Niagara Gazette — A year ago, the Rev. James J. Maher stood at a podium in the Castellani Art Museum, shortly after being introduced as the president of Niagara University, and relished the moment.
Friday, the school made it official by inaugurating its 26th man to hold the leadership position, with all the pomp and circumstance the celebration required.
Much of his first year was spent learning the area, building on the foundation left by his predecessor and further engaging the world both immediately surrounding the Lewiston campus and the one beyond.
But it isn't enough to just engage these communities, he said. The university has to be involved in an exchange.
"The image I've often used about what a university should be at its core, as a Vincentian and a Catholic university, is a bridge to the outside world," Maher said. "And a bridge that has traffic flowing on both ends of it, so that we're hopefully impacting the larger community, in particular poor and marginalized communities, but that also we're being impacted by the people that we're serving."
Maher, who served as an executive vice president at St. John's University before taking the leadership role in Lewiston, praised the faculty for its role in facilitating the conversations and actions drawing attention to the works of the college.
He said the vision of the campus as a bridge to and from the outside world can only come true if the people facilitating the actions have a strong command of the fields they're representing. In fact, he said, 94 percent of the university's faculty have the highest degree possible in their fields of study, whether it be the college of education, the school of hospitality and tourism management or any of its other standout programs.
"I'm so impressed with the faculty here and that's the core of the university," he said. "If you don't have really good faculty and academic programs, the rest is really smoke and mirrors. We're going to tell the story of Niagara in a grand way, in the region and beyond, and share that with the region of Western New York, with Canada, with the states and just tell people what a great place Niagara is and its impacts."