Catholic Schools

New scholarship opportunities for locals at Ave Maria

Five college scholarships specifically for New Orleans-area high school graduates are now available at Ave Maria University, a Catholic liberal arts college in Florida.

“It’s the first scholarship that’s Louisiana-based for Louisiana kids,” said Jim Towey, president of Ave Maria University. “This scholarship, we think, is going to build a nice path from the Big Easy to southwest Florida.”

Two types of scholarships are offered: the Fantastic Four, four scholarships with full tuition and half room and board, valued at $23,974 annually or $95,896 for four years (leaving a student and his family responsible for only $5,118 a year); and one Brightest Light, a full scholarship with room and board, valued at $28,892 annually or $115,568 over four years.

Qualifications for the scholarships are that students: preferably be from a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of New Orleans; be enrolled as a full-time undergraduate at Ave Maria University and maintain a grade-point average of 2.5; and be a practicing Catholic with a recommendation letter from a priest or Catholic parish office. Recipients will be selected based on financial need, academic promise and character that will allow them to succeed in higher education, Towey said.

Applications for these scholarships is online. It is recommended that students apply for scholarships when completing admissions information. Ave Maria has a rolling admissions process, Towey added.

Quality Catholic education
Ave Maria was founded in 2003 as a conservative Catholic college by Domino’s Pizza creator Tom Monaghan, a Catholic. It moved to its permanent campus, just east of Naples, Florida, in 2007 on land donated by the Barron Collier Family.
It now offers 30 majors, master’s and doctorate degrees in theology and an enrollment of just over 1,000 students from 49 states and 14 countries. Twelve Louisiana students currently attend, and several former students are now studying to become priests at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.

Towey said Ave Maria University offers values –­ the Catholic faith is the bedrock of students’ educational experience  ­– and value with tuition under $20,000 annually and an average student/faculty ration of 15:1 with 20 students per classroom.

He says he’s witnessed students entering Ave Maria University with lots of ambition and good desires and having a “marvelous transformative experience as “competent writers, critical thinkers and people ready to place their faith in action.”

“A liberal art education in the Catholic tradition, when done correctly, equips young men and women for the challenges of the 21st century,” Towey said. “It is because they leave the campus with values with an orientation in life that defines success not just in material terms. It helps them contribute to the good of society and the church.”

In addition to values and value, Ave Maria University stands out among Catholic universities because it is the only one to offer the Mother Teresa Project, a student service project approved by the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Mother Teresa in Calcutta, Towey said.

He boasts about the faculty, of which 94 percent have Ph.Ds. He said his professors have degrees from such storied universities as Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth and could teach anywhere, yet choose Ave Maria because of their belief in the school.

The campus has diversity, as well: 25 percent of the student body is a minority, and 85 percent of students identify as Catholic, but on different places in their faith journey.  The school belongs to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) for athletics.

Local philanthropists behind five scholarships
Local businessman Joe Canizaro, chairman of the First Trust Corporation that owns First Bank Corporation, and founder and president and CEO of Columbus Properties LP and Corporate Capital, made the Ave Maria scholarships happen. He is a believer in Catholic education and has supported other Catholic colleges, including establishing an endowed scholarship at Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans.

He had approached the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools in the 2013-14 year about establishing the Ave Maria scholarships to help more local students attain a college education, said Dr. Jan Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Canizaro, a strident Catholic, had gotten to know fellow Catholic, Monaghan, and he was invited to serve on Ave Maria University board. Canizaro is now its financial chairman. Monaghan also sought Canizaro to form a New Orleans chapter of Legatus, an international organization of practicing Catholic CEOs.

“I have a high regard for the university,” Canizaro said. “I feel if my children were younger, it is where I would want them to go. They would get a good Catholic foundation.  ... It’s a faithful Catholic university, so naturally I am interested in seeing it succeed.”

“I believe education is how we grow our community, our faith. ... Our schools are how we grew our faith from the beginning, when you think about it.” Canizaro said. “I think those who learn the faith in school will more likely grow to support our churches and their parishes and Catholic efforts in various areas of philanthropic fields relating to the faith.”

Philanthropist Phyllis M. Taylor, who with her late husband Patrick established TOPS statewide college scholarships, joined in the effort to secure Ave Maria scholarships. She is pleased to align with Ave Maria to offer students an away-from-home educational experience at a Catholic university.

“Ave Maria University is a modern day answer to the needs of those young people who would benefit from this experience,” Taylor said.
“… It is for this reason that I am pleased to be supporting the idea of having a group of students from New Orleans share in the Ave Maria experience.”

Furthering faith at Ave Maria
Lancaster is elated that these scholarships are available to help further Catholic education for Louisiana students.

“It will change how they think in their adulthood,” Lancaster said about being a graduate of a Catholic institute of higher education.

While there are five inaugural scholarships available for the 2015-16 year, Canizaro would like to expand in the future.

“We hope to grow it to a much larger amount of scholarships over the years,” Canizaro said.

For scholarship details, contact Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic schools, Archdiocese of New Orleans at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit the university’s website:

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion