James E. Hoff, S.J., dies

Former University president and chancellor battled cancer for last four months | July 23, 2004

After a five-month battle with cancer, James E. Hoff, S.J., chancellor and former president of Xavier University, died in the early morning hours of Friday, July 23, at the University's Jesuit residence on campus.

“Jim Hoff is so loved and admired in the Xavier community that the depth of our sadness is beyond words,” said Xavier University President Michael J. Graham, S.J. “On a personal level, he was my mentor, unselfishly sharing his wisdom and preparing me for my role to succeed him as president. 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. He set the example, academically, spiritually, athletically, in every way, of how to do things right and we will continue to follow his example.”

Hoff served Xavier as president from March 1991 to December 2000. His vision for the University became a mantra for the entire campus; something Hoff called his most important legacy. In his words, Hoff’s vision for Xavier was “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.” At the time of his retirement, Hoff said, “The vision statement is clearly formatted, well known and accepted. It has governed planning, allocation of resources and hiring. And most important, a lot of students graduate feeling that it has been realized in them.”

In addition to firmly establishing the mission, Hoff oversaw the largest capital campaign in school history. The Century Campaign raised $125 million, resulting in some of the most dramatic physical and academic changes in the history of the University.

During his 10 years as president, the Jesuit institution nearly quadrupled its endowment and raised the funds to build the Cintas Center. The $46 million project was the most expensive and significant building project in Xavier 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 Cincinnati community. In addition, Hoff started construction of the Gallagher Student Center and The Commons apartment complex. He also oversaw the renovation of existing buildings and added green space to change the look and feel of the campus. He also made a concerted effort to reach out to Xavier alumni and keep them connected to the University, establishing a national alumni association, which now includes 50 chapters.

Under Hoff’s tenure, Xavier’s academic standards and national reputation rose to a new level. Xavier was recognized as one of the top 10 master’s-level universities in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report in 1995 and has been there ever since. Xavier has also been recognized by Money magazine as among the nation’s 150 best buys and the John Templeton Honor Roll as one of the nation’s top 100 character-building colleges. The average freshman GPA when Hoff arrived at Xavier was 2.9. It was 3.4 when he retired.

Hoff also had a tremendous impact on the Xavier athletic program, overseeing the move from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference to the Atlantic 10 Conference in 1995. Since that time, Hoff watched his beloved Musketeers play in five National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournaments. The University has been recognized by the NCAA for graduating its student-athletes. At the 2004 men’s basketball banquet in April, Hoff was inducted into the University's athletic hall of fame.

Hoff often said the success of the Xavier Musketeer men’s basketball team reflects the University’s commitment to helping student-athletes excel in the classroom and on the court. “Athletics are an important part of campus life,” he said. “At Xavier, they are kept in proper perspective. As a result, our athletic programs have won national praise not only for winning, but for upholding the highest academic and ethical standards.”

Since his retirement as president on Dec. 31, 2000, Hoff served the University as chancellor. In that role, he worked closely with the development office. Hoff also returned to the classroom after his retirement, teaching theology at Xavier and the Athenaeum of Ohio.

Community service was an important priority for Hoff in his retirement. He directed retreats, was a volunteer with Hospice of Cincinnati and served on the boards of Chatfield College, Public Allies Cincinnati and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. He also served on the board of Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.

Hoff came to Xavier from Creighton, where he was vice president of university relations and president of The Creighton Foundation from 1983-1991. Hoff also served as acting dean of Creighton’s School of Medicine, was an associate professor of ethics in health sciences and associate professor of theology at Creighton. His background in medicine and theology came together in courses that stressed ethical issues in patient care.

Hoff also worked for a year in clinical pastoral education at Massachusetts General Hospital, participating in cardiology rounds and training residents in psychiatry.

Educated in the spiritual tradition of the Society of Jesus, Hoff’s academic background is centered in the sciences and theology. The Milwaukee native earned his bachelor’s degree in biology in 1958 and his master’s a year later in philosophy at Spring Hill College. Hoff was accepted to the Marquette University School of Medicine in 1963, but opted instead to enter the Society of Jesus. He was ordained in 1965. A year later he earned a master’s degree in theology from St. Louis University and his doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome in 1969.

Hoff is survived by two sisters, Janet (John) Hayes and Marion (James) Schmitz and many nieces, nephews and friends. He was preceded in death by a sister and brother-in-law, Dorothy and Howard Frank.