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Ave Maria University and Fr. Fessio: Honoring them Both

By Deacon Keith Fournier
July 24th, 2009
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We encourage our readers to pray for Father Fessio and for Ave Maria University as well as to continue to support both.

AVE MARIA, Fl (Catholic Online) – We have watched in admiration as the work of building a new Catholic University has unfolded in Southwest Florida. Ave Maria University has a mission statement which is crystal clear in its Catholic identity and inspired in its vision. It has, in a short time, already sent forth young men and women who are having an influence in a barren western culture desperately in need of the “New Evangelization” proclaimed by the late Servant of God John Paul II and being continued by Pope Benedict XVI. Here is the statement:

“Founded in fidelity to Christ and His Church in response to the call of Vatican II for greater lay witness in contemporary society, Ave Maria University exists to further teaching, research, and learning at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the abiding tradition of Catholic thought in both national and international settings. The University takes as its mission the sponsorship of a liberal arts education curriculum dedicated, as articulated in the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, to the advancement of human culture, the promotion of dialogue between faith and reason, the formation of men and women in the intellectual and moral virtues of the Catholic faith, and to the development of professional and pre-professional programs in response to local and societal needs. As an institution committed to Catholic principles, the University recognizes the importance of creating and maintaining an environment in which faith informs the life of the community and takes expression in all its programs.”

The blogosphere has been filled with speculation over the news that Father Joseph Fessio, a hero to millions for his fidelity to the Magisterium and contributions to the ongoing work of the Church, was dismissed from his position with Ave Maria University this week. Unfortunately, along with its extraordinary potential for good, the blogosphere is also a ripe terrain for calumny, speculation and gossip. We will not participate in any of it.

We honor and admire both Ave Maria’s leadership and Fr. Fessio. Both have been circumspect, choosing to say very little. We pass on statements made available by each. First, the statement issued by Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., Founder and Editor of Ignatius Press:

“This morning, (Monday, July 20th) Dr. Jack Sites, Academic Vice President of Ave Maria University, flew from Houston, where he was attending a meeting of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, to San Francisco, to inform me personally that I was being dismissed from Ave Maria University. Our meeting was amicable and Dr. Sites, as always, acted as a Christian gentleman.

“He said that the reason for my dismissal stemmed from a conversation I had in November of 2008 with Jack Donahue, then chairman of the board of AMU. At that time I felt it an obligation to speak to the board chairman before the upcoming board meeting, to make sure he was aware of the urgency of the university’s financial situation. After I had informed him, using projections based on publicly available documents and statements, he asked me what I thought was the solution. I told him that there were policies being followed that were at the root of the problem, that the present administration was irrevocably wedded to those policies, and that without a change of administration the university was at great risk.

“Dr. Sites said that Jack Donahue related this conversation to Tom Monaghan, and it was decided (I don’t know specifically by whom) that the university could not have a faculty member making these criticisms of the administration and thus undermining the university.

“Dr. Sites told me that there were unspecified others who had similar substantive concerns that I was undermining the university.

“I continue to support the university. I pray for its success. I have great admiration for the faculty, students, and many of the staff. I do disagree with some of the policies of the administration. This seems to be the reason I was fired the first time, in March 2007, since the official explanation was “irreconcilable administrative differences”.

“Nevertheless, I think it is an accurate summary to say that I am being dismissed as a faculty member because of a private conversation with the chairman of the board in which I made known my criticisms of the university administration; and because of allegations which have not been made known to me and to which I have not been given an opportunity to respond.

“I will continue to recommend AMU to students and parents. And I will continue to think my dismissal is another mistake in a long series of unwise decisions.”

Finally, we offer a statement which we obtained from a source at Ave Maria which is all they intend to say concerning the matter:

“As previously stated, Ave Maria University (AMU) is grateful to Fr. Fessio, S.J. for his past contributions to the university. We also recognize the strong personal convictions he holds and the respect he has earned in the Church.

“Nevertheless, and despite the likely controversy it would occasion, the university administration concluded that Father Fessio should no longer hold a position with the university. This was discussed with the university’s Board of Trustees, which supported the decision. It is the university’s policy to refrain from going into details regarding personnel matters.

“That the issues were not related to the university’s commitment to its mission should be obvious from Father Fessio’s own statement that he “will continue to recommend AMU to students and parents”. Furthermore, the already distinguished Board of Trustees was recently strengthened by the addition of the local ordinary, Bishop Frank Dewane, and Cardinal Adam Maida to the three existing clerics on the university’s Board of Trustees: Msgr. Laurence Higgins, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. and Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.

Ave Maria University"

We encourage our readers to pray for Father Fessio and for Ave Maria University as well as to continue to support both, respecting the manner in which they have chosen to approach this matter in their public posture. Contrary to an idea so prevalent in contemporary culture, we do not have a “right” to know everything. When good Catholic Christians who have had a parting of the ways choose not to air the matter in public but to simply speak well of one another and move on, we should respect that request.

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