Ferrara Receives Dunleavy Award

Thomas G. Ferrara, ’76, received the Dunleavy Award during the Alumni Memorial Mass at Alumni Chapel on Sunday. During the presentation, Ferrara gave the following speech:

Unlike Niagara’s 160-year history, this will be brief. Thank you Father Jim, Father John, and the entire Niagara community. When Father Jim contacted me about being the recipient of the Dunleavy Award, my first reaction was surprise ... and to say “no.” After a few minutes, it was agreed that I would give it some thought and get back to him. That’s when Father John Maher was called for his feedback and thoughts. When asked about the criteria for being nominated for the honor, John’s response was, “Well, for one thing, you’re still married to your first wife.” So after 33 years of marriage, I have to thank my wife, Philomena, for getting me here, and she didn’t even go to Niagara. Thanks, also, to my fellow classmates and many lifelong friends from the bicentennial Class of ’76.

Ironically, 2016 is also the bicentennial year for the Vincentian order arriving in America. Please join me in giving them a round of applause. One more quick thank you to the faculty of Niagara and in particular, Ms. Campbell, who taught English writing. She instilled the skill of minimizing the use of the word I, and to never begin anything in writing with the first person. And, Dr. Bohdan Pikas, who taught business classes with a wry sense of humor combined with real-world experiences. One example that comes to mind is a classroom discussion of how he took apart and repaired his home heating oil furnace. Really ...

On a more serious note, I’d like to acknowledge two special people who are no longer with us, yet deserve recognition. They are Mary and John Maher Sr., the parents of Jim and John Maher and their three sisters, Marybeth, Anne, and Kathy. Saint Vincent de Paul wrote: “The reason why God is such a great lover of humility, is that he is a great lover of truth. Humility is, in fact, truth.” No two members of the religious exemplify this code of conduct better than Fathers John and Jim. Giving credit where credit is due, that virtue of humility is a family trait of the Maher family, instilled in these two fine men and their sisters, Anne, Marybeth, and Kathy. What many of you may not know is John Maher Sr. was an ethical, hardworking family man who had an equal reputation in the banking community. In a “George Bailey way,” out of It’s a Wonderful Life, he dealt with the bank and its customers fairly, honestly, and with integrity. Unlike George Bailey, Mr. Maher came home each evening to a family situation that included not only the children, but to his wife Mary, who was wheelchair bound, and their daughter Kathy, who was debilitated at birth. To say this was an extraordinarily humble family is an understatement.

Two weeks before Father John was to be ordained, Mary, his mother, died on May 14, 1981. The loss not only challenged the family, but forced Father John to rethink his commitment to the Vincentian order and the conflict with the needs of his sister, Kathy. John’s decision to proceed with the ordination in honor of his mother, Mary, was not only a tremendously unselfish gift to God and us, but a testament to the love, strength, and endurance of the Maher family as a whole. That strength endures today, even though Mary and John Maher Sr. have left us. The Maher siblings’ love of their parents still continues today as they care for the needs of their sister, Kathy, and all the medical, physical, and governmental challenges it brings. And in the case of John and Jim, they do it with a heightened level of dignity and humility, while they unselfishly give their time to all of us, as well. As John said, they pay it forward.

Saint Vincent would be, and is, proud of these fine men. Though, thankfully, neither of them are on their first wives ... . Father John once told me that the initials “C.M.” doesn’t mean “Congregation of the Mission,” it really stands for “Can’t marry.”

They really are the ones who deserve this award for all the sacrifices they, and their wonderful parents, have made. Please join me in thanking them both.

Thank you, everyone.