Silver is Gold

Twenty-five years ago today Miss Mary Griffith stood with me at the altar at St. Joseph’s Church in Washington, DC to exchange vows in holy matrimony.  After Communion, she joined me in praying a prayer of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Through our public vows we became husband and wife that day.  We held tight to Our Lady’s hand and have never looked back.

But on a day like today we realize anew that neither of us could have imagined the abundant and tender mercies of God that were hidden in our promises that fine Saturday: among them, five spectacular children, three miscarriages at 13 weeks, seven different homes, nine different jobs (including two traumatic changes), and now, our home at Ave Maria University and the privilege we share to walk among the loveliness of our students, faculty, colleagues and friends.

Mary and I were reflecting on these many graces at noon Mass today (by the way, Irish tenor Mark Forrest – one of the greats of our time – sang, and will return to sing at 7:30pm tonight in the Oratory and trust me when I tell you that you will be making a big mistake if you don’t go and experience his gift as he sings and prays in the shadow of the Blessed Sacrament).  Our hearts overflow with gratitude.

I once contemplated becoming a priest and in 1989 spent a year with the Missionaries of Charity Fathers in Tijuana where their seminary was founded.  Mary actually entered the convent and lived the consecrated life with the Missionaries of Charity for one year before the superior in the Bronx discerned she wasn’t called to the religious life (O happy fault!).  The fact that neither of us was called to this exalted life left us disappointed, as if we had been consigned by God to a second-class vocation.  And then we found each other and discovered how utterly blind we had been!

The vocation to marriage is a high calling!  It is rich with opportunities to grow, sacrifice, and as Mother Teresa urged, “love and give until it hurt.”  The call to holiness the Lord placed before us is different from the lofty life of a priest or nun, but no less demanding and rewarding.

Thomas Merton, the celebrated 20th century Trappist contemplative, once wrote that “the spiritual life, first of all, is a life.”  He was challenging all of us to immerse ourselves in the world and all of its joys and imperfections, and not spiritualize ourselves or daily circumstances. Life is indeed beauty.  As the Little Flower said, paraphrasing Romans 4, “everything is grace.”  That is true for moments of effortless delight like today, and also true when things get difficult, both in marriage and in life.

Fortunately, the crosses the Lord places before us are weighed with wisdom by a loving Father who alone knows what each of us can handle.  What is important is our steadfast faithfulness and our conviction to never quit and give up on His mercy and grace.  If we get up when we fall beneath the burdens and disappointments life offers, if we carry on with conviction and embrace the words of Jesus, “Take heart, I have overcome the world!” we arrive at moments where there is a penetrating clarity that indeed we are in the will of God, for better or worse, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, until death do us part.

If you see my beloved Mary congratulate her on surviving 25 years with me!  She has earned her “get out of purgatory free” card!

She and I are so very grateful to all of you for your encouragement and acceptance of us.  We have felt so welcomed by you from the day we arrived on campus (next week will be the 6th anniversary of the announcement of my appointment as Ave Maria University’s president).  May we all discover in our individual vocations our good fortune to be together as members of one Body in Christ, in the glow of Our Lady’s love.

Alumni Spotlight: Jerome Cole (’16)

Jerome Cole graduated with honors from Ave Maria University in 2016 with a double major in Physics and Music, and a minor in Mathematics. He was accepted into the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he began earning his Master of Music degree in organ performance this past fall.

While at AMU, Jerome was involved with the student club Life Runners, an on-campus division of the National LIFE Runners organization, which aims to fight for and celebrate life through running, sacrifice, community, and prayer. As a former Eagle Scout, Jerome loves any outdoor activity.

Now as a graduate student in one of the nation’s top music schools, Jerome spends much of his time inside, studying and practicing. But his heart is still set on community, service, and prayer. “My particular interest lies in the field of sacred music,” he shares. “One of my goals is to bring people closer to Christ in the Holy Eucharist through a beautiful presentation of the musical elements of the Liturgy.”

