PHOTOS: Ave Maria inaugurates second president; officially recognized as Catholic university

Jim Towey, left, shakes hands with Bishop Frank Dewane during the presidential inauguration for Towey on Friday in the oratory at Ave Maria University. Bishop Dewane officially recognized Ave Maria University as a Catholic university on Friday during his speech at the inauguration. Lexey Swall/Staff

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Jim Towey, left, shakes hands with Bishop Frank Dewane during the presidential inauguration for Towey on Friday in the oratory at Ave Maria University. Bishop Dewane officially recognized Ave Maria University as a Catholic university on Friday during his speech at the inauguration. Lexey Swall/Staff

NewsMakers: Jim Towey, Part 1

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Ave Maria University's new president Jim Towey visits with students after a press conference announcing his position at the school's student union on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, in Ave Maria. Towey is a former Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and president of St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

Ave Maria University's new president Jim Towey visits with students after a press conference announcing his position at the school's student union on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, in Ave Maria. Towey is a former Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and president of St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania. David Albers/Staff

— Standing ovations punctuated ceremonies at Ave Maria University Friday as the school inaugurated its second president and received official recognition as a Catholic university from Bishop Frank Dewane.

“That was the most exciting thing today,” said junior David Hallenbeck, who learned this summer that the school was not recognized by the Diocese of Venice in Florida. “It’s about time.”

The inauguration ceremonies were held after a 10 a.m. mass inside the Ave Maria Oratory.

The university has followed the Ex Corde Ecclesiae constitution specifying the requirements of a Catholic institution since it became a university in 2003, but the local bishop has not recognized the school. The bishop is responsible for bestowing the designation according to the Code of Canon Law.

“It’s really important when you’re located in a dioceses to be acknowledged by the local ordinary, by the bishop, that we are a faith-filled, legal and licit university,” university spokesman Deacon Forrest Wallace said. “It means the local bishop is behind the school and is in favor of the teachings and what’s going on.”

There is no official timeline for when a university receives its Catholic distinction, said Billy Atwell, spokesman for the Diocese of Venice in Florida. Ave Maria is the first and only Catholic university in the diocese.

Dewane told university staff of his decision Thursday, but made the announcement Friday. The designation comes just months after President Jim Towey assumed office in July.

“It was perfect timing,” Dewane said. “Both parties have had time to get to know each other and work some things out. There was time to address some issues that needed to be addressed, and they have been.”

Bishop Dewane also serves as an ex-officio member of the school’s board of trustees.

The bishop’s announcement brought the congregation at Ave Maria Oratory to its feet Friday morning. They rose again for Towey as Ave Maria founder and former Domino’s Pizza CEO Tom Monaghan presented him with the university seal and an academic hood.

Towey wore traditional black academic robes and four velvet chevrons, or bars, symbolizing his position as president.

“This is a nice way for me to go out,” Monaghan said of the Catholic designation. He will continue to serve at the university as chancellor.

Towey served as president of St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. before coming to Ave Maria. He worked as an assistant to former president George W. Bush and was a director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for four years. He also worked as an attorney for Mother Teresa of Calcutta for 12 years beginning in 1985 until her death.

“After my wedding day, and the birth of my kids, briefing President Bush in the oval office, and driving Mother Teresa in my old Honda Prelude, I’ve been well schooled in the world of pressure,” Towey said, adding that he anticipated some butterflies before his speech Friday.

His goals for the university are to grow enrollment, bringing in 400 freshmen next fall to top this year’s record-setting incoming class of 300. A total of 750 undergraduates study at the university this year.

“We want to swing the doors open to Ave Maria University to promote open debate and diverse thought and invite to our campus people of all faiths and none at all,” Towey said.

The president aims to balance the budget by the year 2014-2015 when Ave Maria shifts from relying on Monaghan’s wallet to standing on its own feet.

“He’s brought fiscal discipline to the university,” Monaghan said.

“I just have to bring blessings,” Dewane added.

During his speech, Towey stressed the importance of a liberal arts education grounded in Catholic belief.

“When an Ave Maria student graduates, he or she should be able to thrive in the midst of people who do not pray like them, think like them, vote like them or worship like them,” he said Friday. “That is why during my tenure we will look to expand study abroad, service learning, campus ministry initiatives and student internships. The more outside engagement, the better.”

Also in attendance at Friday’s event, were representatives from area schools including Provost Ron Toll from Florida Gulf Coast University and Collier County Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton as well as President Eugene Milhizer of Ave Maria School of Law.

Students and administrators alike spoke highly of the new president who is often seen around campus, eating in the cafeteria or talking to students. Alexander Pince, president of the Student Government Association, hinted that Towey would be playing in a dodgeball game with students next week.

“He understands the point of view of students,” said Junior Catherine Burke, who saw Towey helping students move into their dorms at the beginning of the semester. “He makes jokes, he’s approachable.”

Junior Zach Crockett is excited to be one of the first classes of students to graduate from the university under its new designation.

“This is a huge step forward for us,” he said. “It really confirms our identity.”

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