In 1891, Katharine Drexel, the daughter of Philadelphia financier-banker Francis Drexel, founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, an order dedicated to educational and charitable work among America’s minorities. St. Katharine (she was canonized in 2000) established a high school in 1915, naming it for the Spanish Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, and in 1917 added a two-year normal school for training black teachers. Xavier became a four-year liberal arts university in 1925 and opened a college of pharmacy in 1927. Xavier is the only historically black Catholic university in the United States. First located at 5100 Magazine Street, a site now occupied by Xavier Preparatory High School for girls, the university moved to this location in 1932. Wogan and Bernard designed the Indiana limestone administration building with its two wings, one a science building and the other a convent for the sisters, in the Gothic style of many collegiate structures. A library (now the music building) was added in 1937.
Expansion in the 1960s added more buildings, and in the 1990s the enormous success and growth of Xavier’s pharmacy and premedical programs generated further growth. Xavier now comprises multiple buildings in a multiblock area. On an unprepossessing site adjacent to a freeway overpass and a drainage canal, the campus has also grown vertically, with buildings in expressive forms and colorful materials that meet the challenge of its fragmented setting. The six-story Library and Resource Center of 1996, by Blitch Knevel Architects and Billes/Manning Architects, was joined in 1998 by the Norman C. Francis Science Academic Complex, named for the university’s recently retired president and designed by Sizeler Architects. The latter structure, a sharp-angled composition with tower, bay windows, pinnacled piers, prowlike corner, and pointedarched entrances, has a castlelike quality that fits in with the original Collegiate Gothic building. It also features a dramatic atrium space with a projecting sculptural stair. All the new buildings have green-colored roofs, Xavier’s modern signature.
A 2012 addition to the campus is Pelli Clarke Pelli’s St. Katharine Drexel Chapel, a striking modern design. The octagonal chapel of cream-colored limestone has a funnel-like copper roof outlined with a band of windows that throw light down through its perforated interior surface to create an effect rather like the starry sky. Colored windows have stylized imagery and abstract patterns. A separate bell tower stands beside the walkway to the entrance.