A Man Who Would Not Give Up
How Saint Joseph’s helped set the path for James J. Maguire ’58 and his historic gift
By Patricia Allen ’13 (M.A.)
After a remarkable 60-year career in the insurance industry, James J. Maguire, Class of 1958, likes to joke that his current goal is to put his good friend, Mary Scullion, R.S.M. ’74, the co-founder of Project HOME, out of business.
He’s only partially kidding. For him, as it is for Sr. Scullion, with whom he served as an SJU Trustee, helping to end homelessness is a serious and complex matter. He sees a correlation between the work his foundation does to support the education of grade school through college-age students with ending the poverty that can lead to homelessness.
“I often say we’re in direct competition with Sr. Mary,” says Maguire, who is warm and down-to-earth as he speaks with conviction. “I think the best way to combat homelessness is through education, and that’s what we’re trying to do: We’re trying to educate kids so that they don’t wind up unemployed and living on the streets. We want them to be responsible citizens, to have a direction in life.”
If Maguire has his way, he’ll “educate them all,” he says, preparing students to find employment, and helping to put an end to homelessness. Acknowledging that the odds are still long on such an occurrence, he adds with a grin: “Sr. Mary will be out of a job.”
Saint Joseph’s University has long been a factor in Maguire’s plan to further the educational goals of deserving students. In July of this year, after decades of generous support, he and his wife, Frances, made a transformative $50 million leadership gift to the University that has a broad reach into many SJU initiatives.
Scholarship support is structured throughout the gift, with funds designated toward the establishment of permanent endowments for the Maguire Scholars Program at Saint Joseph’s University, the Maguire Educational Leadership Program, the Maguire Independence Mission Schools (IMS) Fellows Program and the Alliance for Catholic Education at Saint Joseph’s University (ACESJU). In addition, the gift establishes and endows the Maguire Academy for Insurance and Risk Management, which includes support for the academy director and insurance and risk management (IRM) faculty, scholarships for IRM students, and professional development opportunities for both.
The largest gift in Saint Joseph’s history, it will also significantly increase the endowment, which signifies Maguire’s confidence in the direction SJU’s administration and President Mark C. Reed, Ed.D., are taking the University.
“The key to sustaining a university is its endowment, and we are happy to take a leadership role in contributing to St. Joe’s endowment,” he says. “I’ve spent a great deal of time talking to Mark, and I am convinced that if we give him the kind of support he needs to help propel the University into the future, he will take us to the next level of excellence.”
Of the gift’s emphasis on scholarships, Maguire says, “There’s no better way to help a kid than to get him or her educated.”
“There’s no better way to help a kid than to get him or her educated.” — James J. Maguire ’58
And he should know.
Growing up during the Great Depression, the fourth of six children of Thomas and Ruth Maguire in Philadelphia’s Germantown section, then in Upper Darby, followed by high school in upstate New York, Maguire struggled academically.
“I was a lousy student,” he says with disarming candor. “I graduated from high school — dead last in my class — but I could play basketball, so I went to Niagara University on an athletic scholarship.”
Maguire’s problems with his studies dogged him at Niagara, too, and he was placed on academic probation at the end of the fall semester and was no longer permitted to play basketball. He returned to Philadelphia, where his family — his mother and his younger siblings — had moved upon the premature death of his father at age 45, just six months earlier.
Still grieving for his father, he was accepted “on a trial basis” to Saint Joseph’s, where, thanks to his facility with numbers, he majored in accounting. His GPA bottomed out yet again, however, and Saint Joseph’s also placed him on academic probation.
The problem? Though not for a lack of trying, “I couldn’t read,” he says. “I couldn’t spell.”
When he was drafted by the U.S. Army during the Korean War and deployed to Japan, he went willingly, feeling that he had few higher education prospects.
His experience in the military was “a wake-up call,” he relates, because he realized he wanted something different from life. Despite his academic woes, “I knew I had to get back to school and figure out how to get a college degree,” he says.
Following his four-year tour of duty, and after numerous entreaties from Maguire and others on his behalf, including his mother and an Army chaplain who was also a Jesuit priest, his determination paid off. Saint Joseph’s allowed him to register for summer classes.
“I really think that it was divine providence that led me back to St. Joe’s,” he says, “because there I met Hunter Guthrie, who happened to be studying dyslexia.”
J. Hunter Guthrie, S.J., the retired president of Georgetown University, was teaching philosophy at Saint Joseph’s when he met Maguire. An early researcher in dyslexia — a term that means word blindness — Fr. Guthrie was fascinated by people who learn differently, Maguire says, and he took an interest in him when he saw the young man having trouble with his theology text.
