Niagara Gazette — On a day when the Vatican elected its new pontiff, Niagara University had its own bit of white smoke rise into the Lewiston air.
The Rev. James Maher, executive vice president for mission and student services at St. John’s University in New York City, was named the school’s 26th president.
He’ll take office Aug. 1 following outgoing President the Rev. Joseph Levesque, who announced earlier this year he was stepping down.
“Father Levesque has done a wonderful job as president for 13 years,” Maher said. “So I’m really coming into a situation where the university is in really good shape. There’s a great administrative team, there’s a wonderful faculty. And we have great academic programs here. So part of my role will be to help tell that story in the region, beyond the region and globally.”
Maher has spent the past 22 years serving various roles at St. John’s, where he also completed his undergraduate studies before receiving two Master’s degrees and a doctorate. But Niagara also holds a special place in his heart as the alma matter of his brother, the Rev. John Maher, who also worked at the school from 2005-2011.
As a boy, he used to make the drive with his brother and father to the school. As a young adult himself, he spent a year in service learning in the community, where he said he gained a new perspective about the Western New York community he’ll soon call home
But of all those memories, it’s one involving a sports team on campus which he remembers most fondly.
“I remember coming here when the Buffalo Bills used to train here back where the fitness center is right now,” he said. “So meeting at that point Bobby Moore” – now Ahmad Rashad – “and some of the other Bills at that time. It sort of planted the seed that this is a special place. In this life and especially as a priest, you can be taken to a number of different venues. But I’ve got to think it’s God’s hand I ended up back here.”