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).

Dr. Denise McNulty: Striving To Be a Servant of Human Life

Dr. Denise McNulty, DNP, MSN, RN-BC, ARNP, has been busy the last two years getting AMU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program off the ground, but she has also found time to pursue her own research interests and remain connected to the larger community of nurses and nurse practitioners. In all that she does, McNulty is focused on one of the central callings of Catholic healthcare—to be a “[guardian] and [servant] of human life” (Evangelium Vitae, 89).

McNulty, Associate Professor of Nursing and Department Chair,helped establish the B.S. in Nursing Program in Fall 2015; Spring 2017 will see the program’s first cohort graduate and begin entering the field. The process of building a program from the ground up is a challenging one, but McNulty has proven herself capable to balance this project with her duties as a teacher, scholar, and neighbor.

As a teacher, she has been offering courses in the Nursing Program such as Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing (NURS 350), Leadership and Management in Clinical Environments (NURS 450), Evidence-Based Nursing Practice (NURS 460), Introduction to Nursing (NURS 210), and Role Preparation (NURS 220). She has been walking her students through the foundations on which the practice of nursing is built; she has also been guiding them towards practical experience and networking opportunities. For instance, McNulty has secured invitations for AMU nursing students to attend the local Collier County Nurses dinner meetings—an opportunity for students to network with and learn from nurse leaders and staff nurses in the area, and to hear from notable guest speakers. AMU’s nursing faculty are also invited to attend these meetings.

As a scholar, McNulty has been actively pursuing her academic research interests and sharing her findings with peers. This past November, she delivered a presentation at the Florida Organization of Nurse Executives (FONE) Conference, which took place in Orlando, FL. In her evidence-based talk, “Promoting a Healthy Work Environment by Utilizing the Journey to Empowerment to Enhance Nurses’ Sense of Empowerment,” McNulty presented the findings from a study that was conducted at a local hospital. The study found that offering nurses professional development, specifically through the Journey to Empowerment for Nurses seminar, may be an effective intervention in enhancing nurses’ perceived sense of empowerment, thereby making them more likely to use effective work practices which result in positive patient outcomes.

Diocese of Venice and AMU Announcement

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AVE Maria, Fla. – The Diocese of Venice in Florida and Ave Maria University announce today the purchase of the Ave Maria Oratory building by the Diocese from the University. The Oratory building now becomes the Ave Maria Parish Church for the Faithful in the Town of Ave Maria and the surrounding area. At the same time, Bishop Frank J. Dewane officially erected Ave Maria to Parish status.

The move to establish Ave Maria Parish comes as the Diocese seeks to better meet the expanding pastoral needs of the Parishioners of the Town of Ave Maria and the student body. The number of Parishioners and students has grown substantially since Bishop Dewane established Ave Maria as a “Quasi-Parish” in 2008, with the agreement of the University.

“By working together, the Diocese and the University have strengthened their relationship and ensure that the rapidly growing pastoral and spiritual needs of the Ave Maria community are being met,” said Bishop Dewane. “It is encouraging to see this vibrant faith-filled community, under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, continue to grow and strengthen.”

As an official Catholic University, Ave Maria uses its curriculum, teaching and research to serve the Church and community. Ave Maria University President, Jim Towey, praised the agreement which will usher in a new era at Ave Maria. “We are grateful to Bishop Dewane for his leadership and for this agreement that solidifies our relationship with the Diocese and the Town. The University and Parish have grown so fast and this new status accommodates these changes and builds a stronger foundation for the future under our Bishop’s leadership.”

University Founder and Chancellor, Thomas S. Monaghan, said this agreement will serve the University and community for generations to come. “I thank Bishop Dewane for working out this new agreement which is a win for the Town, University and Diocese,” Monaghan said. “It was my dream that the Church would be at the center of life for the University and Town of Ave Maria, and this agreement ensures that.”

Michael Timmis, Chairman of the Ave Maria University Board of Trustees, said the agreement has the full support of the Board. “I congratulate Bishop Dewane, Chancellor Monaghan, and President Towey for the efforts over the past year to negotiate this sale/purchase and the provision of land that will provide for the needs of the campus community and Parishioners well into the future.”

