TALLAHASSEE, FL (April 3, 2019) – In a first for a college president, Ave Maria University President Jim Towey gave the keynote speech at the Annual Florida Legislative Prayer Breakfast in the Cabinet Room of the Capitol Building. Attending the event were Governor Ron DeSantis, Senate President Bill Galvano, House Speaker Jose Oliva, and many other influential members of the Legislature. The gathering took place at the exact midpoint of the 60-day legislative session.
Towey, who served 25 years ago in the cabinet of then-Governor Lawton Chiles as Secretary of Florida’s massive, 40,000-employee Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, challenged Florida’s leaders to see the image of God in the poor and vulnerable who live on the margins of society, and give them “a shepherd’s care.” Florida has four million senior citizens, with nearly 1.5 million living near or below the poverty level, and a swelling foster care population. He said, “Too many adults have placed their own interests ahead of the interests of their children, or the elderly and disabled. We all have watched parents who didn’t parent, or as the prophet Ezekiel described, shepherds who pastured themselves instead of the sheep. When that happens, the sheep suffer.”
Legislative leaders also were cautioned by Towey about “the rapid advance of artificial intelligence and its inevitable dehumanizing effect on society.” He quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who wrote in Spe Salvi that “not everything technically possible is ethically permissible,” and warned of the dangers when science is not informed by faith.
Governor DeSantis followed Towey to the podium and cited the nation’s rich tradition of seeking the guidance of Divine Providence in the affairs of state. Speaker Oliva concluded the program and proceeded to do just that. Notably, for the first time in Florida’s history, the governor, Senate president, and House speaker all profess the Catholic faith.
Towey summed up the purpose of the morning’s gathering. He said, “A prayer breakfast reminds us of the simple proposition that we need God. Confess this need, and the Lord will show you how to lead as you serve in high office.” He encouraged state officials to be servant leaders. “The Lord left you an example when He washed the feet of His disciples. He taught you how to lead from below, not from above, not by lording authority over others, but by humbly serving, by shepherding, by placing the needs of others above your own.”