Lorie and Nick Howley ’70 Invest in the Future of the Prep
Lorie and Nick Howley ’70 Give to Provide Educational Opportunities to Deserving Students and Invest in the Future of the Prep
By Bill Avington '90
Nick Howley ’70 graduated at the top of his class from Drexel University’s College of Engineering and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. He is the founder and executive chairman of the Transdigm Group Inc. At a $55 billion enterprise value on the New York Stock Exchange, Transdigm is one of the largest aerospace suppliers in the world.
After finding success in his professional life, Nick was looking for a way to give back. He and Lorie, his wife of 40 years, started The Howley Foundation to support the education of underserved students. “This desire to help others came first from my parents, Nick and Marjorie, and also from the Jesuits,” he says. “For me, the Jesuit philosophy—the ‘Man for Others’ idea—didn’t really manifest itself until I became an adult. But they put the hook in deep,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a little insidious.”
The Jesuit teachings clearly run deep within Nick, Lorie and their family. There are more than 700 students in the Howley Scholars Program at any given time, making it possible for students from disadvantaged populations to receive a high-quality education. Nick and Lorie see this as a social justice issue, a matter of civil rights in addressing equality in this country. Their goal is to give students choices that can clear a path toward upward mobility, especially for many inner-city kids. They agree their approach may not be the quickest answer, but they see it as one of the only practical ones.
From Havertown to 17th and Girard
Nick grew up in Havertown, right by the landmark Llanerch Diner near City Line/West Chester Pike. He first heard about the Prep from the school’s football coaches at CYO games. “I wish I could say I knew a lot about the Prep’s academics, or the Jesuits, but it was really football that attracted me to the school,” he says. “I wasn’t aware that the Prep was such a prestigious school until people told me I should be proud to have been accepted.”
Catholic education was important to his parents, who sent all eight of their children to Catholic schools. When Nick arrived at St. Joseph’s Prep, the campus was in ruins. Just a few months earlier, a fire had destroyed two-thirds of the school’s physical plant. He and his classmates were initially limited to the building that now houses the Gesu School, before they moved into what is now Villiger Hall in 1969.
“That worried me. I thought my parents might not let me go because of the fire,” he remembers. “I didn’t realize it then, but the Jesuits debated whether to rebuild the school elsewhere. The fact that they remained in the city impressed me, especially as I became an adult. The Jesuits decided to stay anchored in the neighborhood to help stabilize the area during challenging times.”
For someone who went on to succeed at Drexel and Harvard Business School, Nick admits his grades at the Prep were not stellar. He says, “The academics were challenging and I was a modest student at best. But they tried hard to beat it into me,” he remembers with a laugh.
He did enjoy his time at the Prep. “I have many good memories. At that time, football was a big part of my life. I was named co-captain of the team as a senior, and went on to play football in college. I had some very good teachers, including Nick Kueny, the algebra teacher who taught me how to handle material that was harder than I was used to, Fr. Robert Mullan, SJ, who took a real interest in my academic performance (or lack thereof), and football coaches Bob Vincent and Joe Tyrell.”
That Jesuit foundation was instrumental as Nick continued his education. “They taught me how to study—I just didn’t do it. But, when I got to college, I took academics more seriously. Then, because of the Prep, I knew what to do and had the foundation to do it. I was definitely ahead when I got to Drexel.”
Building a Successful Company
After graduating from Harvard, Nick began his career working for his dad, Nick Howley, in his family’s business where he got an outstanding practical business education quickly. He then worked for larger companies and entrepreneurial ventures. It was his founding of Transdigm in 1992 that led to his financial success, acquiring about 90 aerospace manufacturing companies over the years.
“It was a great opportunity in an engineered niche business,” Nick says. “Because of my education and experience, I felt comfortable with engineered products and found the industry intriguing.”
The Howleys lived in Bucks County when they decided to move to Cleveland, where one of the businesses Nick had purchased was headquartered. “We took a significant risk in purchasing these two businesses and moved to be near one of them,” he says. “We had three kids by then, so that was quite an undertaking.”
Reflecting back, Nick sees how his St. Joseph’s Prep education contributed to his success. “The ability to think logically and objectively was something I learned at the Prep,” he says.