At IU Jacobs School of Music, Jerome’s favorite class is an organ literature class with Dr. Christopher Young. “We are exploring the repertoire of the Renaissance and early Baroque,” he explains, “and learning much about early organ composers and performance practices. The class is harder than history classes I have previously taken, which has pushed me to improve and take my game to the next level, so to speak.” He hopes to begin entering organ competitions soon.

Reflecting on his time at AMU, Jerome recognizes the value of having received a foundation in the liberal arts through the Core Curriculum. “The importance of the Core Curriculum at Ave cannot be overlooked,” he states. “It is hard to pinpoint exactly how it helps one, but this is not the point; the point is that it forms the individual as a human being and does not treat one as a robot… I could accurately say I would not be the person I am today without having taken Latin, Philosophy, Theology and Literature—the best that has been said and done.” In a more practical way, he goes on, the amount of writing practice received through the many paper assignments, and the quality of writing expected, has given him some of the tools necessary for professional and academic success. “Writing is a skill necessary in any field of study, and one for which both employers and professors look,” Jerome adds.

Jerome has some advice for current students looking to follow a path similar to his: set clear goals, and work hard to achieve them. “You can do just about anything if you set your mind to it; you can come from a small music program at a liberal arts college and go to graduate school at one of the best music schools in the nation. Dream big and work hard.”

Conference Plenary Speaker Spotlight: Fr. Vincent Meconi

Fr. Vincent Meconi will be one of the plenary speakers at the Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal’s conference, Mother Teresa and the Mystics: Toward a Renewal of Spiritual Theology. 

In his lecture, “Touching Jesus Today: The Mystical Body & Mother Teresa,” Fr. Meconi will situate St. Teresa of Calcutta in the glorious line of Christians who prayed and worked so as to meet Christ in Christ’s people, especially the poor.  How she structured her prayer life, her hope for liturgy, and her entire desire to be with the marginalized was all in order to meet the thirsty Jesus.  How she did that, how she appropriated key theological elements of the Church Fathers and Medieval Doctors, and why this is a call for all of us will be the major themes of this paper.

Fr. Meconi will give the closing address at 5:00 pm on Saturday, February 11th, in the Bob Thomas Student Union Ballroom.

In celebration of the canonization of Teresa of Calcutta in September 2016, the Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal at Ave Maria University will take an in-depth look at the legacy of her life and writings in the context of the great mystics of the Catholic tradition as well as of spiritual theology, also known as ascetical and mystical theology.  The conference will bring together scholars from the across the sub-disciplines of theology and related fields to explore Mother Teresa’s life and writings in conversation with the broader tradition of Catholic mysticism and theology.

Ave Sends More Than 200 to March for Life

What a day on the Washington mall today! Ave Maria University was well-represented at this year’s March for Life with 200 students praying, marching, and putting their faith into action.  I’ve attached a photo to give you a glimpse of our wonderful students.  It was great to be with them – and I had a nice visit with the delegation of 50 from the Donahue Academy, too!

It also was nice to see the Vice President of the United States at the podium addressing the vast throng of attendees.  President Obama had banished the stage for speakers to a distance away from the line of sight of the South Lawn of the White House but today it was back to the same location where President Bush allowed the march to be staged – in the shadow of the Washington Monument.

The first report of The Washington Post ends with a quote from one of Ave Maria’s students.  I have copied the link below.  It is nice to see our University’s voice amplified in the national media – in the unlikeliest of places, too!

The Conference: In Short

Student Government leaders from Benedictine College, University of Mary, and University of Dallas joined us last weekend for a conference, and we couldn’t be happier.

Not only did we build friendships, but we also exchanged ideas that will lead toward the improvement of our institutions and, hopefully, Catholic higher education.

Our guests arrived Friday, January 20, and joined us for a quick tour, dinner, and meet and greet. The real action began on Saturday morning. Beginning with Mass by “Padre,” we learned about St. Agnes’ commitment to loving Christ. We then started with presentations from each school, which helped us get context and better understand our peer schools and their students. Later in the day, we were joined by Dr. Seana Sugrue, who challenged us to think about tough decisions, and how to work through them. After that, we discussion more in-depth the culture and events on our campuses, which moved smoothly into leadership and how our governments operate. Finally, we discussed where we envision The Network going in the future.

