By Rebecca Goodman
Enquirer staff writer
EVANSTON - The Rev. James E. Hoff, a Jesuit priest who presided over a decade of unparalleled academic and physical changes at Xavier University, died Friday morning of the cancer doctors diagnosed only four months ago. He was 72.
Father Hoff, chancellor and president from March 1991 to December 2000, died at his campus residence, surrounded by friends.
"Jim Hoff is so loved and admired in the Xavier community that the depth of our sadness is beyond words," said the Rev. Michael Graham, whom Father Hoff groomed to be his successor as president of the 6,500-student Jesuit university.
"Jim raised the bar at Xavier and set a tone that pushed the university, and all of us associated with it, to dream big and strive to be better."
Father Hoff became Xavier's 33rd president in 1991, succeeding the Rev. Albert DiUlio, who left to become president of Marquette University in Milwaukee. Father Hoff took over at a school that was founded in 1831 - it is the sixth-oldest Catholic university in the country - and that had become the third-largest independent institution in Ohio.
He said he wanted nothing less than "everything" for Xavier.
He laid out his vision to "prepare students intellectually, spiritually and morally to take their place in a rapidly changing global society and work for the betterment of that society."
Damon Jones, former student-government president, said Father Hoff was the "heart and soul'' of Xavier.
"He had a vision to really take the university to the next level, but he always knew that people were at the core and he never let the business and institutional plans get in the way of one-on-one relationships."
Father Hoff came to Xavier from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., where he was vice president of university relations and president of the Creighton Foundation. He quickly endeared himself on campus with his warm and engaging style.
Father Hoff oversaw the largest capital campaign in Xavier's history. The Century Campaign raised a record $125 million, which was used for some of the school's most dramatic physical and academic changes.
A sports fan, Father Hoff emphasized balancing sports with academics and spiritual pursuits. So while he recognized the value of visibility through a good sports program, he also recognized that the visibility was a means to an end - making Xavier an outstanding academic institution. To that end, he quadrupled the university's endowment.
In 1995, Xavier made the Top 10 list of the best universities in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and has maintained its place on the list. The school was declared by Money magazine to be among the nation's 150 best buys. The John Templeton Honor Roll named it one of the nation's top 100 character-building schools.
During his tenure, Father Hoff started construction of the Gallagher Student Center and University Commons apartment complex. He oversaw the renovation of other buildings and the addition of campus green space.
He presided over the building of the 10,000-seat, $46 million Cintas Center - the most expensive and significant building project in XU's history. It brought men's basketball back to campus and provided a state-of-the-art meeting and banquet center for the university and the community.
Father Hoff also oversaw the university's move from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference to the Atlantic 10 Conference in 1995. He saw the Musketeers play in five NCAA men's basketball tournaments.
Although Father Hoff was diagnosed with cancer during the 2003-2004 basketball season, he attended every game and spent time with the players and coaches.
Xavier has been recognized by the NCAA for graduating 100 percent of its student athletes. The school inducted Father Huff into its Athletic Hall of Fame in April.
Despite his campus achievements, Father Hoff was "first of all, a priest and that was always his primary role," said Joseph A. Pichler, retired chairman of the Kroger Co., Xavier board member and close friend. "In that role, he was a marvelous spiritual model, personal counselor, and really a reflection of God's goodness in the world. It also happens he was a very skilled administrator and that combination of roles served Xavier well.''
A native of Milwaukee, Father Hoff attended Marquette University and was to begin medical school there in the fall of 1953. But he entered the Society of Jesus instead.
He received a bachelor's degree in biology in 1958 and a master's in theology the next year from Spring Hill College. He was ordained in 1965 and received a master's degree in theology from St. Louis University in 1966 and a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome in 1969.
After working in clinical pastoral education at Massachusetts General Hospital, he became associate professor of ethics in health sciences and associate professor of theology at Creighton University in 1976. In 1980 he was made acting dean of Creighton's School of Medicine.
As vice president of university relations and president of the Creighton Foundation from 1983 to 1991, he was responsible for a capital campaign that reached $102.5 million in pledges.
Survivors include two sisters, Janet Hayes and Marion Schmitz, and nieces and nephews.
Visitation is 1:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesday followed by the funeral Mass at 7 p.m. at St. Xavier Church, 607 Sycamore Street, downtown. Burial is 10 a.m. Thursday at the Jesuit Cemetery in Milford.
Memorials: Xavier University, 3800 Victory Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45207-3331.
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