Jim Towey, Naples Chapter
Jim Towey is in his fifth year as president of Ave Maria University. Since assuming the position on July 1, 2011, Ave Maria has increased its enrollment and is becoming financially self-sustaining.
Under Towey’s leadership, the university has expanded programming, campus spiritual activities, service projects and missionary work. With the authorization of the Missionaries of Charity, the university instituted the Mother Teresa Project, an initiative where students learn about her life and spirituality while engaging in the corporal works of mercy.
Towey was a longtime friend and legal counsel to St. Mother Teresa, and he read the first reading at her canonization Mass on Sept. 4 in Rome. Towey, who also served as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives from 2002-2006, spoke with Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.
How are things going at AMU?
Tom Monaghan built a great foundation. Fortunately, in five years, we’ve grown the enrollment 70%. We’re attracting wonderful young men and women, and the school is flourishing.
We need to get to 1,600 students, and we’re at about 1,100 now. We have rooms in our dorm that need to be filled. But thankfully many generous people have adopted Ave Maria as their second alma mater, and we’re grateful for their generosity.
What is the Mother Teresa Project and how did it develop?
I’ve been legal counsel to Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity since 1985, and they gave us permission to start a project that would teach students about Mother Teresa’s life and spirituality — and invite them to a life of service. We’re so close to the farm worker communities here and to the elderly and nursing homes. We have wonderful opportunities for volunteering. I take 12 students to Calcutta every year. My wife takes students to Haiti to work with Mother Teresa’s nuns. It’s a great experience.
What made Mother Teresa a saint?
She became a saint by her choices that she made consistently throughout her life to love God and to love neighbor. She trusted in the Lord and not her own strength, and she loved “until it hurt,” as she put it.
How did your friendship with Mother Teresa impact you spiritually?
Mother Teresa changed my life. I’m no saint, but I do know what she taught this world: to love God, trust in His mercy and to seek Jesus in our neighbors.
What was it like to read at her canonization Mass?
It was a tremendous privilege to represent Ave Maria University on that day of glory, and to stand there in St. Peter’s Square to look at the Holy Father to my right and hundreds of thousands of people from all countries. It was truly an overwhelming experience that I will never forget.
Will government pressure on Catholic institutions continue?
I’m afraid that these attacks on religious liberty will only increase in the years ahead. Catholic leaders in academia and throughout the country have to fight for what we believe in: our right of conscience. The more government grows, the more government grabs.
We have to be faithfully Catholic. The reason these attacks on religious liberty take place is because secular orthodoxy has become the prevailing belief, and if all we have in response is a cultural Catholicism, there is nothing to defend. Our job is to be, as St. Thomas More said, the king’s good servant, but God’s first.