As we get ready to welcome our students back in the new year and for a new semester, we thought you’d enjoy taking a stroll through everything that 2017 brought us. 2018 has a lot to live up to!

2017 was filled with milestones and growth at Ave Maria University. Nine professors joined the faculty, four new majors were announced. In March, the University’s annual Annunciation Feast coincided with the 80th birthday of AMU’s founder, Tom Monaghan. 2017 also marked the University’s 10th year on its permanent campus. The graduating class of 2017 made AMU history by being the largest graduating class to date, counting among its number the first graduates of the nursing program. 2017 saw the conclusion of AMU’s “Year for Mother,” and, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the beginning of a new phase in the AMU story: #AveStrong.

This remarkable year didn’t dwindle down and die. It went out with a bang. In October, WalletHub ranked Ave Maria University 3rd among Florida universities in its 2018’s Best College & University Rankings. November saw the blessing of the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel by Bishop Frank J. Dewane. And December saw the announcement of our participation in SARA, a partnership that will enable AMU to expand its high school distance-learning program, JumpStart, nationwide.

Here’s a look at some of the events that marked 2017 as a year to go down in AMU history.


AMU’s largest club on campus, Students For Life, was named 2017 National College Group of the Year Runner-Up at the annual Students for Life National East Coast Conference.


In honor of the canonization of AMU’s patron, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the University declared the Academic Year of 2016-2017 as a “Year for Mother.” This year-long celebration of the life and works of St. Teresa culminated in February with a duo of conferences inspired St. Teresa’s spirituality and service. The Theology Department hosted “Mother Teresa and the Mystics,” a conference honoring the legacy of Mother’s life and writings in the context of the great mystics of the Catholic tradition. Two weekends later, the Mother Teresa Project hosted “Welcoming the Child: Mother Teresa’s Care for the Most Vulnerable,” a conference focused on adoption and foster care.


For the annual celebration of its patronal feast, the Annunciation (March 25th), AMU held an all-out town and gown event, complete with fireworks. The day’s festivities also marked Founder Tom Monaghan’s 80th birthday and the celebration of AMU’s 10th year on its permanent campus.


On April 26, 2017, site preparation work began for the new Academic Building. Named in honor of Mother Teresa, the new building will promote both Nursing and the Arts. Take a look at how these things are interconnected in the Ground-Breaking Story.


Saturday, May 6th, marked the closure of yet another momentous academic year at AMU. Catch a review of the 2016-2017 academic year here, and read all about how Commencement Speaker Dan D’Aniello concluded his address by urging the Class of 2017 to use their talents in pursuing their dreams, but to do so with humility and faith.


In the last week of June, AMU announced plans for a new artificial turf multi-purpose field. The field is now up and running, home to the Gyrenes football, soccer and lacrosse teams.


Construction of the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel began over the summer, and the doors were opened for Bishop Frank J. Dewane of the Diocese of Venice to come celebrate Mass and bless the chapel in early November. The Chapel, inspired by the simplicity found in the chapels of the Missionaries of Charity around the world, will begin offering students daily sacraments Spring 2018. Watch a video from the Opening Mass.


As the summer came to a close and students prepared to return to campus, Ave Maria University was proud to be one of the twenty-nine institutions recommended in the 2017-2018 10th Anniversary edition of The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.


Hurricane Irma hit Florida with a vengeance with the town of Ave Maria directly in the storm’s path. In the aftermath of Irma, AMU compiled insights into how the University community came together during this natural disaster in the book Ave Strong: Stories of Hurricane Irma (available for purchase online from the campus bookstore).


Ave Maria University was ranked 3rd among Florida universities by the personal-finance website WalletHub, which released its 2018’s Best College & University Rankings on October 23rd. Ave Maria was also identified as the best Catholic university in the southern United States, and among the top five nationally!


November saw the announcement of yet another major that will be added to Ave Maria’s offerings: Marine Biology. “We’re in a very unique location,” says Dr. Nicholas Curtis, Assistant Professor of Biology and chair of the department. “We have access to unique marine and ecological environments which can really only be experienced in Southwest Florida,” Dr. Curtis explains. “We decided to take advantage of our location.” Earlier in 2017, AMU rolled out programs in Communications, Marketing and Chemistry as well.


