An Interview with the President

The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., was officially inaugurated as Niagara University’s 26th president on April 4, but he has spent nearly a year getting to know NU and its alumni better. Now it’s our turn to get better acquainted with him.

Eagle Magazine: You served on Niagara University’s Board of Trustees from 2010-2013, so you are undoubtedly familiar with the university. What is your vision for NU?

Father Maher: I would like to build upon the many great things that occurred under (former president) Father Levesque’s tenure. I would like to create a very high-level learning community at Niagara that fully embraces and promotes our Catholic and Vincentian mission, and direct our focus on highlighting our great students, faculty, and academic programs.

EM: You were at NU’s fellow Vincentian university, St. John’s, for the past 22 years. Yet the challenges each institution faces are unique. What do you see as the challenges for Niagara?

FM: The challenges really lay in the differentiation of size. St. John’s has over 18,000 students, with a major campus in New York City. At Niagara, we have around 3,700 students and are one of 21 colleges and universities in the Western New York area. There are fewer high school students in the region and we are all working to enroll students from this shrinking pool of applicants.

EM: What is your initial focus for Niagara?

FM: My initial focus has been to listen and learn from the Niagara community.

EM: What future objectives do you have?

FM: I would like to find ways to support the great work our faculty and students are doing in our vibrant living-learning community, and to continue to prepare our students for an international workplace by recruiting them from New York and other states, and Canada and other countries. I would also like Niagara to have a regional impact through our service, teaching and research, and work hand in hand with the Buffalo Billion’s efforts. As a Vincentian university, I would like to impact the lives of those living in poverty in Niagara Falls and the region.

EM: How do you define a successful presidency?

FM: A successful presidency is one that is focused on outcomes, on building of community, and on mission, in the context of higher education.

EM: What about Niagara resonates with you the most?

FM: The people at Niagara, because they are so committed to the university and our mission. We Vincentians often speak about how edified we are by our lay colleagues’ commitment; it challenges us to be better Vincentians and educators.

EM: How do you view NU’s relationship with its alumni?

FM: I regard the relationship with our alumni as a lifeline for our university community and our students. In many respects, alumni offer a look both at the past and to the future. They give witness to a successful life at Niagara and after graduation.

EM: Going forward, how do you want to see that relationship enhanced?

FM: Engaging our alumni by reaching out to them and by inviting them into our university life will enhance the relationship between alums and Niagara.

EM: If you were to tell alumni one thing, what would that be?

FM: Do not be shy about sharing your time, talent and treasure, because our great faculty and students are the direct beneficiaries of your support.

EM: When you’re not doing university business, how do you spend your free time?

FM: I like to read, exercise, and spend time with close friends and my Vincentian confreres.

EM: What’s the best advice you ever received?

FM: Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with great people.

EM: In high school, you would have been considered the person most likely to ...

FM: Be a good friend.

EM: What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?

FM: I’m thankful to God for another day.

EM: What’s a recent book you read?

FM: The Priority of Christ, by Father Robert Barron.

EM: What’s your favorite line from a movie?

FM: “You can’t handle the truth.” Jack Nicholson said that to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men.

EM: What three people, living or dead, would you like to have dinner with?

FM: Jesus Christ, St. Vincent de Paul, and Rosa Parks.

EM: What’s your favorite sport to watch?

FM: Baseball, especially the NY Mets. (Father Maher recently attended a Mets game with a number of NU alumni. See the story here.)

EM: What’s your favorite comfort food?

FM: Greek salad.

EM: What’s on your iPod?

FM: Ted, Real Politics, Politico, Roman Missal.

EM: If you were given one Mulligan, the chance to do one thing over again, what would it be?

FM: It is not so much of a Mulligan, but I did so much traveling my first year (visiting about 25 chapters nationwide), that I would like to see much more of the Niagara and Western New York region. I am truly enjoying the beautiful summer weather.