Because the Oratory building does not have sufficient grounds for standard Parish activities and operation, as part of the agreement, the University donated a 2.5-acre lot, and a 10-acre parcel of land was donated to the Diocese by Ave Maria Development. Bishop Dewane said the Diocese plans to use the land for the construction of a Parish Hall, Offices, and other related needs.

Lamanna Named Director Of Athletics

AVE MARIA, Fla. — Ave Maria University has named John Lamanna the Director of Athletics.  Additionally, Lamanna will remain as head coach of the men’s basketball program.

“We are fortunate to have John remain in this role moving forward,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Kim King. “I believe he will provide steady leadership and a sustained commitment to the goals and mission of both the department and the University. I look forward to his continued success in the growth of athletics in years ahead.”

Lamanna, who has served as the University’s head men’s basketball coach the past two seasons, was interim AD following Kim King’s transition to Vice President of Student Affairs in August.

“I feel incredibly blessed for the opportunity to lead the Athletic Department at Ave Maria University,” said John Lamanna. “I want to thank President Towey and Vice President King for entrusting me with the responsibility.  I would also like to thank my wife Sara for all the support she provides our family along with our three children; Gabi, Tony and Louie.”

“There are very few professional opportunities where someone is allowed to bring two of their passions together,” said Lamanna. “The Athletic Director position at Ave Maria University allows me to bring my passion for the Catholic faith and athletics together.”

Lamanna has high expectations for the program and wants to accomplish as much as he can for the athletic department and most importantly the student athletes.

“This is a very exciting time here at Ave Maria University with the recent ground breaking of our new academic building.  I am looking forward to athletics playing a supporting role to the overall growth and excellence of Ave Maria University.”

Lamanna came to Ave Maria in July 2015 from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, where he was the head coach of the men’s basketball program and the manager of compliance and facilities.

At all of Lamanna’s stops he has been very active within the community.  Currently, the Ave Maria men’s basketball program participate yearly in community service or what the program calls “Acts of Mercy”.  This has found the Gyrenes working with the less fortunate in both Immokalee and Naples.

A Spokane, Wash., native, Lamanna graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from Washington State University and a master’s degree in Counseling from Loyola Marymount University.

The Athletic Department at Ave Maria has grown from sponsoring six varsity level sports in 2008-09, to boasting 16 varsity-level programs for the 2016-17 season, with nearly 400 student athletes. The Athletic Department staff has grown to include eight administrative and athletic support positions, 13 head coaches, and 22 assistant coaches.

Founded in 2003, Ave Maria is a 2016 Newman Guide Recommended College and has grown to offer 30 majors to its 1,102 students. Ave Maria University is a Catholic, liberal arts institution of higher learning devoted to Mary the Mother of God, inspired by St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta, and dedicated to the formation of joyful, intentional followers of Jesus Christ through Word and Sacrament, scholarship and service.

Moments of 2016


We’ve taken thousands of photos over the past 12 months to document life at Ave Maria University. Here are our favorite images of the year, which capture both small moments and large events.

Photographers: David Albers, Chris DeCleene, Tom Greenfield, Blaise Harned, Zack Johanni, Hannah Martin, Sofia Ungarino

President Towey’s Op-Ed in National Review

For Some Faith-Based Institutions, Trump Represents a Reprieve

Obama’s sustained assault on religious liberty is finally over.

Perhaps more than any other sector in America, the ivory towers of academia are mourning the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the departure of President Barack Obama, and the election of Donald Trump.

For our faith-based university, however, the changing of the guard cannot come soon enough. Read on…

Come, Be My Light

As students at Ave Maria are just waking up and heading to their first morning class, nine thousand miles away, in a small village in West Bengal, there are students turning on solar-powered lights and sitting down to spend the evening in study. The village is called Bamandanga, and the students are at Emily House, a hostel—or boarding school—for girls.

Emily House ran for nearly two decades without a reliable source of energy. Massive power cuts at night meant that the girls could not rely on having light to work by in the evenings. The unpredictability made it difficult for them to use their time productively, and often left them sitting in the dark.

Light is something frequently taken for granted in the U.S.—perhaps especially in Southwest Florida, the “Sunshine State.” Getting bright light at any time of day is, quite literally, as easy as flicking a switch. But for most of the villages in rural India, light after sunset is a precious commodity.