August 2017 saw the launch of AMU’s JumpStart program, offering high school students the chance to get a head start on their college education. In December, Ave Maria University announced its participation in FL-SARA, which means that high school students nationwide now have access to AMU’s highly affordable, fully accredited college-level courses, taught by Ave Maria University professors and offered entirely online.

On the heels of this news, and with construction of the new academic building well underway, 2018 is already shaping up to be another year of accomplishments!  

Resident Assistant Spotlight

Senior Matt Peterson gives a glimpse into what it’s like to be a Residence Assistant.

Q: First, the details. Where are you from, and what are you studying?

A: I am from Bedford, New Hampshire and I am studying accounting with a minor in Latin.

Q: So, why did you want to be an RA?

A: I wanted to be an RA because I saw the impact my RAs had on me, and I wanted to have the same sort of impact on other students.  Having transferred into Ave halfway through my sophomore year, I understand that the transition to college can be challenging and awkward at times, but the RAs were always there to aid with that transition. I’s satisfying knowing that now I can be that for other students.

Q: What have you learned from being an RA?

A: I’ve learned that every single person truly is unique and comes from a different walk of life. This definitely helps me handle situations with a less judgmental mindset, knowing that when a student is acting out or being unsociable, it has much deeper roots than what I see.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an RA?
A: Aside from the lack of sleep, the most challenging part of being an RA is stepping outside of my comfort zone, whether it be to connect with a student who wants nothing to do with me, or handling an incident.

Q: What makes Residence Life at Ave so awesome?

A: The people. Not just the residents, but also the other RAs, who are carefully and prayerfully grouped with one another to make the most perfect fit possible for each of the dorms.

At Ave Maria University, each residence hall is served by a Residence Director, a live-in full-time staff member who plays a critical role in the lives of the students in their residence halls. Residence Directors are assisted by a team of Resident Assistants (RAs), students who are hired for their leadership skills and heart of service.

Ave Maria University Now Offers Nationwide Distance-Learning Through SARA

Ave Maria University is excited to announce that it is now a participating institution in State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA), which sets national standards for postsecondary distance-learning programs. SARA works to lower the costs and increase the opportunities associated with students taking college-level online courses from institutions operating in other states.

Approved participation in SARA is good news for Ave Maria University, which launched its first distance-learning program, JumpStart, in August 2017. JumpStart offers high school juniors and seniors the chance to enroll in highly affordable, fully accredited college-level courses, taught by Ave Maria University professors and offered entirely online. When enrollment for JumpStart first opened, its offerings were limited to Florida residents alone, but the expansion of course offerings and extension of the program to students in other states was always part of the long-term plan. With its approved participation in SARA, Ave Maria University is now in a position to move forward and open up the benefits of JumpStart to high school students nationwide. “Ave Maria University’s new Jumpstart program provides a wonderful opportunity for high school and homeschool students to earn college-level course credit from one of the finest classical liberal arts curricula available,” says Director of Admissions Karen Full. “We are thrilled to offer these affordable, online courses to students from all over the country.”

SARA is a voluntary agreement among participating states to a set of national standards for distance-learning programs with the goal of making it easier for students to take courses from institutions that are based in another state. SARA, which is overseen by a National Council, began inviting states to become members in January 2014. States become members through a process overseen by their regional compact. The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), of which Florida is a member, approved Florida to join SARA as the 48th state member in August 2017. Once Florida was established as a member of SARA, the Florida-State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (FL-SARA) opened up the application process in October 2017 for institutions such as Ave Maria University to seek approval to become participants in FL-SARA.

Starting next year, Ave Maria University will be able to offer more distance-learning courses, all available to students nationwide. High school students across the country will soon be able to reap the benefits of AMU’s online program, JumpStart, which is one step closer to the ultimate goal of offering more students access to quality Catholic postsecondary education at an affordable price. Registration for JumpStart is now open online for classes beginning January 8th, 2018.

“Joining SARA is a big step for Ave Maria,” says JumpStart Academic Coordinator Dr. Gabriel Martinez. “Not only does this allow us to serve almost the entire country, but also SARA institutions commit themselves to the highest standards in online education.  By joining SARA, we are committing ourselves to developing high-quality, academically rigorous online programs in a manner that fulfills our mission and serves society.”

