rev. James E. Hoff wanted the younger Jesuit, the Rev. Michael J. Graham, to succeed him.

        Last week, the XU board affirmed Father Hoff's judgment. Monday, 47-year-old Father Graham was introduced to applauding faculty, staff and students.

        “It will be fun to work with you to make this great place better,” Father Graham promised.

  • Born: March 9, 1953, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • Education: Undergraduate degree in philosophy and psychology and Phi Beta Kappa, Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa, 1975. Master's in American studies (1977) and psychology (1978), University of Michigan. Ph.D. in American studies, University of Michigan, 1983. Master of divinity, Weston School of Theology,1988.
  • Society of Jesus: Entered the Jesuits in 1978. Ordained a priest, 1988.
  • Career at XU: Adjunct professor of history, 1984-85. Assistant professor of history, 1989-94. Associate professor, 1994-95. Vice president for university relations, 1994-99. Executive assistant to president, 1999-2000. President, 2000.
  • Pastoral: Good Shepherd parish, Blue Ash, weekends for past eight years.
  • Hobbies: U.S. and Irish history, weightlifting/working out, gardening and music (rock'n'roll, classical, alternative country).
        A fixture at XU for most of the past 16 years, Father Graham rose from adjunct history professor to tenured associate professor before Father Hoff drafted him into executive ranks.

        He became vice president for university relations, head of an unfinished $100 million fund-raiser, and executive assistant to Father Hoff.

        Overwhelmed, enthusiastic and grateful, Father Graham Monday called XU a “vibrant model of Jesuit education” and said his strategic plan would build on its Catholic heritage and academic excellence.

        He praised Father Hoff and wondered how to fill shoes that the retiring president had stretched to the size of canoes.

        Why Father Graham among all the younger men in the Society of Jesus?

        “I saw in him the potential to lead this institution and the willingness to do so,” Father Hoff said in an interview.

        That combination of scholarship, rapport with students and administrative talent was rare, and Father Hoff was saddened only by the knowledge that he took one of XU's best teachers out of the classroom.

        The Rev. Ben Urmston, SJ, director of XU Peace and Justice Programs, praised Father Graham's “boundless energy” and said a measure of his popularity is the student invitation to preach their baccalaureate Masses. “He's not boring. That's for sure.”

        Father Graham takes over on Jan. 1 and begins “lunches without end” as he relearns the campus from the perspective of the president's chair.

        Taking over in the middle of the school year avoids urgent expectations of new initiatives and “allows me to listen,” Father Graham said.

        First, however, he is going to take a sabbatical that will complete his Jesuit training and include two months as a parish priest at Good Shepherd Church in Montgomery, where he has served on weekends for eight years.

        There, Father Graham will perform weddings, baptisms, confirmation retreats and other pastoral duties.

        Father Graham inherits a far stronger school than that which hired him in the mid-1980s. As trustees president Mike Conaton put it Monday, Xavier is “living off its income” and showing a modest annual surplus.

        Much of this success is attributed to Father Hoff, although he says his greatest accomplishment is to have honed XU's mission:

        “To prepare students intellectually, spiritually and morally to take their places in a rapidly changing global society and to work for the betterment of society.”

        Other high points of the Hoff decade include:

        • Raising grade point averages for arriving freshman from 2.9 (B-) to 3.4 (B+).

        • Winning national recognition for graduating student athletes.

        • Lifting XU to 7th among Midwest schools in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of America's Best Colleges. XU also has been named among 150 best college buys by Money magazine and one of the nation's top 100 character-building college in the John Templeton Honor Roll.

        • Increasing the endowment from $24 million to $86 million.

        • Creating the national alumni association with its 47 chapters.

        • Construction and renovation of student housing and acquiring part of Ledgewood Avenue for a residential mall.

        • Completion of the academic mall and construction of Cintas Center with its 10,000-seat arena, student dining facility and conference center.

        • Converting the Jesuits' Schott Hall residence into faculty/staff offices.

        • Joining the Atlantic 10 athletic conference.

Academic stays active shepherding a parish

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