We were truly honored to host our guests. It seems that we all started wondering if this idea, one of a “network” for Catholic schools would really work in this age of competition. However, we are now confident that this idea is one worth pursuing. There is so much potential, and with the right mindset, it was obvious that our new friends are extremely talented and motivated.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be posting a series of articles giving more detail about what we learned. We hope you will join us in learning from our friends.

Eileen Plunkett wins SWFL Symphony Society Scholarship

AMU student Eileen Plunkett recently won the Southwest Florida Symphony Society Scholarship, a $1000 award that will go to her continued music studies at Ave Maria University. For the scholarship competition, Plunkett performed “Mein Herr Marquis” from Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II, “Con Que la Lavare,” by Joaquin Rodrigo, and “Art is Calling For Me,” from The Enchantress by Victor Herbert.

“I was nervous—as any performer would be before a big competition,” Plunkett says about the event. “Yet, I felt very prepared and confident. I love performing more than anything and I was excited to have an opportunity to compete with other accomplished musicians.”

Eileen Plunkett is double majoring in Business and Music with a concentration in Voice. On campus, she has been involved with the Drama Club’s annual “Night on Broadway,” and she has performed in many departmental concerts. Plunkett transferred to AMU in Fall 2016.

“My short time at AMU has blessed me with so many gifts,” she remarks. “The professors, students, and the AMU community are so very special. AMU is equipping students with the knowledge to be successful in their chosen fields while simultaneously emphasizing the importance of the Catholic faith in their everyday lives. …  I am so blessed that God has brought me here to be a musician [and] a student.”

The SWFL Symphony Society Scholarship enables high school and college students interested in music to win scholarships towards an organized music program.

Congratulations, Eileen!

Student Spotlight: Nicholas Cummons

Nick Cummons, well-known around campus for being the Jesus-loving skater dude from Ohio, has a bright future ahead of him. He is a senior, graduating in May with a degree in Economics and a minor in Business Administration. Nick recently accepted a job offer from Collier County Public Schools as a substitute teacher and will continue to spread his infectious joy to the kids of Immokalee through his service. He and his fiancée, Hailey McNeely, plan on staying close to Ave after graduation.

Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing?

I initially spoke to Hailey about this when she was a Theology major because she has such a charism for teaching and working with children. I told her that if she wanted to change the world and change the way people live their lives, she should be a teacher. I always kind of wanted to be one, but I never gave it much thought because I was an Econ major and I just assumed that was where my life was headed. Not too long after I spoke to Hailey, I read a Career Services blog about Collier County Public Schools, and it was at that time that I was talking to Zach and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Being a teacher worked its way to the top of my list of possible job opportunities and we agreed that I should try to pursue a career in teaching. I learned that CCPS had a desire to hire more Ave students because of their outstanding work ethic, so I got a trial run with them and essentially got a job as a substitute teacher to try to see if this is really want I want to do. I guess I chose trial by fire.

What does a typical day at CCPS look like for you?

Well, the day of a substitute is always interesting. Each day is a new class and a fresh start, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. I have actually taken a job for the next month with the same class every other day (and college classes on my other days). That will be my first time being able to build longer standing relationships with the students and the school staff. Up until now, I have been going to different elementary schools in Immokalee as well as the middle school almost every day. After signing in at the office and asking a billion questions about the brand new school that I’ve never been to (which has been the case almost every time so far) and receiving my lesson plans for the day that the teacher has left me for their class, I usually scramble for the next 30 minutes preparing to deliver the lesson that the teacher intended all while trying to learn the routines of the classroom and the school. After my scrambling time, I pick up the students in my homeroom from wherever in that school that they meet in the morning and then go about class as normal (usually with a million questions about who I am, since I’m still a new face), or at least as normally as it can go with a substitute. I facilitate the classroom activities as best as I can, from interactive computer programs on the whiteboard to simple math worksheets, social studies readings and discussions, and homework reviews. At some point, I drop the students off at lunch and during this time I get to eat lunch, catch my breath, and ask the other teachers for advice, tips, and help. It’s pretty straightforward, except for the part where it could be an entirely new set of faces in front of me every day with an entirely new lesson plan/classroom structure. It’s awesome and crazy.

