Irma Updates from President Jim Towey

#14 – 9/13/2017 – 9:00 pm – Final update

Dear Ave Maria University family:

Today was an eventful day on our campus – not that EVERY SINGLE DAY recently hasn’t been!

United States Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio came to Ave Maria University and thanked our sleep-deprived but triumphant team of administrators and staff for all they did to care for 1,200 people on our campus during Hurricane Irma. These gentlemen – one a Democrat and one a Republican – then sat down in a private meeting and met with a small group of students who did everything from care for the Haitian elderly we housed; to play with the farmworker children in Golisano sheltering there; and to lead with full guitar accompaniment a chorus of police, firefighters and others hunkered down in the Thomas Student Union in a raucous rendition of Johnny Cash songs, while tornadoes were touching down in the area. It was fascinating to hear their accounts – and tomorrow, one of these students (along with me) will be on CNN at 7:50 to share what we experienced in these memorable days.

Senator Rubio had the students laughing – when he met one student from Minnesota, he said he loved that state because he won their U.S. presidential primary! Senator Nelson pointed out that the FSU Seminoles have “the chop,” and the University of Florida Gators have “the chomp,” and wondered what our sports teams’ signature gesture is. We told him it was the sign of the cross!

We were honored these two men took the time to be with us. They brought news we knew nothing about as there continues to be limited cell coverage and no network or internet services here. It was sad to hear of the devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands and elsewhere. Word circulated that Florida’s two Senators were here and so about 100 students got a chance to meet them as they left my office and got in their cars for Immokalee. Our nation’s Capitol will soon hear of what Ave Maria did at a time Southwest Florida needed us the most.

At the very time Senators Nelson and Rubio were on campus, a large delegation of AMU students who participate in the Mother Teresa Project were in neighboring Immokalee on a mission of joy and mercy. They took van loads full of food and 25 cases of bottled water (8,000 bottles) to distribute to the poor of the area who still have no electricity or running water. Nearly all served were farmworker families. Work in the fields doesn’t begin for weeks and right now they have nothing. Mother Teresa‘s favorite Gospel verse to quote was Matthew 25’s account of Jesus at the final judgment, when He said: “When I was hungry you gave me to eat; when I was thirsty you gave me to drink.” She always then emphasized Jesus’ words, “Whenever you did it to the least of them, you did it to me.” Today our students encountered in a very real way “Jesus in His distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor,” as she put it. It was an honor that Ave Maria students had this privilege – and we’ll back out there tomorrow and until supplies reach the area.

Members of Ave Maria’s faculty met on campus at 2pm and it was good to see many who live in the Naples area returning to campus. Most of those who live west of us are still without electricity. They are undeterred. Many will have office hours tomorrow and Friday afternoon. Some will tutor for the Core 101 Western Civilization course that incorporates the study of literature and philosophy, or assist students with papers and writing projects. All of our professors are expected to be ready when classes resume Monday. It was nice to reopen the library today. With the internet down, it sure is great to have 200,000 volumes for our students to access! Our Academic Dean will be posting information soon on how we deal with the 7 days of missed classes, and we are confident that we will not have to cancel Fall break.

The day began with a huge crane lifting the heavy bleachers that were tossed by a tornado on our football field. We still believe our new artificial field will be ready for our first home game on campus during parent’s weekend at the end of the month (note to parents: Please come!). Early this morning we also transitioned from generator power to the electrical grid. Thank God our power company has us back up and running.

This will be my final update on AMU post-Irma. Things are getting back to normal and my full attention now is shifting from emergency management and communications to University administration. I had the good fortune when the cell phones were working to contact a good number of the University’s trustees, and they are more committed than ever to our mission. There are still reminders of Irma everywhere – trees down, the 9pm curfew that is in place, and the damage to some of our facilities. But with each day progress is made, and we thank Our Lord for that.

Our students are Ave strong. They can deal with life and this disruption in their studies. They are ready to return to the campus life we had back when Irma was a blip on the radar screen somewhere over Africa. Ave Maria University was preserved from major damage in much the same way as Our Lady was conceived without sin – through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. There is no natural explanation for how the largest and one of the most destructive storms in U.S. history touched down in our backyard and yet we are able to resume classes Monday. We can only pray the words that Our Lady prayed: For Almighty God has done great things for us; holy is His Name!

Jim Towey


#13 – 9/12/2017 10:19 pm – Let there be light

Let there be Light!

Ave Maria University has seen the light! Power has been restored and our campus is shining with smiles from all who have worked so hard, so well, so tirelessly, so faithfully. The creation story consists of darkness covering the abyss, a mighty wind and a formless wasteland. Our campus community was reeling from the wrath of hurricane Irma, and we never doubted that Our Lord was walking with us, strengthening us, and inviting us to be His light in the darkness. Tonight we have power fully restored. Gone are the water restrictions so life is back to normal. And of course, as with the resurrection of Our Lord, this all took place “on the third day.”

We are so very grateful to God for the good souls He used to show us His tender love. Tonight is not the time to recount the many miracles we witnessed these days and the thousand acts of kindness showered upon us by so many.

Here is the most amazing fact of all – I did not hear a single student complain. I didn’t see signs of self-pitying. I saw students rising to the occasion and coping with whatever Irma hurled their way. These students are Ave strong.

Today’s good news makes it nearly certain that we will resume classes on Monday, September 18, at 8AM. In the next 24 hours we will turn our full attention to a systematic examination of our facilities so that we are assured of our ability to resume classes and maintain our high standards. I am confident that we will.