A Night on Broadway in Ave Maria, Florida

What’s the next best thing to experiencing a night on Broadway? Experiencing it without traveling to NYC! Broadway’s bright lights and magic came to life on AMU’s campus during the 2017 run of the Drama Club’s annual Night on Broadway performance.

The group of students who performed in this year’s Night on Broadway showcased songs from a variety of musicals, including Mary Poppins and The Drowsy Chaperone, Evita, and Wicked.  Some in the audience were transported back to their childhood by Broadway classics like The Sound of Music and Footloose. Others had the opportunity to hear music from more recent productions, such as Anastasia, or the 2017 Tony Award-Winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen. Throughout it all, the joy and camaraderie of the group of student performers was clearly visible, and the fun they had while sharing their talents overflowed into the audience.

A Night on Broadway was initiated by Ave Maria University students looking to make use of their talents in a joyful experience of the arts on campus. Rachel Wisely, student director of this year’s show comments after the fact, “I was told several times that this was ‘the best Cabaret yet.’” Rachel was joined by students Rebecca Felix (assistant director), Erin Koehler (choreographer), and Zachary Rappley (orchestra director), in addition to the team of singers and dancers who put in hours of rehearsal to pull off the Drama Club’s 2017 Night on Broadway. “I am very proud of the cast and of my work as a director,“ Rachel shares. “It’s amazing how collaborative, artistic work pulls together!”

The AMU Drama Club, which has over 35 active members, is one of the largest clubs on campus. The club organizes and puts on at least one student-run production each semester. If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, contact the club’s staff advisor, Rachel Flowers.


Christmas Spirit on the Dance Floor

It’s the month of December, finals are fast approaching, but the holidays are also coming and students are itching to celebrate. What’s the solution? Snowball – a semi-formal dance with a winter wonderland theme. The annual event, organized by the Student Activities Board (SAB), is an opportunity for guys and gals alike to pull out their finest for an evening of music and dance.

As students streamed into the Bob Thomas Student Union on Friday night, they were awed by the twinkling lights that transformed the ballroom, hinting at the magical night to come. Outside, a bonfire crackled, inviting students to stay a while to enjoy food and warm drinks with friends. Indoors, a long line formed for the photo booth decked with tinsel and lights. The event organizers knew this would be an evening to remember.

To add to the holiday spirit, SAB brought in  DJ Jay Martin, who works for Life Teen International. Throughout the night, music and laughter filled the ballroom as students danced away. Judging from the smiles and good cheer in every direction on the dance floor, the 2017 Snowball provided a much-needed break as the young men and women of Ave Maria University prepare to buckle down for the last week of class and final exams, and then – home for the holidays!

Sports Spotlight: Women’s Cross Country

Senior Emma Patriquin talks about her love of running, how she has grown over four seasons with AMU’s women’s cross country, and what it was like to run her last college race on campus.

Q: Do you actually enjoy running? So many people hate it!

A: I do enjoy running a lot! When I’m not in season, I increase my mileage. I love running longer distances because then I have more time to procrastinate on school work…

Q: What’s the best part about being on the cross country team?

A: The cross country team is so unique that it’s hard to say what is best about it. Cross country is an individual sport, but the teamwork that gets put into it is outstanding. Everyone on the team is very encouraging and supportive of one another. The laughter, pranks, and friendships that come out of our team are some of the things that the best and irreplaceable.

Q: AMU hosted The Sun Conference Cross Country Championships this year for the first time since 2011. How did it feel to run  your last college race on campus?

A: Running my last cross country race at Ave was truly a blessing. I’ve been running cross country for the last ten years, and I knew ending this season was going to be emotional for me–and it was. It was very special because my mom came down to watch my last race. She was the one who helped shape my running career. Once I crossed the finish line, I was immediately surrounded by all my friends, my mom, and my fiancé.  So many people came out to watch us run. We were so grateful for all the love and support that was given to us.  

Q: How have you grown over four seasons as a Lady Gyrene?