Building Momentum

As we enter into 2017, we’ve got momentum! This semester, over two-hundred students, faculty, administrators, and Board of Trustees members gathered for the historic groundbreaking of the new multi-purpose academic building at AMU. The $11 million dollar building, which is scheduled for completion by the Fall of 2018, will house a new nursing lab, campus ministry offices, faculty offices, over 37,000 sq. ft. of classroom space, and two new auditoriums: a 400-seat performance hall and a 125-seat auditorium specially designed for the nationally-recognized Shakespeare in Performance program.

The new addition to the university is more than just a building, it’s a symbol of growth and progress at Ave Maria. As our founder Tom Monaghan said in his speech, “there’s a reason there hasn’t been a building built here in six or seven years.” The university has experienced growing pains since its beginning in 2003. From its initial relocation to Southwest Florida in 2007, to struggles in 2009 with financing the women’s Megadorm, to fighting against the Federal Government’s mandate to provide contraceptive services on health plans for employees and students at the risk of fines that would bankrupt the university, Ave Maria has seen its share of struggles. But as President Towey said, “Just
as the serpent was powerless to harm Our Lady’s blessed Jesus, this university, as it remains true to its founding in faith and remains humble, will not simply survive challenges, but thrive through them.”

And thrived it has. Undergrad student enrollment has grown 70% since 2011, while recently added majors such as Accounting, Education, and Nursing provide a unique opportunity for graduates of AMU to carry the light of Christ to a wider range of workplaces.

Championing Charity

In the spring of 2016, just before baseball season began, Andrew Nussbaum broke his wrist. Despite this blow to his athletic career, Andrew still had many ambitions for himself. Seeking President Towey’s advice, Andrew went to him wondering what the next step in his life would be. He wanted to know where he was going and how to get there. President Towey startled him by looking him straight in the eye and telling him, “My goal is to get you to heaven.” Before all business, career and athletic ambitions, President Towey showed Andrew that faith must be the priority. President Towey urged Andrew to go on a fifteen-day mission trip to Mexico City and work with the Missionary of Charity brothers. Andrew was reluctant to go at first, and described his first four days there as a “miserable and distraught” experience. He simply couldn’t understand why the brothers were so illuminated with joy when they had nothing. They were “tying shoes like it was the World Series and playing go fish like it was some sort of party.” Andrew couldn’t see why. It was all so bizarre.

Then the breakthrough came. Andrew came to see the brothers in a different light. He realized that in every single thing they did, the brothers were “willing the good of another” and constantly forgetting themselves. It was through this dying-to-self that the brothers were becoming more fully human. This realization was eye-opening for Andrew and caused him to apply this idea to every aspect of his life. Service became a gateway for his faith to reach new heights and spread beyond himself. By seeking to will the good for another, Andrew was given the opportunity to help more people than he could have ever imagined.

The Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal Announces Dr. Matthew Levering as the 2016 Recipient of the Veritas Medal

Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal

At the start of the Master Seminar weekend, there was a ceremony for the renowned Dr. Matthew Levering where he was presented with the Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal’s Veritas Medal by Drs. Roger Nutt and Michael Dauphinais. Dr. Nutt began introducing us to Dr. Levering by giving us a small sample from his very lengthy curriculum vitae. A prolific writer, Dr. Levering has made a name for himself by engaging with modern and contemporary authors and bringing their insights and questions into conversation with St. Thomas and Scripture.

Here is a small sample of some of his more than twenty published monographs:

  • Engaging the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: Love and Gift in the Trinity and the Church (Baker Academic, 2015).
  • Proofs of God: Classical Arguments from Tertullian to Barth (Baker Academic, 2016).
  • Was the Reformation a Mistake?  Why Catholic Doctrine is Not Unbiblical,  With a response by Kevin Vanhoozer (Zondervan, 2017).
  • Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation  (University of Notre Dame Press, 2008).
  • Ezra and Nehemiah: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007).
  • Sacrifice and Community: Jewish Offering and Christian Eucharist (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005).