Most exciting of all to me is the fact that Ave students who were away these days will be back here soon. They have been missed. They, too, will have great stories to tell about their odyssey on the road. Yesterday I described the students on campus, and the ones away, as the two lungs of the University that breathe life into the Church and make us hopeful about tomorrow.

Our dedicated faculty eagerly await their reunion with the students entrusted to their care. Together they comprise a community of scholars given to the pursuit of the truth. When seniors graduate and are asked to evaluate their experiences, the overwhelming consensus among them is that Ave Maria has an exceptional faculty that cares about them. These days of Irma confirmed this reality.

Ave Maria to return to its core competency which is not disaster relief but Catholic liberal arts. Dr. Nutt and the AMU professors meet tomorrow afternoon and you and they will be receiving information on how we will manage the missed classes. If we can deal with the largest hurricane in U.S. history making landfall in our backyard, we can handle these challenges, too.

To you parents I extend my warmest thanks for your patience and understanding. I think especially of those whom I met just a few weeks ago at freshmen orientation. Life is full of surprises, isn’t it? You would be so proud of your kids. They just had a growth spurt. You chose well to send them here.

Perhaps you have seen the national network coverage of what Ave Maria University did during the storm. Today our student government president Stephen Akers was on CNN, and I know that Fox News and others have carried favorable commentary. The truth is, as Luke’s Gospel quotes Jesus, we are simply useless servants. We tried to live our Catholic faith. We did what we were asked to do. What matters most to us is that the Lord and His holy mother saw what happened here in these days of glory.

Thank you Jesus! It is true. Everything is grace.

Jim Towey


#12 – 9/12/2017 3:39 pm – Tuesday afternoon update

I have read how saints experience the “beatific vision.” Well, I just had one.

Don’t worry, I’m not losing my grip on reality.

I never thought I would ever say that a diesel truck bears celestial loveliness! But around noon, a Howell Oil Company truck rolled in from nearby Belle Glade and brought us 1,300 gallons of diesel fuel for our generators.

In a few hours after these units are primed and air is out of the lines, we will crank them back up and begin restoring power to our campus. We expect the restart to go as planned although we entrust all of these cares to the Lord. He heard our prayers and responded in ways unexpected.

I say that because more beautiful than the sight of the truck rolling in was the story behind it. A woman who works for Ave’s food service company has a brother who works for Howell. Cindra watched as we waited for help from the government. She saw how overwhelmed they were and how the promised assistance was delayed. She called her brother. Within hours we now have oil.

As Our Lady said in her Magnificat, “He has lifted up the meek and the lowly.”

These folks, like the driver, pictured below, and Cindra and her brother, do not have power or prestige the way the world measures it. But in the Kingdom of God, they are the beloved. They were chosen today by God to be instruments of love and messengers of hope.

The women’s dorms now have power, and our team is bringing up the men’s dorms, the main buildings, and then the chiller. This means we will have some cool air moving through the buildings and residence halls tonight!

And more good news: the water pressure is returning to near normal and so bathroom and shower restrictions are being lifted.

Tonight I will give an “end of the day” roundup report to you. I wanted to share our good news with you immediately. As the Blessed Mother said, “God who is mighty has done great things” for us.

We are very thankful for these tender mercies. We are grateful to you all for the prayers you are sending our way.

We remain confident we can start up classes on Monday and the Ave family will be reunited. Dr. Nutt, our Academic Dean, is holding a faculty meeting tomorrow afternoon so we can begin the improvising with our academic calendar to accommodate the changes thrust upon us. I’ll have more to say on Thursday morning when we make a final decision on next week’s schedule.

Jim Towey


#11 – 9/12/2017 12:45 pm – Update

Dear Ave Maria University family:

This morning I drove to the Emergency Operations Center of the State of Florida which is over an hour from campus.

This was my first time off campus since Friday. The drive over displayed wreckage from the hurricane very similar to what we experienced at Ave. I think it is safe to say that no newborn in Collier County will be named Irma any time soon.

I also was able to get news from the outside world that has not been accessible here where we have no power or internet, and only occasional and very erratic cellular service. As someone who grew up in Florida, I was heartbroken to hear of the devastation in our state of nearly Biblical proportion. My old hometown of Jacksonville has extensive, unprecedented flooding. Parts of Charlotte County has turned into an island, and it’s inland. All along the coasts widespread power outages. So Ave Maria is in good company.

And also in good hands. The Lord is not only with us but leading us. Thomas a Kempis, in the Imitation of Christ, wrote, “If you do not set your heart on Me with a sincere will of bearing all things for my sake, you cannot sustain the heat of this warfare, nor attain to the crown of the Saints.”

Our students are bearing all things well. The hardships that have come, while wearing them down to various degrees, have been accepted with generosity of heart. Many are downright cheerful about the novelty of what they are living, as all times of crisis carry measures of misery and sweetness. Brigades of students went to the Henkels Academic Building to clean the bathrooms, remove the trash, and even relocate bacteria cultures to cooler storage (some of our students today feel like one of those, themselves!).

So here’s the update from this morning’s meeting with state officials:

The company that supplies us power is working and seemed confident that they can restore power today or tomorrow. The underground lines seem to be in good shape; unfortunately, the above-ground poles that connect to us were damaged, and they have trucks and teams out repairing them. I asked state officials about diesel fuel for our back-up generators that went dry yesterday evening. We are at the top of the list for Collier County. Both the Governor Scott and Senator Nelson have been in touch. My experience from my previous work as the head of Miami’s social service agency at the time of Hurricane Andrew, is that the second and third days after the storm breaks are remarkably better than the first. My guess is that these trucks will all arrive at once, and we will no longer need them!

