WASHINGTON — President Bush has tapped a prominent Catholic for a top post.

Bush named Jim Towey, who was legal counsel to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity for 12 years, as the new director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Feb. 1. He replaced John DiIulio, a professor from University of Pennsylvania, who resigned last year to return to teaching.

“He understands there are things more important than political parties, and one of those things more important than political parties is helping to heal the nation's soul,” said Bush, in announcing the appointment. “There is nothing more important than helping the hopeless see hope, helping the addicted see a better life.’”

Towey responded: “I'm deeply grateful to God and to you, sir, for entrusting me with this honor to serve my country, particularly those Americans who are hurting and in need. Mother Teresa introduced me to this joy that comes from befriending those in need, and discovering their tremendous dignity. … I am delighted, I am grateful and I am looking forward to the work.”

Bush also announced the creation of a new Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, chaired by USA Freedom Corps Director John Bridgeland.

Towey, a Democrat who was once featured as a Register Prolife Profile, served as Florida's director of health and rehabilitative services under then Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles. He also worked with Mother Teresa's ministry for more than ten years.

In 1996, Towey founded an advocacy group called Aging With Dignity, which focuses on providing end-of-life care for senior citizens.

Not everybody is hailing Towey's nomination, however.

“The faith-based initiative is stalled on the tracks,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “It will take more than a new conductor to get it rolling again.”

Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, would not speculate on the legislative future of the faith-based initiative, but was very pleased with the selection of Towey, whom Connor has considered a friend since 1994.

“He is a compassionate, humble, devout, self-effacing, Christian man,” Connor said. “He is at home with the poorest and the humblest and he's comfortable in the corridors of power. He's bathed AIDS patients in Calcutta and he's hobnobbed with senators and governors.”

Serving the Dying

Towey's life changed dramatically when he visited with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.

“In 1985, I was working as legislative director for Sen. Mark Hatfield,” Towey told the Register in a 1999 interview. “He knew Mother, so on my way back from a business trip [to refugee camps in Cambodia], I spent one day in Calcutta. After Mass, Mother asked me if I'd seen her House for the Dying.

“I went that afternoon, and the sister who greeted me handed me some cotton and a bottle of solution and told me to go clean a man who had scabies. I was trapped. If I had known I'd have to work that day, I don't think I'd have gone. But what I found was the Lord waiting for me in that bed.”

That experience led Towey to work with the dying in Calcutta; Tijuana, Mexico; and Washington, D.C. A lawyer, he has also been the U.S. legal counsel for the Missionaries of Charity for 12 years.

Towey is an expert on social services for the elderly for another reason. From 1993 through 1995, he was secretary of Florida's 40,000-employee Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.

“I was acutely aware of how the disabled and elderly were not valued, and how we push them to the margins of society,” said Towey. “I've volunteered in First World hospitals, and seen end-of-life care there. It struck me that the way Mother Teresa cared for the dying in Calcutta was a lot more humane and dignified than what you see in the First World. People are dying alone. They're hurting, they're miserable, and it doesn't have to be that way.”

Towey's dedication to service earned him the respect and admiration of many, including Mother Teresa herself.

“Jim Towey has been a friend to me and the Missionaries of Charity for 11 years,” Mother Teresa once said, “helping us in legal matters, doing everything in a spirit of humble service. My prayer is that God may bless Jim and his beautiful work.”

Joshua Mercer writes from Washington, D.C.