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Ave Maria retains Father Fessio in new capacity March 23, 2007

Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, who was dismissed as provost of Ave Maria University on March 21, has been retained by the school in a different capacity.

The abrupt dismissal of the prominent Jesuit had sparked protests on the Florida campus, and raised concerns among the supporters of the young Catholic institution. Virtually the entire student body attended a Thursday convocation at which Father Fessio departure was discussed, cheering loudly when a speaker called for the priest's reinstatement.

Nicholas Healy, the president of Ave Maria, issued the following statement yesterday to the students, faculty, and staff:

We expressed yesterday that the separation of Father Fessio from the University’s administration had nothing to do with our shared commitment to our mission as a Catholic university ex corde ecclesiae. As a sign of our esteem for his great gifts and abilities, we have asked Father Fessio and he has agreed to continue a relationship with us. This will include the following:
  1. He will be designated a theologian in residence and maintain a room on campus.
  2. He will join us for the Commencement exercises.
  3. He will teach the planned summer program for high school students.
  4. He will explore a semester abroad program in Rome and how our Austrian semester abroad program might be continued. It is expected that in developing plans for study abroad programs Father Fessio will be spending a significant amount of time in Europe.
  5. It is anticipated that beginning in the spring semester, Father Fessio will assume teaching responsibilities at AMU, although the precise schedule for the teaching hours will need to be worked out.

We are pleased that we can confirm the continuing association with Father Fessio and his commitment to the ongoing development of Ave Maria University in a non-administrative capacity.

In a March 23 conversation with CWN, Father Fessio said that he was "delighted" with the new arrangement, which would free him from administrative duties and enable him to spend more time with Ave Maria students and devote more energy to his continuing work as editor of Ignatius Press. Ironically, he spoke to CWN from Washington, where he was being inducted into the "Catholic Education Hall of Fame."

Father Fessio said that he still has not been given a reason for his precipitous dismissal, although he conceded that he has had strong disagreements with other top administrators at Ave Maria. Informed sources on campus have said that the most important disagreements involved the campus ministry.

The Jesuit priest, who had dedicated himself to building a strong Catholic faculty and student body for the school, was the only top administrator at Ave Maria with an academic background. An AM faculty member observed that the manner in which Father Fessio was summarily ousted was itself an illustration of the "irreconcilable differences over administrative policies and practices" which had been cited by the administration as the grounds for his dismissal.