Dillard University’s Historic Methodist Roots Powered Venue Choice in Bishop Delores Williamston’s Historic Installation

Mark Lambert
February 28, 2023

It was late Sunday night, and Dr. Rochelle Ford, president of Dillard University in New Orleans, was wrapping up a long day made even longer by a campus-wide power outage that required the school to move dorm students into a local hotel.

But amid the chaos, Dr. Ford was still eager to talk about why it is appropriate for Dillard to host Saturday’s installation of Bishop Delores J. Williamston, the first African-American bishop in the history of the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. After all, Dillard is one of only two UMC-affiliated colleges in the state (the other is Centenary in Shreveport), and Dillard is the oldest Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Louisiana.

“It is fitting as an HBCU college that was founded by the United Methodist Church that Dillard be part of this moment that is creating a new legacy of excellence,” she said. “And being an African-American woman who is leading Dillard, it is personally gratifying, as well.”
Bishop Delroes Williamston meets with Dr. Rochelle Ford (L), president of Dillard University, during President Ford's recent installation.
Bishop Williamston, an Army National Guard veteran and native of Kansas, was elected as bishop last November and assumed her position in the Louisiana Conference in January. She chose Dillard as the venue for her installation ceremony because, in part, “it is an opportunity to strengthen and build relationships and collaborate other opportunities in the future in ministry and community together.”

Dillard, a university in New Orleans’ historic Gentilly neighborhood, traces its Methodist roots back to 1869, when it was Union Normal School and trained freedmen to become ministers. Four years later, Union Normal changed its named to New Orleans University, and in 1930, the school merged with Straight University to form Dillard University.

Throughout the years, the mergers, and the name changes, the school has remained a member of the United Methodist Church and its predecessor, the Methodist Episcopal Church.

“We were founded by the church,” Dr. Ford said. “We are financially supported by the church, and we have a legacy of leadership. You name the discipline, whether it’s amazing preachers – Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s father studied here – whether it’s Andrew Young, who attended here before he studied pre-dentistry, we have a legacy of great leaders.”
This is an important moment that should help to motivate our students that they, too, can be leaders who are living ethically
Dr. Rochelle Ford

Dillard “remains a faith-based institution” that is “predominately black and predominately female,” Dr. Ford explained. “This is an important moment that should help to motivate our students that they, too, can be leaders who are living ethically.”

Bishop Williamston has visited Dillard and said she was impressed with Dillard’s “commitment to the students, the diversity of faculty and academic scholarship, and strong partnerships and relations with the alums. I have met some of the alumni of Dillard, and they are leaders. They are leaders in United Methodist churches in Louisiana and beyond, and they have a deep commitment to the university's success and its witness in the community of New Orleans and beyond.”

Although the installation ceremony could be considered a formality, it still holds great meaning to Bishop Williamston.

“I will have my mother and father and family running through my mind,” she said. “I wish my mother and dad could physically be here with me, but I know they are with me in my heart. I know they always said I could do anything. I can hear them say, ‘We are here.’”


Bishop Williamston's installation service is scheduled for Saturday, March 4th at 11am inside Lawless Chapel. All are invited. If you cannot make the event and wish to watch it online, please monitor our Facebook page and our YouTube channel
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