Our food services folks may already have “attained to the crown of the Saints” by all they have done. We have plenty of water and food, and now an increasing likelihood of restocking supplies soon. Publix is beginning to reopen in neighborhoods where there is power. At AMU, we have three meals each day: 9-10; noon to 1pm; and 4-5pm. Students have been incredibly patient with the repetition of foodstuffs that we can offer now. Remarkably little grumbling. I think food variety will get better sooner than later.

Bottled water supplies are doing great and now can be replenished. The area’s utility company took a hit and so water pressure is low, which is why we are using the toilets on the first floor, and also positioning some portable toilets we had in stock to the area near the residence halls. Plumbing is working even with the reduced pressure. I have been at football tailgates where lines to port-a-potties have been 40 long, so we are doing better than that. Right now the residence hall bathrooms are working, and we are asking students to conserve water as I am sure the water pumping stations are having the same diesel supply issues we are having.

Some students are thinking of moving from the campus and going to stay with friends and of course that is their prerogative. Because there is no power in so many places in Florida, it is unclear when gas stations will have electricity to power their pumps; so even if these facilities have gas in storage, they can’t get it above ground. I am reasonably confident we will have better conditions here in a day. In fact, we are working one angle to purchase 900 gallons of diesel from a private firm that is 90 minutes north of us. Once we can power back up, things will improve quickly.

I can’t emphasize enough how wonderfully the students are handling the “heart of this warfare.” They are growing in maturity before my eyes. They can only be asked to endure so much and so I am praying that the Lord delivers us as soon as possible. At the EOC I heard of the nursing homes in Immokalee with no diesel, trailer parks that are jumble of metal, and frustrated flood relief efforts along the St. John’s river that are making conditions nearly uninhabitable. So we count our blessings at Ave, and for me, that begins with our students.

Today’s schedule will be like yesterday. After lunch and my daily update for the students, we will have Mass and rosary (today is the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, and so we are imploring her intercession).

I will send out an update later today if God and our limited energy allow. Our CIO Eddie Dejthai is doing wonders to keep you up to date. I don’t know how he gets these updates out, but he does.

I close with another quote from Thomas a Kempis: “You must be willing, for the love of God, to suffer all things, that is, labors and sorrows, temptations, vexations, anxieties, necessities…These things help to gain virtue; these try a novice of Christ; these obtain a heavenly crown.”

No crown with the cross. The cross of Christ is a mystery. It is also a necessity in the Christian life, no matter how much we try to insulate ourselves from suffering. Grace is providing everyone here the strength to not only endure, but grow. As Jesus assures us, His yoke is easy, and His burden light.

Jim Towey


#10 – 9/11/2017 9:29 pm – Evening update on the day after


Dear Ave Maria University community here and away:

It is the end of the day and darkness has descended without resistance as the little light on our campus is now coming from flashlights.

Many highlights today. The noon gathering at the Easton Flagpole was very moving as we remembered those who died in the terrorist attacks on American soil 16 years ago. The flag was safely stored during Sunday’s storm and so today we raised it to half-mast, and student Sarah Seghers led us in the singing of the National Anthem. Padre Amedeo, our Campus Minister this year, offered a beautiful prayer for those who died on this day, including the first-responders who bravely gave their lives for others. We had six members of Immokalee Fire and Rescue there to represent these men and women, and others like our police, who serve in times of crisis. We bowed our heads, too, for the members of the Armed Services who have died in the war on terror, as well as those serving at this time to protect our liberties. The program concluded with a singing of “God Bless America.”

It is easy after a devastating hurricane to lose perspective. Those who lost their lives because of, or defending, America’s freedom, helped put in perspective the losses Irma brought. Yes, we have no electricity, cell coverage, and some of life’s comforts. We suffered extensive damage on our campus. But what emerged crystal clear from today’s ceremony was an awareness that whatever hardships we now endure, and whatever losses we now grieve, pale in comparison to the ultimate sacrifice so many have paid throughout America’s history to keep us free.

The massive scale of Irma’s destruction placed unprecedented strains on America’s emergency response systems, particularly since Hurricane Harvey had utilized them at a scale also unprecedented. We are fighting to get diesel fuel for our back-up system as it is designed as a temporary patch. We ran out of fuel at around 8pm. I have been calling Governor Scott and Senator Nelson to seek help with diesel fuel. We are not sure when we will have power restored. The Ave Maria Utility company had damage that has lowered water pressure levels in town and on campus, further complicating life.

But amazingly, I have yet to hear a student grumble. Most of the men’s dorms last night did not have any cool air pumped their way. Chuck and Kathy Travers continue to feed students with cold food from storage, and today’s ham, turkey, and tuna fish sandwiches, with fruit and chips, really hit the spot. We all ate together – probably 500+ were in the cafeteria. I thanked them all for pulling together. I told them that they would face some physical hardships until we get power back. I think all of them are more interested in getting internet and data connectivity back! Our Academic Dean Dr. Roger Nutt challenged our students to keep up with the syllabus and get ahead in their studies, and we will indeed have to catch up on missed classes and material when our college routines resume.

That will happen as soon as we have the ability to offer our very best. These next days will be spent making sure our facilities are in good shape, the biohazardous materials are, too, and our professors have dealt with their own personal losses at home and are prepared to resume what they do best – teach.

