What’s Up in Ave Maria: Mr. Novak goes to Washington — for a while

By Patricia Sette, Citizen Contributor, in the Naples Daily News on May 25, 2016

Former U.S. Ambassador Michael Novak, center, and graduate Angela Winkles, right, gather after Ave Maria University's 2015 commencement ceremony at the Tom Golisano Fieldhouse on campus in this file photo from May 9, 2015, in Ave Maria. Tom Greenfield/Citizen Correspondent
Former U.S. Ambassador Michael Novak, center, and graduate Angela Winkles, right, gather after Ave Maria University's 2015 commencement ceremony at the Tom Golisano Fieldhouse on campus in this file photo from May 9, 2015, in Ave Maria. Tom Greenfield/Citizen Correspondent

One of the attractions of a university town is the fact that accomplished, even illustrious people, reside in it, and ever since he moved here in 2010, Michael Novak has been among the most distinguished.

A philosopher, teacher, theologian and diplomat, Novak has been a valued friend to the town and a loyal supporter of Ave Maria University (AMU) where he has taught a number of courses. However, this coming autumn, Novak, 82, will be residing instead in Washington, D.C., teaching at Catholic University of America (CUA), although he says he plans to return this January to his home in Ave Maria.

Novak will be helping to launch a course at CUA which he says the university is calling "human ecology." He and his students will explore such questions as, "What are the stories that guide our lives? Who are the heroes? And how is that changing in today's world?"

Novak, who was interviewed recently by The Ave Herald, the news site of Ave Maria, says he will teach one class a week at CUA, "to baptize the idea" of the course and noted some of the issues he plans to explore with his students. "The 20th century was exhausting, fighting dictatorships and economic ideas like socialism. But we ignored the social and the cultural. If we lose those, we lose everything."

Few have written so much on so many diverse topics as Novak, the author of more than 45 books. His works bear such varied titles as "The Fire of Invention," "Choosing Presidents," "No One Sees God" and "The Joy of Sports," the latter being named one of Sports Illustrated's "Top 100 Sports Books of All Time." Currently, Novak, a native of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, hopes to finish a novel this summer which centers on the historic 1898 flooding of that town, which claimed the lives of 2,209 people.

The contributions Novak has made to life in Ave Maria and to AMU go far beyond the luster his presence adds to them. In addition to enriching the intellectual life at the university with the courses he's taught there, he has given, though his own private initiatives, awards and recognition to outstanding AMU teachers, including Timothy McDonnell, Michael Raiger, Blanford Parker, Travis Curtright, Andrew Dinan, Seana Sugrue and Catherine Pakaluk.

And thanks in large part to a substantial seed grant he provided, students at the Rhodora J. Donahue Academy, the Catholic K-12 in Ave Maria, now have the spacious Karen Laub-Novak library, named for his beloved wife, an accomplished artist who died in August 2009.

Novak was also the first member of AMU's board of trustees, personally invited to that position by the university's founder, Tom Monaghan. Subsequent to Novak's resignation as a full board member, he continued to attend meetings as an emeritus trustee, a position he relinquished last summer, which colleagues say he was asked to do after suggesting the AMU board and administration conduct a survey of faculty to learn their concerns.

Some residents here, while happy at Novak's expressed delight at both being in the nation's capital during an election year and launching a program at CUA, are at the same time a little worried whether he'll actually return to Ave Maria.

But not me. After all, in August 2013, Novak told The Ave Herald, published by my husband and me, "As long as I live and as long as I have energy, I'll be coming back to Ave Maria." So Michael, we have it in writing from you. Have a great time in Washington, D.C., and we'll see you back in Ave Maria in January.

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More news and information about Ave Maria can be found in The Ave Herald which Patricia publishes along with her husband, David Shnaider.