Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, will receive Leadership Niagara’s Leader of the Year award for 2019 at its awards luncheon on Friday, May 17, 2019.

“Father Maher is not only a fantastic resource for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, he has been a true leader and advocate for Western New York,” said Dottie Gallagher, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. “Niagara continues to be a leader in higher education throughout our region, but under Father Maher’s guidance, the university has embraced its binational location and is developing NU into an institution that is making a global impact.”

Since becoming president of Niagara University in 2013, Fr. Maher has focused on advancing the academic reputation of the university, creating a more international and diverse campus community, and growing the university’s commitment to the revitalization of Niagara Falls and Western New York.

After spending 23 years in executive leadership positions at St. John’s University, Fr. Maher quickly placed his roots in Western New York and began to build partnerships that would allow Niagara’s students to gain even more access to key real-world experiences, while at the same time committing the university to the region.

  • He led a joint effort with Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center to promote economic growth, enhance workforce development, and expand international tourism. The initiative includes a robust student internship program, disability awareness efforts, customer service training, and the establishment of Memorial’s popular Tenth Street Café.
  • Recognizing the university’s legacy in the tourism industry, Niagara has also developed a partnership with the Merani Hotel Group that provides work experience for Niagara students, and also provides for scholarship opportunities for employees of the hotel group.
  • A multiyear partnership was created with Pegula Sports and Entertainment (PSE) which utilizes PSE’s extensive entities to create real-world educational content for Niagara students, while increasing exposure for the university throughout Western New York and beyond.

Understanding that the students of today, and the future, will be living and working in an increasingly global economy, Fr. Maher established the university’s Office of International Relations and has worked tirelessly to establish numerous international partnerships to create a global university.

  • One such partnership is a new initiative with a Vietnamese hospitality and tourism training center that’s aligned with the five-star Imperial Hotel in Vung Tau. Within the partnership, Vietnamese students will work with faculty and administration from Niagara University to receive internationally recognized certificates upon graduation.
  • Understanding the university’s binational presence, Niagara has also established an international partnership with Niagara College (Ontario, Canada) that extends opportunities for higher education on a binational scale and expanded reciprocal relationships to serve a broader scope of academic disciplines, encourage binational research, and promote collaborative programming.

Living the university’s mission of Vincentian service, Fr. Maher has recommitted the university to serve the Niagara Falls community and advance opportunities for individuals from throughout the local area.

  • Utilizing a $4.1 million+ gift from the estate of the late Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko, Fr. Maher established the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality and Mission that develops critical interdependencies both on and off campus and serves as a resource to the community on issues of racial equity.
  • The university has moved forward with IMPACT and the Joseph L. Levesque Institute for Civic Engagement, which serves as the university’s primary resource for anyone in the community who is looking to partner with Niagara University's students, faculty, and staff to build community-service opportunities and create conversations that develop collaborative projects for systemic change using a collective impact model.

In September of 2015, Fr. Maher accompanied US Congressman Brian Higgins to the White House for Pope Francis’ visit to meet President Barack Obama. During the Pope’s visit to the United States, Fr. Maher served as an expert correspondent for several national media outlets, including “The Tavis Smiley Show,” the WCBS-TV (Channel 2 in New York City) news broadcast from Washington, D.C., and Telecare TV, a 24-hour Catholic news network that is available on cable systems nationwide.

“Father Maher has proven to be an incredible asset to Western New York during his time as president of Niagara University,” said Higgins. “He has a keen focus on developing the university through partnerships in Erie and Niagara counties, and he understands the importance of educating students who are committed, thoughtful, intelligent, and willing to be servant leaders in our region and around the world.”

In addition to his success as the 26th president of Niagara University, Fr. Maher has provided help and support to a number of other organizations. He currently serves as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s representative to the NCAA Presidential Advisory Group, and is a member of the NCAA Division I board of governors. He is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), a trustee of DePaul University, and serves on the boards of the Darwin Martin House Complex and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Father Maher earned his doctor of ministry from the Immaculate Conception Seminary and Graduate

School of Theology. He earned two master’s degrees in theology from the Mary Immaculate Seminary, and a bachelor of arts in sociology from St. John’s University. He has also completed professional leadership and management programs at the Harvard University Institute of Educational Management and Management Development Program, the Stevens Institute and the Scott Academy’s Senior Student Affairs Officers Institute, among others.

Fr. Maher has been included in Buffalo Business First’s “Power 250” in each of his years as president at Niagara (2014-2018) and, in 2015, the Trey Whitfield Foundation honored him for his commitment to providing opportunities and access to education. His previous honors include Madison’s Who’s Who, Outstanding Leader in Education (2008); Top 100 Irish-Americans in the U.S. by Irish America Magazine (2004); and New Yorker of the Week, New York 1 News (1995).

Leadership Niagara Awards Luncheon 

“The level of leadership in the Niagara community continues to grow, making the challenge to select the winner in each category greater every year,” said Liz Zulawski, president & CEO of Leadership Niagara. “Congratulations to Father Maher and the rest of this year’s honorees who are recognized for outstanding leadership, distinguished contributions, and dedication to improving the quality of life in our community.”

 Leadership Niagara will present awards to Father Maher and five other honorees at its 29th annual awards luncheon at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Niagara Falls on May 17. The awards are presented to individuals and organizations who exemplify the organization’s mission and core values and work toward strengthening our community. In addition to Father Maher, this year’s honorees are:

  • LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Kenneth Sass, LN ’97, Pinnacle Community Services (Ret.)
  • ORGANIZATION OF THE YEAR: Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club
  • DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI: Bonnie Kane, Ph.D., LN ’17, Niagara Falls City School District
  • EMERGING LEADER: Alicia Laible-Kenyon, Elderwood Health Plan (Niagara Advantage)
  • YOUTH LEADER: Ethan Menges, LYNC ’19, Lockport High School

 Event details, registration, and sponsorship information is available on the Leadership Niagara website, and by calling Liz Zulawski (716-908-8787).