A Toronto-area developer who's also the landlord of Niagara University's new Canadian campus presented the university with its largest-ever Canadian donation Friday.
The $1.1 million gift from Mario Cortellucci can be used however the Rev. James J. Maher, the university's president, wishes.
His gift is tied to Niagara's recent move of its Canadian operations to Vaughan, Ont. The university has been in other Ontario locations for 35 years, operating a college of education to train Ontario teachers. Now, the college has about 300 students seeking bachelor's and master's degrees, and about 50 Ontario teachers are taking further qualification courses. Niagara has nearly 5,400 Ontario alumni.
"We are incredibly proud of our binational identity," Maher said.
Niagara's Canadian campus now is located in Expo City, a development in Vaughan constructed by Cortellucci's company, the Cortel Group.
On Feb. 13, Maher attended a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Vaughan, where Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua presented him with a key to the city in honor of the Jan. 21 opening of the first permanent institution of higher education in Vaughan, a city of 306,000 north of Toronto.
Cortellucci's company is a major developer of high-rise condominiums in Vaughan.
Cortellucci has a track record as a philanthropist -- last year he donated $3 million to a new hospice in Vaughan.
But his political activities have drawn criticism.
Last year, Cortellucci ran for a seat in the Italian Senate representing Italian citizens who have moved to North and Central America. He didn't win, but he got on the ballot as an adherent to a coalition of three right-wing parties whose leaders have pursued anti-immigrant and anti-minority policies in Italy's coalition government.
"I think he's repudiated that party and that platform," Maher said, noting that Cortellucci is himself emigrated from Italy to Canada.
In 2016, Niagara opened the Brennan Center on campus to "extend the university's Vincentian mission to agencies that serve refugee, migrant and immigrant populations," according to a news release issued at the time.
"(Cortellucci) is very much a person who's consistent with, not only the values of the center but also the values, the mission of the university, both Catholic and Vincentian," Maher said.
"I find myself aligned with Niagara University and the Vincentian mission," Cortellucci said in an email to The Buffalo News Thursday. He did not speak at Friday's event and declined to be interviewed.