For the first time in 160 years, someone other than the Bishop of Antigonish can be appointed as chancellor of St. Francis Xavier University.

On Thursday, the province approved a change requested by the university's board of governors. The break in tradition will allow women and non-Catholics to serve for the first time as chancellor of the Antigonish, N.S., school.

The change was initiated several years ago by students after a former chancellor was convicted on child pornography charges.

The move was opposed by Father Doug MacDonald at the legislature.

“Indeed we hold our heads in shame as priests with what happened with the Raymond Lahey scandal, but a decision —  when we are dealing with 160 years — needs time and serious reflection,” he said.

MacDonald says most alumni were unaware of the move.

But the board says it’s been in the works for three years.

Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie MLA Lloyd Hines supported the description change.

“The legislation refreshes the governance of this venerable institution. This legislation opens the door to the possibility of a future chancellor of this university being female,” he said.

The board downplayed the idea the university is losing its Roman Catholic heritage.

The law allows the bishop to remain on the university's board with a new title as vicar  and includes a new clause to protect the university's catholic heritage.