The 3pm Mass later in the day was very well-attended – again a packed cafeteria for Padre Amedeo’s Mass. And then hundreds volunteered in various projects – to clean the debris and move the fallen trees; scrub the bathrooms; help some in town remove hurricane shutters; and help close down the Golisano Fieldhouse shelter (those poor residents who didn’t return home went to an Immokalee shelter the Red Cross runs). We still have the 10 Haitian elderly to return home – that will happen tomorrow, I think.

Hurricane Irma was a “hero-cane.” Ok, I know that is bad, but at least it is original! But it is true. So many heroes emerged, from the undergraduate students who are resident assistants and help run the halls before, during and after Irma; the people who are trying to restore our physical plant, IT, and security and haven’t slept for days, literally; and on and on. Remarkable courage.

I began the day with the image that I visited this morning at dawn and saw intact – Our Lady of Guadalupe. She was still standing. The yellow straps that protected her were the heroic men and women of Ave Maria University who kept her beloved campus – and our future – secure.

You parents with your sons and daughters here will hear their stories. You can be proud of your kids. Soon they will be back with their classmates and life will be back to normal. But Ave Maria University will never be the same. God has given us a gift in this hurricane.

Jim Towey


#9 – 9/11/2017 1:29 pm – She Still Standing

She Still Standing.

The 120 mph winds, the tornado that twisted our football bleachers and threw them onto the field like an aluminum penalty flag, the torrential rains that created an Olympic-sized pool in front of the Henkels Academic Building – all of the fury of Hurricane Irma could not disturb our iconic Our Lady of Guadalupe statue on the western edge of our Ave Maria University campus.  There she stands, hands in prayer, facing the residence halls, situated closest to the eye wall.

We all made it.  Every student is alive and well.  When the worst of the hurricane passed our students were given the “all clear” at 8pm to get some fresh air, a spontaneous celebration outside the halls erupted, in thanksgiving that they all were well, that they got through the worst Mother Nature could throw at them, that the marvelous buildings Tom Monaghan and other built held up,  and that their beloved “home away from home” was spared catastrophic damage.

I recall how Saint John Paul II described his miraculous escape from death when an assassin trained his gun upon him from point blank range.  He said that while the man fired the gun, the Blessed Mother “steered the bullet.”  That’s how we feel today.  You parents watching the television saw this yourself – how the heart of Irma was making a beeline toward Ave Maria, and at the last minute, veered west and spared us its worst.  Our hearts go out to all in Florida who today are foraging the rabble of the aftermath of this once-in-a-century storm.

There is much to write about, but not now.  We will gather as a community at noon to raise the American flag, and then meet in the cafeteria to talk about the days ahead, and then have some sandwiches and fellowship.  The challenges ahead are many, and serious, but we will get through them.  The area to the west of us in the County was decimated. There is no power here, and our back-up generators, which were damaged in the storm but functioned as designed for the most part, have limited fuel supplies to chill the residence halls.  Verizon is down, and ATT cell coverage is sporadic (if you received this message, then it worked!).

We are hoping to have more information on when power can be restored.  The University will not have classes this week.  During this week we are prepared to meet the basic food, water and shelter needs of the students for any who do not travel from campus during the week.  We are in an information “black hole” now so you know more than we do what the rest of Florida looks like today.  I toured the campus this morning and there is considerable damage, but none of it will keep this University from operating as soon as we have secure power, food, water – and professors.  Many of the AMU family suffered serious damage to their domiciles and will need some time to restore order to their lives.

What we do know is that God is good, life is sacred and precious and more important than anything material, and the mercy of the Lord endures forever.

And she is still standing!

I’ll post later, God-willing.  My love to all of you for the fervent prayers you offered in our hour of trial.  That hour hasn’t ended, so please continue to pray for your Ave Maria University.   Our work in the Church is just beginning.

Jim Towey


#8 – 9/10/2017 9:39 am – Morning Update

Good morning Ave!

It is the day of the Sabbath! It is the day we remember the mighty work of creation through a day of rest!

I think all of our students now on campus will observe the Sabbath like never before as they are holed up in the residence halls for the day! Today is also the day we celebrate the resurrection of the One who saves!

I’ll be brief as the squalls are intensifying and internet service will likely be interrupted soon.

All is well on campus. Brent Johnson, who has worked tirelessly with Kim King and Vivian Crockett and Mike Miller and so many to shepherd all who are lodging on campus, calculates that we have about 1200 here, including over 400 in the Golisano field house from the area sheltering. The Canizaro, Thomas and Henkels buildings opened their arms to welcome families of faculty and staff. Fr. Mayer welcomed about 50 people who are riding out the storm in the magnificent church Tom Monaghan built.

Micheal Timmis, chairman of the Board of Trustees, and his family are up the street and in their home. He told me just now that what woke him last night was not the roar of rain and wind coming like waves, but one particular, prolonged silence in between the storm’s bands.

I found that interesting – how silence awakens. All of our busyness has given way to quiet and stillness now. We await. This reflects with beauty the true disposition of Christians. We wait on the Lord. The Lord is our light and our salvation, Psalm 27 says, whom shall we fear? And it ends, “Wait on the Lord with courage. Be stouthearted and wait on the Lord.” And so we shall.

I am sorry I can’t send photos. The police put out an edict to stay inside. So these few words will have to suffice.

We wait on Irma, and we wait on the Lord, the Lord of the Sabbath, the Lord of this Sabbath. The One who stirred the waters and fashioned the dome at creation is our light and salvation. And Our Lady, Star of the Sea, intercedes for her University.

