St. Xavier’s University Celebrates Mother Agatha O’Brien’s 200th Birthday

CHICAGO, September 22, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — St. Xavier’s University (SXU) Celebrates 200th Anniversary of Mother Agatha O’Brien this month of September. Although Mother Agatha, who died in 1854, lived a short life, her accomplishments were remarkable and the impact she left on the world is remarkable. Today, his rich legacy is nurtured by the determined leadership of Laurie M. JoynerPh.D., President of SXU.

Saint Xavier University logo (PRNewsfoto/Saint Xavier University)

Born Margaret O’Brien on September 22, 1822at Carlow, Ireland, Mother Agatha was educated by the Sisters of the Presentation, who focused their energies on creating schools that would educate young people, a passion that Mother Agatha would pursue in her later work. In 1843, she joined the Couvent de la Miséricorde Saint-Léon as a lay sister before going to United States serve those in need at the request of the bishop Michael O’Conner. After meeting Mother Agathe, he judged her “capable of governing a nation”. She later received the religious name of Agatha as the first postulant of the Sisters of Mercy before going to Chicagowhere she became the first Superior of the Order.

Mother Agatha was courageous and resolute, even defying a new bishop who demanded the deeds of the Sisters. She eventually succeeded in gaining property rights from the Sisters of Mercy (and other religious orders of women) in the Diocese of Chicago.

Described as a woman of exceptional judgment, quick apprehension and piety, Mother Agatha helped establish St. Francis Xavier Academy (which later became a college in 1915 and a university in 1992) only 19 days after arriving at Chicago and was soon charged with being its first headmistress, or president. Another iconic foundation, Mercy Hospital, owes its creation to her remarkable leadership. In 1854, a horrible cholera epidemic spread through the city. Unfortunately, Mother Agatha succumbed to her illness at only 31 years old.

The competent stewardship of the woman who led St. Xavier from the beginning continues today in President Joyner, who is steadfast in reinforcing the historic mission of preparing students for meaningful lives and successful careers. President Joyner has led SXU since 2017, becoming the University’s 20th President. As a mission-focused, student-centered leader, she has positioned St. Xavier for a better future by accomplishing a number of extraordinary achievements over the past five years, including:

  • Enrolling four of the largest and most diverse classes in the University’s 176-year history and improving retention from first to second year three consecutive years.

  • Launch more than a dozen new academic programs, develop high-impact educational practices, and advance an equity and inclusion agenda across the University.

  • Elevate the voice of faculty, staff, and students through University-wide committees that provide strong opportunities for effective shared governance.

  • Halve institutional debt ($40 million at $20 million); increase cash ($12 million at $32M); and triple the endowment ($10M at $33 million) between FY17 and FY22.

  • Enhance SXU’s reputation through active local engagement with the Archdiocesan School Board of Chicago and as a member of the Chicago Network as well as nationally through its work with the Association of Colleges and Catholic Universities (ACCU) and the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC).

As we celebrate Mother Agatha’s 200th birthday, we are grateful for her contributions and for the leadership of President Joyner and the efforts of the SXU community to transform the lives of students who continue to change the world for the better.

St. Xavier’s University was founded in 1846 by the Sisters of Mercy and is a private four-year Catholic coeducational institution that provides a transformative educational experience for more than 3,500 undergraduate and graduate students who are ready to become compassionate leaders in their field of study and their communities. As a mission-driven and student-centered institution, St. Xavier educates for skill, character and professional achievement, with program offerings through our College of Arts and Sciences, Graham School of the management and School of Nursing and Health Sciences. Recognize St. Xavier excellence in education, US News and World Report has consistently ranked SXU among the top colleges in the Midwest.

MEDIA CONTACT: Deb Rapacz, Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications, [email protected]



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