When Tom Monaghan made the decision to move Ave Maria University from Michigan to Florida, he had a vision for a strong Catholic educational institution that would develop future leaders of faith on a grand scale. However, there was really no way to envision the full extent of growth and success the following 15 years would bring.
During its first semester in a temporary campus in Florida, AMU opened its doors to 120 students; now, a decade-and-a-half later, total undergraduate and graduate enrollment has grown to over 1,100 students hailing from 45 states and 20 countries. From only 10 majors as recently as 2011, AMU now boasts 34 majors, with 70% of current students pursuing those new disciplines of study. The growth that AMU has experienced recently goes beyond enrollment and majors, as evidenced by September’s dedication of the new $13 million Thomas and Selby Prince Building. On that occasion, President Towey commented, “The Prince building is further evidence of God’s favor on this campus in honor of Our Lady. In terms of what the University can now provide through the performance hall, the nursing facilities, the Donahue Family Blackbox Theatre and future space for the Mother Teresa Museum— these are real game changers for AMU.”
Indeed the game has changed. In AMU’s first year in Florida, for example, there were 15 full-time faculty members to support the 120 member student body. By May of 2004, AMU had its first graduating class of 23 students. Four years later saw AMU’s first commencement exercises on the permanent campus, with 88 undergraduates and 38 graduate students receiving degrees. Ten years later, the graduating class of 2018 had nearly tripled to AMU’s largest class ever.
While AMU has continued to expand its student body and facilities, it has been careful to protect the quality of its liberal arts education. Average class sizes of 20 and a 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and a record-breaking incoming class of 413 students, bode well for the future.
The authentic catholic culture of AMU’s student life has deepened over the years. In July of 2009, the Martha J. Burke Adoration Chapel was dedicated and opened for Eucharistic adoration, and by 2014 there was 24/7 exposition offered which continues to this day. The campus chapel, opened in 2018, now hosts two daily masses as well as frequent confession.
AMU’s culture is also defined by a focus on service. In 2013 the university received a $2 million grant for the Mother Teresa Project to promote devotion to her and service to the poor. In May that year, President Towey and 12 students went on AMU’s first mission trip to Calcutta, India, to work with the Missionaries of Charity in Mother Teresa’s homes. Just two short years later, student involvement in mission trips had risen five-fold, with AMU students traveling to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Uganda, Mexico City, and elsewhere. Today, AMU’s students perform thousands of hours of community service and mission service work annually, both locally and across the globe, as a part of the Mother Teresa Project.
Perhaps most important to protecting AMU’s religious identity, was President Towey and the Board of Trustees decision to fight the federal government in court over the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive services mandate. AMU prevailed in this “David versus Goliath” battle when a favorable settlement was reached with HHS and the Department of Justice that permanently protects the University from future fines under the Obamacare law.