“Somehow, Fr. Guthrie knew that I had a learning disability, that I had dyslexia,” says Maguire.
The Jesuit’s concern for Maguire led him to spend countless hours working with him, providing what had been missing from his education until then — a strategy to deal with his dyslexia.
“He taught me how to sound out words,” he says of Fr. Guthrie, still marveling at his kindness. “He taught me how to read. I can’t tell you how much time I spent with him.”
Now a married man — he had wed Philadelphian Frances McLaughlin a few months earlier — Maguire graduated from Saint Joseph’s with a “solid business education,” he says, earning a 3.0 GPA, and began working for Metropolitan Life Insurance. From there, no one could stop him. Poised for success, he pioneered niche markets in the industry that helped marginalized populations, like the deaf and hard-of-hearing, opened his own insurance agency and diversified to property and casualty. He went on to found Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY) in 1980, eventually taking the company public. In 2008, global insurance giant Tokio Marine Group acquired PHLY for $4.7 billion, then the largest transaction for a financial company in Japanese history.
While the track record of this former “lousy student” surely qualifies as one of the University’s most spectacular outcome stories, Maguire insists it’s Saint Joseph’s that is spectacular.
“This is a very special university,” says Maguire. “It changed my life, and I think that lives are being changed every day at St. Joe’s. I know it’s true, in fact, because I talk to our students. There’s not one who hasn’t told me that they don’t love the University, and that it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to them.”
“This is a very special university. It changed my life, and I think that lives are being changed every day at St. Joe’s.”
— James J. Maguire ’58
What’s special about Saint Joseph’s, says Maguire, is the importance it places on each student.
In September, Maguire spoke at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, a tradition at Saint Joseph’s since its founding that begins each academic year. With Frances in attendance and surrounded by their family (which numbers nine children, four of whom attended SJU, and 23 grandchildren, three of whom attended), he shared his thoughts about his alma mater in the Chapel of St. Joseph- Michael J. Smith, S.J., Memorial, with an assembled standing-room-only crowd of SJU students, faculty, staff and alumni, including Sr. Scullion.
“I believe in the culture of St. Joe’s that values each student, because it helped me to define myself, just as it is helping each student today to define themselves,” he says. “It sets us apart from other universities, and it’s why we must continue to make this University great.”
Maguire says his experience with Fr. Guthrie — who gave of his time and expertise, finding value in the faltering student by caring for his “whole person” in the Jesuit tradition of cura personalis — inspired in him a desire to give that gift to others.
“It’s spectacular to me that our University has this culture,” he says, “and I want it to continue. I want each student to have the same experience that I had, because it made such an impact in my life.”
It’s clear to Dr. Reed that as a Saint Joseph’s student, Maguire had an experience of Ignatian pedagogy that was “authentic: practical and transformative,” he says.
“Jim and Frannie have taught me so much in the short time I have known them — about Saint Joseph’s, about loyalty and the power of gratitude, and about leadership,” he adds. “Saint Joseph’s has been blessed by the Maguires’ generosity, which is helping us to ensure that in the years to come, our students will have the same opportunity to transform their lives, and the lives of others, that Jim had.
“Jim has said that his touchstone from Saint Joseph’s — that he carries with him every day — is to remember to give back, because ultimately, the lesson that he learned from the Jesuits, is that we are here ‘for others.’ This term is used frequently in Jesuit education. But Jim has experienced its true power. To him, it’s far from prosaic. It’s his legacy.”
Allen is director of university communications at SJU.
$50 Million Gift
The Maguires’ historic gift to Saint Joseph’s will significantly increase the University’s endowment, providing student scholarships and financial assistance, expanding signature and mission-centered programs, and allowing for the pursuit of additional strategic opportunities.
Maguire Academy of Insurance and Risk Management
The newly named academy supports faculty and students in the University’s nationally ranked insurance and risk management program. It provides critical support for faculty, scholarships for students and professional development opportunities for both.
Maguire Scholars Program
Maguire Scholarships provide financial assistance for students who demonstrate excellent academic performance, community service involvement and leadership skills.
Maguire Educational Leadership Fellows Program
Teachers, principals and administrators in Philadelphia Catholic secondary schools who become fellows earn SJU master’s degrees in educational leadership and state principal certifications.
Maguire Independence Mission Schools (IMS) Fellows Program
Through the IMS program, educators of children of all faiths in low-income Philadelphia neighborhoods enrich their teaching quality and attain master’s degrees in education with certification as reading specialists or as teachers of English as a second language.
Alliance for Catholic Education at Saint Joseph’s University (ACESJU)
Recent college graduates teach and work in under-resourced Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Diocese of Camden while pursuing master’s degrees.
— Katie Smith ’15