For many in the area, both Niagara University and Niagara Catholic High School have established themselves as key facets of Catholic education in Western New York. Now, the two organizations have signed an agreement to work together with one another on a more extensive basis, with a mission to make Niagara Falls a better place for young people to academically excel and develop their faith.
On Friday, May 9, representatives of Niagara University and Niagara Catholic and Bishop Richard J. Malone met in Bisgrove Hall at Niagara University to sign a memorandum of understanding between the schools. Niagara University President Father James C. Maher, CM, Bishop Malone, and Judith Nolan Powell, chair of Niagara Catholic's board of trustees, signed the agreement. Using its "7-16" model, the schools aim to enhance Catholic education from seventh grade through senior year of college.
"I think this is an ideal model and partnership of what Catholic universities should be doing," Father Maher said. "It's what a Vincentian university should be doing. St. Vincent de Paul was a man of great faith. He was a man who organized people tremendously, and he built institutions that were living, vibrant institutions that served the needs of the poor, the disadvantaged, through human services, through evangelization of faith and through education, and that's really what we seek to do in this partnership."
The primary listed goals of the collaboration include creating a "University School Collaboration Model," by which the two schools will work together to increase opportunities and economic development for underserved student populations in Niagara Falls. In keeping with the schools' Vincentian mission of serving the poor and encouraging Catholic education, the agreement will help make this quality education more accessible to people of all socioeconomic statuses by pooling their resources together.
The memorandum aims to expand Niagara Catholic students' opportunities to prepare for college by expanding the college courses available to them via Niagara University's NUSTEP program, encourage international students to attend the schools and create a more international focus. It also plans to develop its Hospitality and Tourism Academy at Niagara Catholic to encourage its students to pursue internships and provides workforce incentives for careers in what it called the world's single largest industry.
When asked specifically what programs Niagara University will offer to bolster the collaboration between his institution and Niagara Catholic, Father Maher said the school will focus on where they can build "some really nice synergies around some of the needs of the community and the high school."
"As hospitality and tourism grows now in Niagara Falls with the Buffalo Billion and the involvement of our global tourism institute, we can integrate Niagara Catholic students into that," Maher said. "They can see from the beginning how important tourism and hospitality is to economic and social development."
Hung Le, vice president for international relations at Niagara University, said he has made partnerships with schools in other countries and has promoted Niagara Catholic as Niagara University's sister school. He said, "For those parents or students that need high school education, whether from Asia or Europe, I like to present Niagara Catholic as a final destination for completing their high school education."
In discussing welcoming international students, Bishop Malone said students from other countries will benefit the institutions by giving local students at Niagara University and Niagara Catholic a more "global perspective, because sometimes our worlds can shrink very small."
Additionally, Bishop Malone said the Diocese of Buffalo wants to do what it can to keep remaining Catholic schools in the area open, and to "not only survive, but flourish." He also called the collaboration "very promising, and really firming up what I would call a continuum of Catholic education in this area." Catholic schools need to stay aware of challenges like declining enrollment, he said, and improving academic programs and faith formation programs will appeal to Catholic parents.
"We're just so grateful to NU for continuing that partnership and strengthening it and, under Father Maher's leadership, I know that it's going to take it to a whole new level. We've got many community partners, legislators, politicians, community friends who will make this happen," Nolan Powell said. "As an alum of Madonna, the precursor to Niagara Catholic, I'm just thrilled for our students, for the enriching experience this is going to bring to them."
In addition to the representatives of Niagara University, Niagara Catholic and the Diocese of Buffalo, city of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster and New York State Senator George D. Maziarz, both of whom attended Catholic schools in the Niagara Falls area, attended the signing of the agreement.
"This is an absolutely tremendous moment for us in the city of Niagara Falls ... the university takes very seriously its mission to minister to the poor, and unfortunately, you don't have to look far to find needy people; you've got plenty of them in the city of Niagara Falls," Dyster commented. "I salute Niagara University for looking for every possible opportunity to partner with the city of Niagara Falls, and to raise the quality of life for every citizen in the city of Niagara Falls."
Maziarz said, "This is a great partnership between two great institutions ... this partnership will guarantee that great schools like Niagara Catholic will continue on for a very long time."