'It is a new day at Ave Maria and I am excited about its future. The start up phase is over, a strong foundation is now in place, and now we must go about the difficult work of building the best Catholic liberal arts university in America." President Elect Jim Towey upon appointment.
AVE MARIA, FL (Catholic Online) - Many years ago I toured the grounds of what would later become the campus of Ave Maria University with its President, Nick Healy. The College was already in operation, utilizing the buildings which now house the Law School in Naples, Florida until the campus was built. The tour was of vacant, undeveloped land in what was then a part of the town of Immokalee, in Collier County, Florida.
During the tour and over lunch afterward I heard the hopes, the vision and the dynamic mission of a new Catholic University dedicated to Our Lady. Building the Campus and the town were not a matter of "if" but only "when" to President Healy. That is how men and women of faith speak! It made my heart leap. I have long believed that the most important work in the Third Christian Millennium is the training of future leaders for a new missionary age of the Catholic Church.
I have known Nick Healy for years. We worked together for a time at what became the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He was Vice President for University Relations and I was first the Dean of Students and then the Dean of Evangelization. We are both lawyers and that gave us a common bond and a similar approach. We were honored to help Fr. Michael Scanlan, another man of deep vision and dynamic faith, turn that little Catholic College into what it has now become, a jewel in the crown of the renewal of Catholic higher education.
Over those building years each of us, like the little boy in the Gospel account, gave our loaves and fish, placing them in the hands of the Lord. We knew were a part of a miracle, even when things were hard. Jesus Christ, the One to whom Father Michael rededicated that College, multiplied all of those resources many of us offered back then. He multiplied them and performed a miracle which is still underway at that wonderful Catholic University. Nick is a man who believes what the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote, that " faith IS the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen". (Heb. 11:1)
Years later I was not surprised to see Nick respond to the Lords' next invitation through Catholic philanthropist, business entrepreneur and visionary Tom Monaghan to help him to build the first new Catholic College in the United States, named Ave Maria. Tom wanted to place the University within the context of a faith based community. He wanted to build the campus and the town of Ave Maria, figuratively and physically, around a magnificent new Church. There is nothing small about any of Tom Monaghan's undertakings! That was true when he was in business and it is true now as he dedicates the remainder of his years to serving the Lord and His Church. He is an example of how, to paraphrase the Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas, "grace perfects nature".
Given my own temperament, I am drawn to big visions. In our early years of marriage I used to tell my wife that I wanted to help build a "New Notre Dame". So, on that day I heard the vision of Ave Maria University from Nick Healy my spirit soared. Over the years I have followed the progress of Ave Maria University - through its advances, its struggles and its perseverance in faith - and I have prayed for and promoted its continuing response to the Lord's invitation to build a University dedicated to our Lady in this new missionary age.
Early this morning I heard the good news of the next chapter in the historic rise of Ave Maria University. Jim Towey has been appointed the new President. Nick Healy has accepted another invitation, to be the "President Emeritus" and support the ongoing construction of, in the words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta "something beautiful for God". First, knowing Nick Healy, I know his work is far from over. There is no such thing as "retirement age" in service to the Lord. I will keep praying and keep watching as he continues to join his "Fiat", his "Yes", in imitation of Our Lady, to her beloved Son and our Savior Jesus Christ.
I heard about the appointment from a dear friend of many years, Fr. C.J. McCloskey. Though I do not know President Elect Towey personally, I have admired his faith, his service and his accomplishments for years. I also know of Fr. John's deep admiration for this man and that speaks volumes to me. I use the words "something beautiful for God" quite intentionally concerning the ongoing work of building Ave Maria University. I know of Jim Towey's friendship with Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He met her in 1985 and served as her legal counsel for twelve years. He offered himself, both in Mexico and Washington, DC, to her work of loving and serving the poor. This is clearly a man who "walks the walk" when it comes to his Catholic faith.
As a Catholic lawyer with a commitment to authentic Catholic Social Doctrine, I followed Jim Toweys early work as Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and as Assistant to President George W. Bush from 2002 to May 2006. In addition, I monitor the vital work in the new and renewed authentically Catholic Colleges and Universities because I am convinced it is the most important work underway in this new missionary age. I admired Mr. Towey's solid leadership as the President of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania where he served from 2006 until he stepped down in 2010. I knew then he would be given another assignment by the Lord.
Finally, I am currently writing the PhD dissertation for the Catholic University of America in Moral Theology. When now Bishop David O'Connell stepped aside as President of the Catholic University of America, I watched with personal concern as the process to choose his successor unfolded. I admired President O'Connell's leadership and knew how important it was that the progress he achieved continue.
When I complete and defend this PhD dissertation, Catholic U will be one of my alma maters. I thoroughly enjoyed my studies there and believe it is also one of the jewels in the crown of Catholic higher education in America. Up until the last minute I thought Jim Towey might become "my president." When the CUA Board chose another highly qualified candidate I decided to keep my eyes on Jim Towey. I had a sense there was more for this gifted man to do. Today, that spiritual sense was confirmed.
President Elect Towey released this statement, "It is a new day at Ave Maria and I am excited about its future. The start up phase is over, a strong foundation is now in place, and now we must go about the difficult work of building the best Catholic liberal arts university in America. We will attract more of the best students available, continue to recruit and retain the very finest professors, and secure the financial resources necessary to fulfill the University's potential. Tom Monaghan has devoted all of his wealth and energy to get us to this point and now it is time for the rest of us to ask what we can do to help Ave Maria transition to self-sufficiency and new excellence."
Congratulations to President-Elect Towey. Our prayers and support are with you as you undertake this new and vital assignment leading Our Lady's University in this new missionary age of the Catholic Church. Thank you Tom Monaghan for courageously persevering in this work, through so many obstacles, and showing us the kind of "holy obstinacy" forged by living faith. And thank you Nick Healy, well done old friend... but don't get too comfortable, I have a sense you have much more to do!
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