Over the years, some of the related hostels for boys have had solar lights installed. But by 2014, not one of the girls’ hostels could rely on a power supply at night. It was at that time that Ave Maria University was given the opportunity to help out.

201611-news-765x250-2-copy-minEmily House is one of the many initiatives of Seva Kendra, the official social service center of the Archdiocese of Kolkata. The center is run by Fr. Franklin Menezes (photographed to the left), who has been overseeing and leading Seva Kendra’s efforts in “bringing hope and healing” to the impoverished and underprivileged of Calcutta, with a special emphasis on sustainability. “He is just an extraordinary priest,” AMU President Jim Towey remarks, calling special attention to Fr. Franklin’s entrepreneurial investment in “green” alternatives. One such instance of this is the system by which Seva Kendra is powered: stored rainwater. Another example is its Alternative Energy Solutions Project, through which young men and women are trained in how to assemble and install solar lights—which is where Emily House and Ave Maria University come in.

Each year, AMU’s Mother Teresa Project takes a group of students on a mission trip to serve the poor alongside the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Of course the aim of the trip is to offer physical service to those in need, but there is only so much that can be done in the space of a week’s visit. The mission trip has the far more lasting effect of enriching the lives of the students who go to serve. Without exception, all of the students return home with countless stories of how they have been inspired and touched by the people of Calcutta. “Our student ambassadors to Calcutta are building a bridge,” President Towey says. “But it’s not enough for our students to be educated and enriched by the experience. We wanted to do something to help educational advancement there as well.” The true aim is to build a reciprocal relationship of giving and receiving between AMU and the Archdiocese of Kolkata. It is easy to see how the people of Calcutta enrich the lives of the AMU students who visit them, but what more can AMU do in turn to enrich the lives of the poor? President Towey, who has known Fr. Franklin Menezes for many years, saw the opportunity to do just that when he heard about Emily House and the need for solar lighting.

20161028-news-765x250-2-copy11With a $5,000 donation from Ave Maria University in 2014, Seva Kendra was able to install solar lighting at Emily House, finally allowing for the girls there to have a normal evening life of recreation and study. One year later, AMU made another donation, this time to set up solar lighting for a boy’s hostel, Henry House, in Kearchand. Just this past summer, the University helped set up lighting for a third hostel in Serampore. These three hostels, which each house around 100-130 girls and boys, are now lit for four hours every night—from 6-10pm—thanks to Seva Kendra’s groundwork and the donations from AMU. The installation of solar lighting for the students in West Bengal is a step towards President Towey’s hope for a relationship of giving and receiving between the University and the Archdiocese of Kolkata.

Three groups of AMU students on the Calcutta mission trip have had the opportunity to meet Fr. Franklin, tour Seva Kendra’s headquarters and get a glimpse into its work in the slums. Unanimously, the first thing that struck the students was Fr. Franklin’s joy. The second thing was his clear delight in wearing the “AMU” t-shirt President Towey had given him the year before. “He kept pointing at the shirt, laughing and smiling,” alumna Mary Katherine Lee recalls. Corey Blanchard, an AMU senior, agrees. He also remembers being struck by how Fr. Franklin’s work at Seva Kendra empowers individuals to take initiative. “Fr. Franklin’s idea is that it’s better to build leaders, to show them how to lead in their communities, in order to create a better economy,” he explains. For junior Marisa Helms, something Fr. Franklin said sticks out in her mind particularly. “I remember Fr. Frank telling our group that through our efforts with the Mother Teresa Project we are putting into light what was meant by the words ‘Come be my light.’”

“Come, be my light.” Those are the words Jesus used in calling St. Mother Teresa to serve the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. And, echoing the theme of light, Mother Teresa expressed the desire to light up all of India with “the fire of charity.” As the sun rises over Ave Maria’s campus, it is also setting over Emily House in West Bengal. In that moment, the two are united, not just in the pursuit of learning, not just in the physical link between a donation and a solar light, but also—and more importantly—in the great blaze of charity, that flows out of the heart of God, is passed among his people, and then brought home again, into the Light that is Love.

by Sarah Blanchard