As the Berlin Wall was being razed in the early 1990s, Dr. Péter Forgách was watching closely from afar.
The young, Hungarian-born medical doctor had been practicing ophthalmology in Buffalo for years, yet remained concerned about his birth country's capacity to establish an effective democratic government.
In 1994, Forgách and Balazs Borka, an electrical engineer, co-founded the Calasanctius Training Program. Its intent was to train Hungarian students in the U.S. so that they would be fitted with the tools to help develop a new democratic society. The only caveat to the private scholarship program was that participating students were required to return to Hungary upon graduation.
The CTP presently has partnerships with eight American universities, including Niagara University. Since the program was formed, 20 of the CTP's 170 students have graduated from NU.
The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M, Niagara president, recently traveled to Budapest to present Forgách with the university's prestigious Caritas Medal in recognition of his formidable leadership and generosity.
"Dr. Forgách is a pioneer in global education, a person who fully values teaching, faith and global solidarity as instruments to improve the world," Maher said. "We applaud Dr. Forgách for his incredible efforts to remove the barriers to education, entrepreneurship and community service, and we are proud to join him in his mission."
Forgách, who was not expecting the award, was moved to tears upon receiving the honor (and a pair of standing ovations) on Tuesday night in front of his wife, daughter and 14 CTP graduates.
Geza Radimeczky, the program's first graduate in 1995, thanked Forgách for his generosity and commented on the warm welcome he received from the Niagara University community. That message was echoed by the several other graduates who spoke about their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study in America.
Appreciation was expressed to the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., president emeritus; Dr. Gary Praetzel, retired dean of the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management; Ed Hutton, assistant professor of finance; and David Blackburn, director of multicultural and international student affairs; among others.
Jaclyn Rossi, Class of 2008, M.S.Ed.'10, associate director of alumni engagement, accompanied Maher and Dr. Hung Le, vice president for international relations. She said the dinner that evening felt like sharing a meal with family. "We sat at a long, 21-person table for a Hungarian dinner and you could truly feel the love and familial connection."
Adding to the ambiance was a 45-minute performance by an a cappella group led by the wife of David Lantos, '07.
Maher capped off the night by announcing the establishment of a Niagara University alumni chapter in Budapest, the institution's first outside of North America. He and Le are eager to form relationships with universities that will enable Hungarians to complete master's-level work at NU, and allow Niagara students to obtain internship and employment experience abroad.
The following night, Maher accepted the Calasanctius Training Program's Person of the Year Award on behalf of Niagara University. The honor was presented during a fundraising dinner; Maher became the first university president to attend.
While in Hungary, Maher, Le and Rossi spent time with numerous CTP alumni, many of whom had earned degrees from NU:
•Agnes Fekete, '12, showed the group around Budapest's Castle District. The tour was followed by dinner with Sayuri Ota, '13.
•Ferenc Nagy, '05, guided a tour that included St. Stephen's Basilica, the Hungarian State Opera House, the U.S. Embassy and a statue of Ronald Reagan in Liberty Square. Nagy and Noemi Holecz, '10, also took them to see the Hungarian Parliament Building and Gellért Hill. Dr. Mark Morvai, head of department for the Hungarian National Assembly, Department of Organization, guided the private tour of Parliament.
•Reka Gobel, '97, introduced the trio to Budapest's famed House of Terror, a museum that commemorates victims of the Communist and the Nazi regimes in Hungary.
•Dr. Adam Ruszinko, assistant secretary of tourism in Budapest, met with Maher to discuss partnerships.
•Sabie Brio, '07, Zoltan Bugnar, '08, and Peter Pavkovics, '06, also took time to discuss their experiences at Niagara individually with Maher, Le and Rossi.
Coincidentally, Kathleen, '69, and Brian Mylod, '68, fresh off of accepting their Alumni of the Year Award during Niagara University's Alumni Weekend, happened to be in town and met Maher, Le and Rossi Tuesday morning.
Maher made the establishment of a worldwide presence for Niagara University a top priority when he stepped into the president's office in August 2013.
To learn more about international relations at NU, visit www.niagara.edu/oir.