Monaghan passes torch at AMU
Jim Towey named CEO and president
Tom Monaghan Steps Down
While Monaghan, AMU’s founder and greatest benefactor, will retain the role of chancellor, he is handing off the day-to-day role of CEO to Florida native and one-time George W. Bush adviser Jim Towey.
Towey, 54, the president of Pennsylvania’s St. Vincent College until June 2010, will also assume the role of president at the university when founding President Nick Healy retires in July.
Healy will continue to serve as chair for the Foundation of the Arts at Ave Maria.
“We’ve been talking about this for some time with the board,” Monaghan, 73, said. “Of course, everybody knows my age. And, Jim kind of came out of the blue.”
Healy, also 73, said he was happy handing over his post to Towey, who at one time served as legal counsel for Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her charitable activities in North America.
“When I first met Jim Towey, I couldn’t help but reflect that I had been a maritime lawyer with clients like Aristotle Onassis ... and he had been a lawyer for Mother Teresa; but I think he would agree that he had the more difficult client,” Healy said at a Thursday press conference, where roughly 100 people were gathered from the university and town to hear the announcement.
“What more can you say about someone who is a lawyer, and who was trusted by Mother Teresa?”
Aside from his work with Mother Teresa, Towey has also worked in government positions in Florida and federally, as well as founding his own national nonprofit.
He worked in the office of Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles from 1990 to 1991 as a liaison to the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, and later as secretary of that department from 1993 to 1995.
In 1996 he founded the nonprofit Aging with Dignity, operating out of Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., advocating for appropriate care of people during times of serious illness, and ran that nonprofit as president until he was tapped by President George W. Bush in 2002 to direct the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives until 2006.
After he left that office, he picked up the post of CEO and president at St. Vincent, a 164-year-old Catholic liberal arts college of 2,000 students.
Ave Maria is scarcely half that size, with 800 students, and is still seeking the official designation of a “Catholic Institution” that can only be bestowed by the Catholic Church. Aside from leading one of the nation’s historic Catholic colleges, Towey will bring to Ave Maria a pedigree that includes awards from Pope John Paul II and the distinction of twice being named one of the 50 most influential Christians in the world by Church World Magazine.
“It’s a privilege to follow in the footsteps of Tom Monaghan, a man of great faith and vision whom I’ve known and admired for many years,” said Towey, who spoke at the press conference but declined to be interviewed before he officially takes his post in July.
“Tom saw that the best way to reform and renew Catholic higher education in America was to build a prototype for the 21st century.”
At the press conference, the different players discussed the transition as an inevitable step in ushering the university toward maturity. The school, founded with Monaghan’s own money, has relied largely on contributions by him to the Ave Maria Foundation, and Towey and others made mention of helping the university become self-sufficient while expanding the school.
“It’s a new day at Ave Maria, and I’m excited about its future,” Towey said. “The start-up phase is over, a strong foundation is now in place, and now we must go about the difficult work of building the best Catholic liberal arts university in America. We will carefully grow the enrollment, continue to recruit and retain the very finest professors, and secure the final resources necessary to fulfill the university’s potential.”
Michael Timmis, chair of the Ave Maria Board of Trustees, said Towey’s reputation preceded him when discussions came up among the board members about a successor for Monaghan and Healy.
“Jim had done an incredible job revitalizing St. Vincent in the four years he was there, so he really had a track record of success,” said Timmis. “Also, he’s moved in so many circles that a number of our board members had at least met him or had relationships with him, and ... his name just kept coming up.”
Bishop Frank Dewane, a non-voting member of the Ave Maria Board of Trustees, noted in a statement on Thursday that Monaghan and Healy had laid a "solid foundation" for the university.
"I look forward to working with Mr. Towey who brings extensive experience and knowledge to his new position and offers a new vision as Ave Maria University moves into the future," Dewane said in the statement.
Monaghan started courting Towey in the summer of 2010, when he stepped down from his position at St. Vincent.
“I couldn’t think of anyone in the country that I know of that I’d have been happier with,” Monaghan said. “He has no fear about Catholic identity being watered down, and that’s one of the main reasons we started this school. All of the other large historic (Catholic) schools have become very secularized.”
Monaghan will retain a role as something of a figurehead and public face of Ave Maria, which he founded initially in Michigan as Ave Maria College five years after he sold Domino’s Pizza in 1998. Monaghan said he will continue an active role in the university by coordinating donor relations and assisting with planning on the sprawling campus in eastern Collier County. Monaghan has had a lifelong interest in architecture, and he said he intends to keep employing that interest through planning future buildings at the school.
“It’s fairly selfish,” Monaghan said. “I don’t like budget meetings, I don’t like some of the administrative things, and I’ll be free of that now and I can just do the things that I want to do.”
And Monaghan, though he has proven himself a shrewd businessman, said he has no apprehensions over ceding much of the university’s control to someone else, even after founding the university and pouring much of his own personal fortune into it. (Monaghan has pledged to give away all of his money by the end of his life, and joked at Wednesday’s press conference that his next book, which he is writing now, will likely be titled “From Rags to Riches to Rags.”)
“That thought hadn’t even occurred to me in these weeks I’ve been working on this,” he said of any concerns over giving up control. “I left Domino’s after 38 years, and I was probably a lot more entrenched there than here. And I have never missed Domino’s in the day-to-day running of it, as much as I loved it at the time. It was just time to move on.”
“I think it will probably be more of a relief,” he added.
The decision to hire Towey was reached at Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting, and Timmis said the board has worked “collaboratively” toward finding Monaghan’s and Healy’s replacement. He said the board, likewise, had no apprehension over passing off the reins, echoing statements during Thursday’s press conference that Towey comes on board to lead Ave Maria University into its next phase of development, building upon the foundation laid by Monaghan and Healy.
“Really, for us as a board, they’ve done the impossible,” Timmis said. “They’ve created a university out of tomato fields. It’s incredible. It’s unparalleled.”
Monaghan was quick to respond: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Connect with higher education reporter Leslie Williams Hale at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_hale