In closing my thoughts turn to our AMU students who are away from campus and pray for those who evacuated and now find themselves in Irma’s path. I pray we are all together soon. I also pray with gratitude for this mighty faculty and staff God has assembled at Ave Maria to support their quest for truth. The good Lord who began this work will be faithful to complete it.

Jim Towey



#7 – 9/9/2017 5:10 pm – Final update until after Irma passes

Hello once again from Ave Maria University Central:

I am glad to be able to do a late-day update.  Irma has slowed her approach toward us, which is a woman’s prerogative.

I was with all of the students at brunch and looked them in the eyse and they are ready for whatever comes.  Padre Amedeo’s Mass was very unitive, and our prayers were united with the Ave students sheltering elsewhere who love this University ever so much.  The students will have great stories to swap when they are all back together.  The slow approach allowed us to keep the cafeteria open and serve one more hot meal which ended at 5pm.  The cold food and bottled water are stored in the residence halls for Sunday meals.  Having the cafeteria opened longer added a sense of normalcy and routine which is welcome.

The recent hurricane advisories from the National Weather Service have been a bit more encouraging than yesterday’s, but they seem about as reliable as the scientific pollsters that said Hillary Clinton would be president now.  So we prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and trust in God’s providence.  If not a single sparrow falls to the ground without our heavenly Father’s consent, all of us here on campus feel we are in safe hands.

A close friend just now sent me a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  She once said, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish God didn’t trust me so much!”  That summarizes perfectly how all of the students, faculty, staff, and I feel!

All accounts indicate that with the exception of the passing of some outer bands, tonight’s weather won’t be too bad.  I’ve played golf in worse weather than what we had today.  But alas, that will change tomorrow. The slowing of the storm means we will be facing an all-day Sunday, early Monday awful weather experience.  Because the storm tracks indicate possible flooding on the coast, AMU now is hosting a large, regional Red Cross contingent.  They are stationed in the back of Golisano and a large number of Red Cross personnel will live there.  Their presence – and supplies – are reassuring to all.

When I addressed our students today after Mass, I told them of how my wife Mary and I prepared for our first child by taking childbirth classes so that we knew what to expect. I also pointed out that nothing in those classes actually fully prepared us.  So I walked them through what to expect in the next 36 hours.  We chanted together, “We can do this!  We can cope!  God is with us!”

This afternoon the students pitched in and helped.

Some filled sandbags to protect against possible flooding.

Some played games or soccer with the Immokalee children needing a break from the Golisano shelter.

I ran into this group as they were heading out to make sure all bathrooms in the residence halls were fully stocked.  I wasn’t surprised that they were women volunteers!

And believe it or not, many used the quiet Saturday to study and get ahead in their fall classes.

By the end of the today the Collier County Sherriff’s office was in full force and they will be on the premises riding out the storm with us – and ready to roll to address crisis.

I’ll close this post because I want to get this out before the weather jeopardizes internet connectivity.  As soon as God allows me to update after the storm – I’ll be back in touch.

I leave you with Scripture quotes from today’s Saturday liturgy.  These sacred words being proclaimed throughout the Catholic world seemed chosen by Divine Providence as they touch have been the Lectionary readings for Saturday in the 22nd week of Ordinary time, year one, for ages.

The responsorial Psalm today:

R. God himself is my help.
O God, by your name save me,
and by your might defend my cause.
O God, hear my prayer;
hearken to the words of my mouth.

Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord sustains my life.
Freely will I offer you sacrifice;
I will praise your name, O LORD, for its goodness.

I also was moved by a sentence in the first reading from Chapter 1 of Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

God has now reconciled you in the fleshly Body of Christ through his death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before him, provided that you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded, stable, and not shifting from the hope of the Gospel that you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven…

That is our challenge as we bunker down and get through Irma:  persevere in faith, stay firmly grounded, stable, and not shifting from the hope of the Gospel.  Amen!

A final word for now of thanks:  We have received many beautiful and encouraging emails, texts and phone calls, and are immensely grateful for your love and prayers.  Please continue to pray, especially tomorrow as this slow, massive storm crawls northward for many hours.  I truly believe something new and beautiful is awaiting our University, for while it is a time of uncertainty and sacrifice, it also is a season of grace.

Mary, Mother of Jesus, be a Mother to us now.

Kind regards,

Jim Towey



#6 – 9/9/2017 11:15 am – Saturday morning update from Ave Maria University

 Good morning!

Here’s your morning update.  All is well.  I have heard many times in my life the expression, “Calm before the storm.”  That fairly describes things here.  The first little wisps of wind from the South are arriving.  This week has had the feeling of those long, drawn out presidential campaigns where we just want the voting to begin and have it over with!

We had Mass in the cafeteria at 9:30AM followed by a nice brunch.

We expect the late afternoon to begin the process of this huge storm’s long-awaited passage.  It will be north of us sometime Monday morning.

We are as ready as you can be.  All of our systems are in place.  Every residence hall has University staff present.  Our student leaders (RA’s) are working in close contact with them and we have systems of communication in place for when the storm comes through and cellular no longer is working.

I miss our students who are away.  I know that some evacuated to other parts of Florida and now find that they will get to meet Irma, too.  Others are back home.  Wherever they are, they are united with us for we are one Ave.  I can promise we will have a big celebration when we are through Irma, things are back to normal, and we are all together again.  For those away, I want you to see what the campus looks like now.

Here’s the Golisano Fieldhouse last night when we began to admit the poor of Immokalee to shelter.