A: I will always remember the first day of preseason my freshman year…it still haunts me! It was very hot and humid. I hardly ran that summer and I was not in the best shape. We were told to run to the front entrance and back. Halfway there, I gave up and started walking. I was so disappointed in myself, and for the first time I felt like a failure. I called my mom after practice and told her to make sure I ran every day next summer. Next summer came, and the summer after that, andI was still only doing half the workouts. I wasn’t making cross country a priority. I worked hard during season, but I knew I wanted to get better. This past summer, I ran every day. I did every workout and even changed my diet. I was determined to have the best season ever! These past four years have taught me not to give up on myself, but to push myself to do better each time. The love and support I got from my coach and teammates helped me achieve this.

Q: Do you have any advice for prospective runners?
A: If you want to start running, do it! If you don’t think you’ll like it, still do it! Don’t give yourself any expectations, because if you’re just starting out, it most likely won’t go as you planned. Start out with a shorter distance and keep in mind what your body is telling you. Running is always more enjoyable with a buddy, so feel free to drag someone along with you!

AMU Adds Major in Marine Biology

Students looking to major in Marine Biology now have that opportunity at Ave Maria University.

“We’re in a very unique location,” says Dr. Nicholas Curtis, Assistant Professor of Biology and chair of the department. Ave Maria University is located less than 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Directly South of campus lie the Ten Thousand Islands, and just beyond that, the Florida Keys. We are adjacent to Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and more. “We have access to unique marine and ecological environments which can really only be experienced in Southwest Florida,” Dr. Curtis explains. “We decided to take advantage of our location.”

Starting spring 2018, the Department of Biology will offer courses for the Marine Biology (B.S.) major and minor. These new courses, such as General and Chemical Oceanography (BIO 310), and Animal Physiology (BIO 403), will explore the environment and how it interacts with fisheries and oceans. “Students who study Marine Biology at Ave Maria University,” Dr. Curtis says, “will receive a strong core in science and, within that, a focus on the marine environment.”

Who might study Marine Biology? For starters, anyone interested in teaching, research, or industry consulting in the fields of marine biology or marine ecology will benefit from this new major. Likewise, students who seek government employment in the National Park Service or Fish and Wildlife Service will find that the comprehensive Marine Biology major is designed to meet their needs.

In the words of Robert Wyland, renowned marine life artist, “The world’s finest wilderness lies beneath the waves.” What are you waiting for? Check out the Major in Marine Biology today!


How to Make a Fortune and Not Lose Your Soul

“We’re all called to be leaders,” Mike Timmis, Sr, said to a room full of students during his talk at AMU on November 13th. “I’m trying to be the type of leader that my family would be proud of, but most importantly, who Jesus would be proud of.”

Mr. Timmis led a successful career as an attorney and businessman. He served on the board of Prison Fellowship International for over twenty years, traveled the world with his wife, Nancy, ministering to the poor and disadvantaged, and is a notable leader in the Catholic and evangelical communities. While he was on campus, Mr. Timmis spoke to students about his own experience of balancing a successful career while staying true to his beliefs.

One of the things Mr. Timmis emphasized was the importance of leadership. He listed some of the qualities of a leader that were integral to his success as a businessman, such as accountability, approachability, generosity, confidence, and passion. He then pointed out that these traits were all demonstrated by Jesus in the Gospels. Mr. Timmis’ meaning was clear: being a successful leader is compatible with a life of virtue.  

Perhaps the quality most relevant to college students that Mr. Timmis discussed is that of problem-solving in the face of difficulty. There is always a temptation for students to procrastinate when faced with a difficult task, say, writing a paper, or studying for a test. “You have to conquer it,” Mr. Timmis encouraged the students gathered. “Problems are like fruit–they ripen.” He went on to explain how developing the fortitude to conquer a difficult task yields a twofold fruit. First, it is a way to increase trust in God, remembering He stands by their sides in the face of adversity. Second, mastering the discipline of tackling a problem head-on and learning how to solve it will push them forward in their studies, and later, in their careers, leading to greater success in life and, ultimately, greater happiness.   

Mr. Timmis closed his remarks by commenting on how well the education at Ave Maria University–an education that includes lessons in humility, work ethic, and spirituality– is preparing its students to be successful in their careers and as leaders.  “You’ll be a leader if you embrace what Ave really stands for!” he said.“ If you have passion, people will follow you anywhere. Trust yourself and trust that God is with you.”

