God is so good to Ave Maria University! The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy was waiting for us as classes began this week. We began our 10th year on our permanent campus. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, to whom AMU has a special devotion, will be canonized Sunday at St. Peter’s (and dozens of our students will be joining a big Ave delegation of trustees, spouses, and other friends for this great moment in Church history).
Tom Monaghan, our founder, turns 80 (and recently hosted the trustees at his infamous Tar Paper Shack in Michigan).
And the University will begin and conclude a strategic planning process to map out our University’s direction that extends until he is almost 90!
I think it is safe to say that this new academic year is one of great convergence.
I begin my sixth year as president of AMU with a very grateful heart. My colleagues in senior administration are some of the finest people with whom I have ever worked, and their staffs are dedicated, competent professionals. The faculty here – truly the lifeline of the University during the challenging early years of our founding and transition from the temporary campus – make the education we offer at Ave the best value proposition in Catholic higher education. Three new professors join us this year, and we already are beginning searches for new ones as we expand our academic offering.
And it is most especially my good fortune to have Ave’s nearly 1,100 students in my life. When I first began we had 618 undergraduates on campus. They come from nearly every state and over 25 countries. The student body is remarkably diverse – with an approximately 25% minority population that enriches each and every aspect of the University experience.
Last week we welcomed another large entering class.
I love move-in day because I get to meet the proud parents and their hopeful sons or daughters at the welcome event that follows the toting of suitcases, mini-refrigerators, bedding, and so forth to their rooms.
After a bit of dormancy, the campus is now fully alive – our football team kicks-off on Saturday at home under new Coach Joe Patterson; we had hundreds of students in Immokalee to volunteer as part of the Mother Teresa Project to kick-off our service imperative; and most important, the classrooms and labs are buzzing with activity as the professors work their wonder.
So much is happening in my life now. And oh yeah – in a month I turn 60! It has been my good fortune to have had Mother Teresa in my life for over half of it. God knows where I would have gone, what I would have done, and where I would be today, if it weren’t for her. I surely didn’t deserve this gift. Now I am simply trying to pay the interest on the debt I owe to God for her. It’s like credit card debt – I’ll never be able to pay it back, but I can at least try to keep up with the monthly payments!
On Sunday the Church will hold Mother up as a “Carrier of God’s tender and merciful love” (Pope Francis’ words). She is indeed that. I firmly believe her influence in the Church and world is only beginning. Just as her patron saint, St. Therese the Little Flower, catapulted into prominence through the careful study of her words and works, so, too, will soon-to-be Saint Teresa of Calcutta.
AMU is fortunate to be, in Cardinal O’Malley’s words at commencement last May, “Mother Teresa’s University.”
We are going to have another great year!
May Our Lady, the great Mother of God and inspiration and exemplar of Mother Teresa’s life, continue to intercede for her Ave Maria University in this exciting year ahead!