I may be heading to the annual meeting of presidents of the Cardinal Newman Society’s colleges and universities as well as the fall meeting of the U.S. Bishops, but I am still savoring the memories from last week at historic Antoine’s restaurant in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Trustee Joe Canizaro and his wife Sue Ellen hosted a small gathering of some of the city’s - and Louisiana’s - most upstanding Catholic citizens and philanthropists. If you have studied in Canizaro library on campus then you already feel like you know Joe (and truth be told, Joe didn’t want the building to bear his name - we had to talk him into allowing us to do so). Joe is a refined man who pays close attention to every detail, both as chairman of the University trustee’s finance committee, and as host of events like this. For example, he had the dessert for the evening shaped as a football, decorated with a “Welcome Jim Towey” on one side and “Ave Maria University” on the other.
At the dinner I had the pleasure of again being with Phyllis Taylor (shown in the photo with one of the waiters) who holds an honorary doctorate from Ave Maria - in fact, the Patrick F. Taylor Graduate Theology program honors her late husband. She was joined by Larry and Andi Oney, as was Fr. Neil McDermott, a priest of 52 years who was chiefly responsible for getting the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese back on their feet after Hurricane Katrina’s devastating blow in 2005.
If you watched the Cowboys-Saints game you might have caught a glimpse of two other special guests at our table, Gayle Benson and her husband Tom, the owner of the New Orleans Saints (pictured here with Ave Maria friend Mr. Roland Toups in the foreground, who was accompanied by his wife Kay).
What a remarkable group of devout Catholics!
Their sincere interest in Ave Maria University encouraged me greatly. But what touched me the most was their burning desire to spread the Catholic faith through their daily lives.
I just read the November edition of Columbia magazine published by the Knights of Columbus, and the monthly column of another Ave Maria University honorary doctorate recipient, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. He quoted Pope Francis as follows: “The church, Benedict XVI told us, does not grow through proselytism, it grows through attraction, through witness…(The) witness that comes from charity, which is to worship God and serve others, is what makes the Church grow.”
The kindness of Joe and Sue Ellen, the company of these good people, and their interest in Ave Maria University, had the unmistakable fragrance of charity to it. It was a night I will long remember.
And the dessert wasn’t half bad, either!