For his own part, Mr. Timmis ascribes all his success to Christ. He doesn’t pray for wealth or success, but rather for the ability to follow God’s Will.  



Goin’ to the Chapel

Final preparations are underway before the official opening of Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel! Bishop Frank J. Dewane of the Diocese of Venice came to campus to celebrate Mass and bless the chapel in early November, and the doors are set to open next semester.  

The Ave Maria University community has a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin, particularly in her manifestation as Our Lady of Guadalupe. In fact, just over a year ago Bishop Dewane was on campus to preside over the dedication of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Prayer Garden. When the time came to name the new chapel opening up in Xavier Hall, the Director of Mission Outreach, Scott King, who played an integral role in the design and oversight of the chapel, says the example of Our Lady stood out. “We prayed to determine how to name the chapel,” Mr. King explains, “and we all kept coming back to Our Lady of Guadalupe-and President Towey loved that idea.  

The new chapel’s beautiful simplicity is modeled after the chapels in Missionary of Charity houses all over the world.  The only adornments on these chapels’ bare walls are a crucifix and the words “I Thirst.”  Inspired by the practices of the Missionaries of Charity, and out of devotion to St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, AMU’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel aims to create an environment free from distraction, fostering among the students true contemplation and prayer.

Construction on the new chapel began over the summer. Once the doors are open, Mass will be offered daily in the evenings on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and in the mornings on Thursday and Friday. “We want to give the students an opportunity to attend Mass on campus every day,” Scott explains, “and the homilies are going to be geared completely to our students by our priests.”  Opportunities for confession will precede daily Mass, and Praise and Worship will be held on Wednesdays as well.  

With seating room for almost 130 people, the new chapel will afford many opportunities for retreats, holy hours, and various spiritual activities.Students and staff alike are looking forward to a new place of worship that incorporates the University’s devotions to Our Lady and Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  

History Made with the Crowning of the First Ever “Mr. Gyrene”

On November 11, 2017, eight of AMU’s finest male students showcased their talents, personalities, quirks, and humors in a contest designed to discover the first ever Mr. Gyrene of Ave Maria University. It was a battle of wits, manliness, and ingenuity, as well as a battle for crowd appeal. Making Ave history, this event was driven by the student-led Student Activities Board who decided to take an idea and make it happen, hence the Mr. Gyrene Pageant became a reality! As the eight men competed for the title, they participated in several rounds of competition. These included an introductory video of each contestant, a personality interview with the two student hosts, a showcase of each individual contestant’s talent, a competition of wit, and a sandwich making competition.

The three female student judges, Sarah Seghers, Rachel Wisely, and Valeria Tkacik were armed with both compliments and criticism. They observed the talent and abilities of the eight men in order to judge which of them was most deserving of the title. One contestant gave someone a haircut in under five minutes and another ate an apple while juggling. Others showcased their talents by lip syncing, playing the piano and even leading the childhood game of Duck Duck Goose. The crowd was thoroughly entertained!

By the end of the second to last round, the judges had narrowed the competition to two remaining contestants – senior, Philip Rhein, and junior, Steve Wagner. The student crowd shouted their approval! It was time for the audience to decide who would be crowned. Both finalists were asked to artfully create a classic Ave Maria sunset. Both produced a unique canvas and the crowd voted.

Mr. Gyrene was named, crowned, and praised: Mr. Steve Wagner.

He was designated to be the first student to represent the University’s mascot and symbol.

What is a Mr. Gyrene? To quote the President of SAB, senior Marisa Helms, “Mr. Gyrene is a young man on campus who best exemplifies Ave as a school. Our hopes for this competition is that everyone on campus can look to Mr. Gyrene as a leader and friend.” The success of this event opens the door for future Mr. Gyrenes to be crowned in the years to come.

Ave Maria University has a campus full of exceptional men who represent values that the University holds dear. It is safe to say that although there can only be one crowned Mr. Gyrene, there is certainly more than one man on campus who deserves such a title. This can be seen clearly in the other seven contestants who were equipped with pure talent, strong character, and great personality. The pageant provided a great opportunity for students to come together and watch their friends and classmates compete with good humor and in the spirit of fun.

A new tradition has begun!