The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, received Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center’s Nancy Gara Spirit Award at the Premier, the hospital’s annual black-tie event, on Jan. 20, 2024. The award honors the late Gara, a respected banking executive and former board member of NFMMC widely admired for her enduring optimism and steadfast commitment to community service.

Under Father Maher’s leadership, the university has expanded its footprint in the region and positioned itself as a premier binational institution with the opening of a science research lab on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the establishment of a campus location in Vaughan, Ontario. Niagara’s outstanding academic experience is consistently ranked among the most affordable in New York state, according to U.S. News & World Report, and the university has climbed in the publication’s rankings of “Best Regional Universities (North),” from 70 in 2013 to 30 in 2023, making it the top independent institution in the Buffalo-Niagara region within that category. Niagara is also the highest-ranking independent school from the region on the list of social mobility and for “Undergraduate Nursing Programs,” and is tied for second for “Undergraduate Business Programs.”

Since taking on the leadership role at Niagara University in 2013, Father Maher has been instrumental in spearheading various transformative initiatives for the betterment of Niagara Falls. The university’s service to Niagara Falls is centered on four pillars: early childhood, community outreach, health and wellness, and revitalization. These pillars align the university’s work in engaging with the city of Niagara Falls in a strategic way and implementing programs to benefit the residents of the city. The university is currently working with a Neighborhood Evaluation Committee to bring together a wide range of organizations dedicated to creating a vibrant, equitable, and inclusive community through research, community engagement, identification of grants and funding, and the development of future housing and neighborhood initiatives.

Recognizing the strength of partnership, Father Maher has also spearheaded a number of critical initiatives with NFMMC to elevate the work of each organization. NU and NFMMC have worked together to grow workforce development, offer nursing classes at the medical center, strengthen nurse resiliency, and create career pathways for Niagara’s students. In addition, Niagara’s students worked with the staff at Memorial to develop the Tenth Street Café within the facility.

In addition to his role as Niagara’s president, Father Maher serves as a trustee at DePaul University. He is also on the board of directors of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, is president of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and serves on the advocacy work group of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities. His commitment to fairness in labor and education is evident from his roles in the University and Collegiate Executive Committee of the Fair Labor Association and his significant contributions to the Global Alliance for Workers and Community.