The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, was honored by the National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York (NFJC) at its 2020 Reimagined Virtual Citation Banquet on Oct. 20.
Father Maher was among four honorees recognized by the organization with its Citation Award, which is given to those who have distinguished themselves by the example they set in their respect for others; their advocation of humanitarian concerns; their contributions to the region’s cultural, civic, and business organizations; and their support of the NFJC mission.
Some of the attributes noted in Father Maher’s recognition include his ability as an inclusive and collaboration-minded leader, as well as his desire to rebuild the Niagara Falls, N.Y., community.
Pamela Jacobs-Vogt, emeritus member of the NFJC board of directors and member of the Niagara University Board of Trustees, introduced Father Maher for the award.
“He came into the community and embraced the community, and is such a force for good in our community. I think one of the most impressive things is his work in Niagara Falls. He has a major goal with bringing Niagara Falls back,” she said, noting his particular support for Heart, Love and Soul, a Niagara Falls food pantry and dining room.
“As a Vincentian priest, I’ve tried to live my life with a deep connection to people who live in poverty and people on the margins of life,” Father Maher said. While at St. John’s University, his work in developing social service programming and research projects with St. John’s Bread & Life, the largest emergency food pantry program in Brooklyn, “showed how a university doesn’t need to function as an ivory tower, but can be deeply embedded into the community. You can create two-way traffic between a university and a community in need.”
During Father Maher’s tenure as president, the town and gown relationship between the university and the region has been strengthened through programs such as the Niagara Global Tourism Institute’s TReC business incubator and the Levesque Institute for Civic Engagement’s work with the city’s South End Housing Initiative. Father Maher also established Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity and Mission to advance the institution’s commitment to diversity and social justice. This summer, he served alongside nine other high-profile leaders selected by Niagara Falls mayor Robert Restaino on a social justice commission formed to address the issues of law enforcement, healthcare, education, housing, and employment.
“I think the university’s mission is really to engage our partners in the city and the region, the people of Niagara Falls,” Father Maher said. “Our mission is to move people forward out of poverty. There’s no greater opportunity for a Vincentian university formed in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul than has been given to us at Niagara University, and I’m really privileged to be part of that and to lead the effort here.”
Ellen E. Grant, deputy mayor of Buffalo; attorney Kenneth Manning; and Raul and Toni Vazquez, co-founders of the Raul and Toni Vazquez Foundation, were also honored with Citation Awards during the virtual ceremony.