September 12, 2007
Webster University Honors Former President Jacqueline Grennan Wexler
Webster University held a special convocation today honoring its former president, Jacqueline Grennan Wexler, on the 40th anniversary of her transfer of the school’s control from the Sisters of Loretto to a lay board of trustees. About 500 people attended the event, which was held at Webster’s Community Music School Concert Hall.
“Today, we commemorate that decision and celebrate the woman, whose courage and leadership led to that historical change, with the University’s highest honor – the Doctor of Laws degree,” said current Webster University President Richard S. Meyers.
Wexler, a former Sister of Loretto who was known to students as “Sister J,” served as Webster’s president from 1965 to 1969. During her tenure, Wexler brought national attention to Webster for her pioneering spirit and for the daring and controversial changes she spearheaded at the school.
“Transferring ownership of Webster College to a lay board was a significant decision for the College and another milestone in an impressive line of ‘firsts,’” Meyers said. “Webster College was the first Catholic institution to recognize the unlimited potential for growth and the quality of education as a secular institution. This sole act of emancipation rocked the Catholic community here and across the country.”
In 1967, “Sister J” also announced her departure from the Sisters of Loretto. She was given a dispensation from her vows, becoming the first lay president in Webster’s history.
After leaving Webster, Wexler served as president of Hunter College of the City University of New York from 1970 to 1979, and was appointed president of the National Conference of Christians and Jews in 1982. She also was the first woman elected to the board of directors of United Technologies Corp.
At the time of Webster’s transformation to a private institution, it had a total of 726 full-time students – only 68 of whom were men – at its sole campus in suburban Webster Groves, Mo. The following year, male students were accepted in all departments, and in 1972, Webster opened its first fully operational extended campus in Kansas City, Mo.
Fast forward 40 years, and the seeds of change that Wexler planted have transformed Webster into a vastly different institution. The university has grown to become an international network that includes more than 100 co-ed campuses across the United States, Europe and Asia. The university enrolls about 20,000 students worldwide.