Here’s the Fieldhouse this morning. We have 357 sheltering and we probably will end up with over 400 (we are only able to admit families with small children, the elderly, and those who walked here; others are being diverted now to another area shelter opening).

Here’s the Thomas Student Union.  It is divided into three parts.  The stage is being set up now as the police, fire and rescue command center.  Pray for these brave first-responders who are serving all of us.  These folks are using it as a barracks, too.

After Mass and brunch, students will have a free day.  Some will be filling bags with sand from the volleyball courts so we can try to safeguard the residence hall entrances if there is a water incursion.  Some will go sing in the Golisano shelter to cheer up the residents, or just be with them and be a calming presence as they all left homes that may be damaged in the days ahead.Some students are helping us care for 10 elderly Haitians who now are living in the model residence hall rooms that typically are left vacant so we can show parents and prospective students what our dorm rooms are like.  The Sherriff’s Office called last night and asked if we would take them in.  They were living in a very simple assisted living facility in Immokalee and their caregivers all fled, abandoning them.  Michael Timmis (Chairman of the Board of Trustees) and I welcomed them when they arrived last evening.

One woman was blind; they all were frightened.  I looked in the back of the police van that brought them and saw trash bags filled with their belongings.  We made sure they brought their medicines.  They will get plenty of love from our students.

Yesterday I spoke by telephone with Florida Governor Rick Scott, and senior U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.  I asked if both would come to our campus after Irma leaves and help us to the extent we have needs. They both thanked the University for opening our doors to the residents of Immokalee, and they said they were proud of Ave Maria University. All of the shelter space in the area is overflowing past capacity.  It is a privilege for AMU to be used by Jesus to love the multitudes and help meet their needs, as He did.

Believe it or not, as I write this the sun is peaking in and out of clouds through the window directly facing the majestic Church on the Piazza.  The Annunciation Sculpture at its center is a constant reminder that Mary is teaching us how to believe in the goodness of the Lord and His loving purposes, regardless of circumstances, and to say “yes” as she did.  She questioned the angel; we, too, question why our campus is in the path of Irma.  But through our act of will we repeat with her, “Let it be done to me according to your will.”

I cannot describe how beautiful our students have been these days.  They laughed yesterday when I said that I wanted all of the people from the Weather Channel put on trial for their shameless coverage that tries to work people up into a frenzy and get them to ride on their coverage roller-coaster (to higher ratings and ad revenues, of course).  That is the secular mind-set – as if God is somehow absent – and all of this hype can lead to disquietude and nothing more.

For you parents who sent your children to a Southwest Florida college, you may be wondering why you did.  I promise you that you chose well.  Ave Maria University isn’t just a Southwest Florida college. It is a Catholic liberal arts university that helps prepare our youth to be able to go out and stand on their own two foot, cope with what life presents, and lift the eyes of those they encounter to Almighty God who is in control of all things and invites them into intimate relationship. He is the Lord of history and hurricanes.  The Bible teaches us that storms, floods, earthquakes, and other acts of nature can be entry points to deeper faith and understanding of God’s love for us, and deep trust.

The culture in which we live is fallen.  So many people have forgotten God.  We see the march of artificial intelligence to the point that one day some feel man may no longer is necessary, much less master of these technologies.  Incidents this week on our campus show the glory of God’s creation isn’t from Google, Amazon, or Apple; it is from God, and man is God’s delight.  It is neighbor helping neighbor, loving and caring, and yes, at times, suffering together.  God is with Ave Maria University.

So now the hour is upon us and we will get through it together.  Some faculty and staff are sheltering in the Academic buildings. Yesterday students gathered with professors for impromptu lectures, including a reading of Shakespeare’s Tempest.  These faculty members have a gift the world needs.  It is a grace to be with them in times like these.

Please keep your prayers coming.  If circumstances permit, I will do one more update later today. If not, I’ll post as soon as I can Monday.  We send our love to you.  I miss our students who are away! Your job today and especially tomorrow is to pray for your classmates, faculty, and administrators, ok?  Thank you for being part of the Ave Maria University family.

Jim Towey


#5 – 9/8/2017 2:05 pm – Hurricane Irma meeting today with students

Dear Ave Maria University faithful:

We had a wonderful meeting this morning in the Golisano Fieldhouse. The students showed such maturity and eagerness to learn what plans the University in place.  They were welcomed by Student Government President Stephen Akers and then briefed by senior administrators on every detail.  They were informed that when curfew is announced, they are to shelter in their residence halls and remain inside until given the “all clear.”  Any who had a question had their concerns addressed.  One student asked if there were opportunities for confession between now and Irma’s arrival!  I loved that (and the answer was “yes”).

I was reminded this morning of how fortunate I am to be around these fine young men and women (and how much we miss those who are temporarily away from campus but are very much in our hearts).  The students at one point gave our administration and staff prolonged applause for all that has been put in place (these amazing folks neglected attending to the demands of their own families so that they could care for the Ave community and infrastructure).

At this time, I wish to announce that there will be no classes Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.  Students living on campus will have all of their food, water, and shelter needs met.  We will assess the situation Ave faces on Monday and make further announcements.  In the meantime, residential students will be invited to put their faith into action as we reach out to those in need of food, water, and consolation, including in nearby Immokalee, a very poor, nearby farmworker community that faces catastrophic damage because of substandard housing.  Moments ago, and at the request of the country administrator for emergency management, the University agreed to allow the Golisano Fieldhouse to be used as a temporary shelter beginning this evening.

