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LEWISTON – The Rev. Joseph L. Levesque took over as president of Niagara University in 2000 and turned the school into a 21st century campus.

New buildings, renovated facilities, updated technology.

Now, Niagara is heading into a new era, after Tuesday’s announcement that Levesque will step down as president at the end of the academic year.

It was time, he said.

“I’m going to be 75 my next birthday, and I said, ‘I think it’s time to move on,’ ” he told The Buffalo News. “I’ve accomplished the things I really wanted to accomplish.”

Levesque – Niagara’s 25th president – made the announcement to students, staff and faculty Tuesday afternoon at the Castellani Art Museum on campus.

However, Levesque – whose ties to Niagara go back to 1970, when he began as a lecturer – said he will remain at the university after being given the title president emeritus by the board of trustees. He will continue to be involved specifically in the areas of fundraising and civic engagement.

“I am not retiring,” he told the crowd. “I will be leaving my position as president after 13 years, but very happily for me, I will remain at NU for a long time to come.”

Meanwhile, the university’s board wants its next leader also to be from the Vincentian community, a religious order that founded Niagara in 1856.

The board has been working closely with the Rev. Michael Carroll, provincial of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission, to identify candidates at two of the three other Vincentian schools in the United States – St. John’s and DePaul universities.

“It is the goal of the board to identify a successful candidate over the next couple of months and to name the next president as early as the middle of March,” said Jeffrey Holzschuh, chairman of Niagara’s board of trustees.

“The new president will then begin working on campus this summer.”

Holzschuh thanked Levesque for his “great service and leadership.”

After serving as provincial for nine years, Levesque in January of 2000 was appointed president of Niagara, where he started as a lecturer three decades earlier.

During Levesque’s tenure, nearly $100 million has been invested in new campus construction and renovation.

That includes new student housing, a renovated student union and revamped food service on campus.

New buildings went up for Niagara’s education and business schools, while the university updated facilities for its theater program.

In addition, Niagara recently completed an $80 million capital campaign – it’s largest fundraising initiative in history. And coming this fall, Niagara opens its new science center, the B. Thomas Golisano Center for Integrated Sciences.

But on Tuesday, Levesque didn’t want to focus on campus redevelopment. Instead, he talked about Niagara’s good reputation, its students and faculty, and the work the university is doing in the community.

“Those are the things I’m …proudest of,” Levesque said.

As for his new role, Levesque said that you’ll still find him on campus – and that his door is always open.

“I’m not the second president, I’m simply someone that’s going to remain, and with the experience I have, help out the university as much as I can,” he said.

“I know so many alums and so many donors, I would like to continue to work with them. That could be a help,” Levesque said. “The other piece is this engagement of the community.

“I love that piece.”

email: jrey@buffnews.com