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Xavier University Acquires Historical Special Collections of Alum Bishop Fernand J. Cheri, III, O.F.M.

NEW ORLEANS – Xavier University of Louisiana maintains and preserves a vast collection of archival material detailing the storied and tumultuous history of the university, as well as the history of the Greater New Orleans area and African American heritage in the Gulf South Region. As the university approaches its historical centennial celebrating its 100 years of service, the Xavier University of Louisiana Archives and Special Collections proudly announces that it has been selected to house the special collections of one of its distinguished and revered alums, Bishop Fernand Cheri, III, O.F.M.

The Bishop Cheri collection is a significant addition to the archival collection. Dr. Reynold Verret, president of Xavier University of Louisiana, Nancy Hampton, interim library director, and Vincent Barraza, archivist, expressed not only how the Bishop Cheri collection is a welcome addition to the university’s archives, but also sincere appreciation for the gift while acknowledging the benefits of having such a collection.

“This gift from the family of Bishop Cheri will enhance Xavier’s teaching, scholarship, and Special Collections for decades,” said Hampton, “Students attending Xavier’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies, Bishop Cheri’s alma mater, will especially benefit from studying his music, sermons, and photographs.”

The Bishop Cheri collection is an important addition to the archives and a resource for students of Church history. A native of New Orleans, Bishop Cheri was ordained into the priesthood in 1978 and ordained as an auxiliary bishop in 2015. The Bishop Cheri collection contains many personal and sacred effects of the late bishop. As the only historically Black and Catholic university in the country, Xavier University of Louisiana was chosen by the family of Bishop Cheri to serve as its permanent repository due to its dedication to the education of Black Catholics, as well as it being Bishop Cheri’s alma mater. Bishop Cheri received his master’s degree in theology in 1994 through Xavier University’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies (IBCS). For Bishop Cheri’s family, Xavier felt like the only appropriate choice to house the collection.

“The family would like to preserve his ministry as best we could, and we felt if housed here at Xavier, it would mean a lot to Ferd [Bishop Cheri] and to others,” said Richard Cheri, Bishop’s Cheri’s brother.

The Archives & Special Collections of Xavier University of Louisiana is dedicated to the preservation of the unique identity of the institution. Maintaining an extensive collection of Catholic artifacts, relics, oral histories, historic photographs, manuscripts, and other university records, the Xavier University Archives has documented the changing historical landscape of New Orleans and its place in that history.

“Given the university’s historic place as the only Black and majority Catholic university in the United States, and in support of Xavier University’s mission to contribute to the promotion of a more just and humane society, our collections encompass a wide range of formats, with a focus on Catholic history, African American history, Black Catholics, local New Orleans Communities, Louisiana Creoles, and the Gulf Coast Region,” said Barraza. “We believe these collections can play a vital role in the re-engagement of history and provide a rarely seen glimpse into the lives of local Creole families, Black students, Black educators, and Black leaders of religious communities.”

Music was so integral to Bishop Cheri’s ministry that much of the collection is comprised of the music that he had collected over the years. He referenced this massive discography of gospel music in his thesis for his Xavier Master of Theology degree. Now, even though most of his albums were lost in Hurricane Katrina, Xavier has approximately 7,000 CDs that the late bishoped owned.

Other items in the collection include Bishop Cheri’s personal vestments and items of significance to his ministry, such as his miter, crozier, and ring. Also incorporated in the assembly is his pectoral cross, one of only five created for each Black bishop, which was gifted to Bishop Cheri by Bishop Perry before he became a bishop. Bishop Cheri wore the cross when he met with Pope Francis in Rome. The collection also includes select photos of significant moments in Bishop Cheri’s journey as a priest and bishop, including his ordination and his meeting with Pope Francis. Bishop Cheri was an avid collector of Black and African artwork and artifacts, and several of these pieces are included in the collection, along with numerous awards and proclamations Bishop Cheri received from various organizations and institutions.

Xavier University’s dedication to Black Catholic education is robust. It is hoped that the collection will provide an opportunity for Xavierites and others to learn more about the life of the late Bishop Cheri and the history of Black Catholic education, the very foundation of Xavier University, which it has developed and fostered over the past century.

“This is an incredible archive for students, researchers, and the public,” said Barraza. “It provides valuable background and in-depth history of the life and career of Bishop Cheri. We are honored to be chosen to preserve the amazing artifacts of Bishop Cheri’s dedicated life of service. We look forward to nurturing the partnership with the Cheri Family and others who want to preserve Black Catholic history for our students, faculty, and visitors from around the world.”

The Bishop Fernand Cheri Collection can be viewed at the Xavier University of Louisiana Archives & Special Collections in the Library Resource Center, 3rd Floor, Room 319, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. To schedule a visit, contact Vincent Barraza at or by phone: 504-520-7655.


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