At Ave, we believe that faith in Jesus isn’t simply words.  It’s also love in action.  At the end of the session this morning I asked for some student volunteers to help with final safety measures at the Middlebrooke properties, and from the photo below, you can see that our Physical Plant director, Jason Sylvester, had a good number of takers.

The meeting went about an hour, and Father Amedeo, Ave’s Campus Minister, led the assembled in a beautiful prayer, entrusting all of our cares to Our Lady (on her birthday).

And so now the waiting begins…

We plan on having a Holy Mass on Saturday morning if sustained winds at that point are low enough.  We feel what better way to surrender to Divine Providence than through the Eucharist where we gather as one body in Christ.  All weather predications make it clear that Mass on Sunday will not be possible, and our local pastor gave all of the town of Ave Maria a dispensation from Sunday liturgies.

In my remarks I told the students that they would be different and better people on Monday when the storm has passed.  They will have grown spiritual and emotional “muscles” through this exercise.  They also will have confidence that they can deal with anything life throws at them because Irma constitutes an unprecedented challenge.  I reminded them of how once a terrifying storm was approaching the disciples and Jesus seemed asleep in the boat, as if He didn’t care.  Of course, Jesus did care, and He assured them of His abiding presence as He calmed the storms.  He will do the same for any of us in harm’s way who invite Him to calm the storms in our hearts that lead us to fear.  I believe these students can have confidence that they can cope with whatever is thrown at them by Irma, and emerge more capable than ever.

To the many parents who have contacted us, let me say that I will try to put on our web site a post—Irma update at the earliest possible opportunity. We are assuming that cell and internet availability will be interrupted for some period of time.  We are trying to make arrangements in areas far from Irma’s path so we can communicate to you with a post-Irma report.

As I send this message the county’s police, fire and rescue are preparing to convert our ballroom into a command post and barracks.  We are grateful for their presence.  And most of all, we are grateful for your prayers during this time of uncertainty.  We know that all of God’s ways are loving and we will trust in His loving purposes as Irma comes and goes.  If I can send an update during the storm, I will.  If not, I will be in touch as soon as possible on Sunday night or Monday, God willing.

Thank you for being part of the Ave Maria family!  We are united in Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us.  May His Holy Mother intercede for us in this important hour!

Kind regards,

Jim Towey


#4 – 9/7/2017 9:29 pm – Update on Hurricane Irma Preparations

Dear Ave Maria University community and friends:

It has been another busy day of planning and preparation as we await the arrival of Hurricane Irma Saturday afternoon and Sunday.

The hundreds of Ave students on campus will be meeting with me and senior leadership tomorrow at 10AM to walk everyone through the details of our plan for the weekend. You can be assured that every precaution is being taken. I will be going over the procedures we as a campus community will follow during the storm, and we have a plan in place for its aftermath. The fact that the Collier County Sherriff’s Office is setting up a command post on our campus is a good indication of their confidence in our infrastructure and capabilities. We also will have area Fire and Rescue personnel lodging with us – our student ballroom tomorrow will be transformed into a nerve center of strategic planning and emergency response.

We have been following this storm for six days. Some days the storm track tacks easterly, and some days westerly. We are thankful that we are not a coastal community and therefore have a buffer for whatever approaches. Ave Maria University does not simply confide in the Lord during times of potential danger. This vibrant Catholic liberal arts institution has placed its care in the hands of God from day one. We have known adversity and difficulty in our 10 years on this campus. But we have witnessed the amazing and sustaining grace of God to overcome all of these challenges, and we confide all of our cares in the same merciful hands that brought us to this point.

To the parents of students who remained on campus, let me assure you that we are taking every prudent precaution. We have had twice-a-day meetings with senior leadership to cover every facet of operations, from emergency power, water, food, and safety, to even the deliberation of when we can have a campus-wide Mass on Saturday. I do not know what path Irma will take. I do know what path we will take – we will do everything within our power to safeguard and sustain the students entrusted to our care. We will do so with an ardent trust in Jesus Christ. We are convicted that the Lord is at work in this situation and will equip us for what lies ahead. I will be here with my family – both Mary and the 3 of our children at home with us, and the hundreds of Ave students whom God entrusts to me as my second family. As Mother Teresa encouraged us to do, we are giving God a “free hand” as Irma approaches.

I will be in touch tomorrow. Please keep all of us – and the poor of our beloved neighborhood community, Immokalee – in your prayers. I am sure “Immokalee Mary” is watching over us all!

Kind regards,
Jim Towey


#3 – 9/6/2017 11:55 am – Update – and some encouraging news – on Hurricane Irma

Good morning Ave!

A big thanks to the many students who came to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe last night and prayed the rosary. My wife Mary and I were so happy to see so many in prayer as we entrust our campus, and those in the path of Hurricane Irma, into her loving hands.

In the last 24 hours the situation we are facing has improved considerably and we are growing in confidence that a concentrated hit on our campus is now highly unlikely.

In fact, Dr. Peter Ray, a forecaster with an excellent track record (whom the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida association relies upon), definitively reported this morning that “Irma will not make landfall in the Gulf of Mexico or the West Coast of Florida.” AMU received further encouraging news from today’s 11AM NOAA advisory which confirmed recent forecasts showing an eastern drift of the storm’s anticipated trajectory.

I share this information with you in the event you are considering an evacuation at the conclusion of classes today. You alone can make that decision. I simply want you to have the benefit of this new (and hopeful) information.

In the meantime, the University will continue to prepare for Irma’s possible impact (and it remains likely we will have wind and rain effects), and we will keep you posted.

May Our Lady of Guadalupe continue to watch over her beloved Ave Maria University!

Kind regards,

Jim Towey


#2 – 9/5/2017 5:00 pm – AMU Hurricane Irma Update

Dear members of the Ave Maria University community:

Good afternoon!

My colleagues and I had a productive day examining the many facets of the challenges that Hurricane Irma presents to our campus.  I have a great deal of confidence in our team and also in our facilities that have been built to withstand hurricane-force winds.  University administration will be working all weekend and available on campus as we manage whatever comes our way – so I’ll be breaking out my rain gear again!  From the time of our founding Ave Maria University has been fortified by successfully overcoming the many diverse challenges presented to us.  By God’s grace and the effort of many we will get through Irma as well.

I wish to share with you the following information:

• Classes are canceled for Thursday, Friday and Monday.  The decision to cancel classes was made to allow students the opportunity to travel if they wish to shelter with their families.  Any student who resides in University housing and intends to shelter off-campus should notify their Resident Hall Director or Resident Assistant so that we have an accurate census of those remaining on campus.  Room-by-room checks will be made on Thursday and Friday for this purpose.

  • Classes on Wednesday will be offered as scheduled.   Faculty will be in attendance and students are expected to attend Wednesday classes.  We understand that unique circumstances for some who are traveling will make such attendance not possible.  Please notify your professor(s) if you cannot attend Wednesday classes.
  • Classes are expected to resume on Tuesday, September 12, as scheduled. If there is a change in this plan, we will let you know through the Emergency Notification System and also through postings on the University’s landing page.
  • Because there are no classes on Thursday and Friday, the Mother Teresa Project will be organizing volunteers to go to Immokalee to help at-risk families prepare for the storm.  Project staff will be posting information on these opportunities in the Daily Bulletin.
  • Students, faculty and staff who live in Middlebrooke are likely to be required to relocate to the residence halls because there is not a back-up generator system available. Further instructions will be forthcoming from Vice President Kimberly King.

As Hurricane Irma approaches Florida and its trajectory hardens, the University will be providing information to those students on campus concerning weekend meal schedules and protocols.  Levels of precautions that will be mandatory will be determined by the expected severity of the storm.  The University has sufficient bottled water, food, and back-up generators to get us through the storm and its immediate aftermath.  In the event of a power outage, the back-up generator system will be operationalized in a fashion that optimally utilizes our supply of diesel fuel.  The University has agreed to provide shelter for Collier County Sherriff’s Office, Fire and Rescue personnel, in order to facilitate their important work.  They will be joining us (and taking over the Student Ballroom) in the coming days.

My friends, I grew up in Florida and weathered a couple of hurricanes during my youth.  Twenty-five years ago I cut my teeth in social service during the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew.  There are two lessons I learned from those experiences:  First, that hurricanes often are unpredictable and it is difficult, even a day before, to accurately predict their path and force; and second, that our Lord is walking with us and will never leave us to face any of life’s challenges alone.

Please join me at 6:30pm tonight as we commend our cares and this campus to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  On this feast day of Mother Teresa, a woman who faced many difficulties with trust and joy, may we follow her good example!  Let us pray this simple prayer:  Jesus, I trust in You!

Kind regards,

Jim Towey

#1 – 9/5/2017 10:15 am – AMU Hurricane Irma Update

Dear Members of the Ave Maria University community:

Good morning!

Happy Feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta!  Twenty years ago today she entered the glory of heaven after a life of trusting in the providence of God, placing her hope in Jesus Christ, and confiding her cares to the Blessed Mother.  As we monitor the progress of Hurricane Irma and take steps to ensure the safety of all, we ask the Holy Spirit to give us the wisdom and strength to handle any challenges that come our way, as well as strength to endure any hardships that might visit us in the days ahead.

The University has been closely monitoring the development of Hurricane Irma.  All appropriate preparations have been made, including the stockpiling of sufficient water and food for all residential students, as well as fuel for our back-up generator system in the event of a power loss.  Our facilities have been built to withstand hurricane-force winds.

As you may know from news reports, the trajectory of Hurricane Irma is uncertain at this time.  All information available indicates that the state of Florida will be affected in some way by this storm, including our area. Governor Rick Scott has taken initial steps to prepare for possible evacuations of residents in coastal areas, and the University is engaged in emergency management meetings in the county.  We will remain in close contact with state and local officials and will keep you informed.

At some time later today or tomorrow morning, the University will make a decision as to whether any classes will be canceled this week or next, and also, whether we will recommend that area students travel home and shelter there.  Until you hear otherwise, classes and student activities will proceed as scheduled.

For updates from AMU regarding storm monitoring and preparation, continue to visit  We will use this web site to post important notices and instructions.  To monitor the progress of the storm on your own, we recommend the website of the National Hurricane Center at

In the event that a hurricane warning or watch is declared, you also will receive notifications and instructions via AMU’s Emergency Notification System.  A test of this system will be conducted at noon today.  If you do not receive the test message, please register as follows:

Students – contact Student Affairs Office on the second floor of the Thomas Student Union
Faculty and Staff – login to ADP to update your contact information
Parents/Guardians— register at

In the meantime, I urge you in this time of uncertainty to pray fervently for our campus community to be protected.  I invite you to come to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe across the canal from the women’s residence halls at 6:30pm today to pray a rosary and implore Our Lady’s intercession.  The rosary will conclude promptly at 7:00pm.  We do not want Irma to enroll at Ave Maria!

Kind regards,

Jim Towey