Though Nick was fond of his time at the Prep, the physical distance made it difficult to stay connected through the years. Over the past decade, he has become much more involved in his alma mater, including twice serving as honorary captain for the football team during games between the Prep and St. Ignatius, a Jesuit high school in Cleveland.
The Howley Foundation
The Howley Foundation supports schools and programs that provide access to high-quality education to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
Initially, they focused on educational scholarships for inner-city students to attend Catholic high schools in Cleveland, including St. Ignatius. Their first foray into funding educational networks came through the Cristo Rey Network, which reconnected Nick with Jesuit priests and reminded him of the men who taught him at St. Joseph’s Prep.
Interestingly, three people who attended St. Joseph’s Prep at the same time went on to become influential leaders in the Cristo Rey Network, by far the largest and fastest growing network of Catholic high schools in the country. The independent network of 37 schools across the country focuses exclusively on the education of students from low-income families. These three leaders include Nick Howley ’70, chairman of the Cristo Rey Network Board through 2020; Rev. John Swope, SJ, ’72, former St. Joseph’s Prep president, and founder and first president of Cristo Rey Baltimore; and John McConnell ’70, former chairman of the board at St. Joseph’s Prep and founder/president of Cristo Rey Philadelphia.
“I found the Jesuits we worked with in the Cristo Rey Network to be dedicated, smart, worldly, and morally good men. This reintroduced me to the Jesuit educational philosophy,” he says.
Run by its two full-time executive directors, Meg Howley, a licensed school psychologist, who runs the Philadelphia office, and P.J. Reindel, a former Catholic school teacher, who runs the Cleveland office, The Howley Foundation provides substantial support to a range of other programs and wraparound services. Among others, these include math enrichment programs, retention programs and college scholarships across the Cristo Rey network, and two unique privately managed groups of inner-city Catholic grade schools—Independence Mission Schools (IMS) in Philadelphia and Partnership Schools in New York City and Cleveland. The Howley Foundation is the lead funder for the Fugees Academy, a school for refugee children in Cleveland and Columbus, and ASPIRE, a partnership with the Cleveland Clinic that trains high school students and provides scholarships so they can earn a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing through a unique work study model that The Howley Foundation and the Clinic developed with Ursuline College.
“Supporting educational programs that directly address issues of equality and upward mobility are the central focus of The Howley Foundation,” says Nick. “By providing children and young adults with access to high-quality education and character formation they wouldn’t receive otherwise, we strive to fundamentally improve the outlook for both their lives and those of subsequent generations.”
Expanding Howley Scholars to St. Joseph’s Prep
Nick and Lorie are always looking for ways to expand the work of the Howley Foundation, which naturally led them to the Prep.
“Given the right students, we realized a scholarship to the Prep could change the arc of their lives,” Nick says. “We started to re-engage with the school and remained impressed. I love how they embrace the Jesuit educational teachings, making it a good match for the kind of students we want to help.”
Lorie adds, “We tell our students that after going to a school like St. Joseph’s Prep, you will know how to study. We drill that into them and tell them to go out and do the job.”
Over the past decade, the Howley Foundation has awarded scholarships to more than 60 academically qualified Prep students who would likely not have been able to receive a St. Joseph’s Prep education without this financial aid scholarship. Last spring, the Foundation came forward to support the Prep’s Howley Scholars plus other students who were in need due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to financial support, Nick, Lorie and Meg are active in the lives of the Prep’s Howley Scholars, staying apprised of their academic progress, visiting the school, and keeping in touch. The Prep’s Howley Scholars join more than 700 currently active Howley Scholars nationwide.
For Others Forever Campaign
The Howley Foundation recently made a transformational gift of $5 million to the Prep. In addition to expanding the Howley Scholars Program, the gift will support the For Others Forever campaign to help with the much-needed physical transformation of the Prep building that was new when Nick graduated 51 years ago.
It is unusual for The Howley Foundation to support such an endeavor. “We generally don’t do capital campaigns,” Nick says, “but we believe in the Prep and want to make sure the school has all that it needs to be successful.”
The gift came after several years of conversations and visits to the school. “Obviously St. Joe’s Prep has a particular place in our hearts,” Nick says. “As we heard the story of the capital project, we were convinced. If we want to help assure the future of the Prep, we have to make sure the school facilities are kept current.”
Expanding the Howley Scholars Program also shows their faith in the Prep. “Our decisions on funding programs are very data-oriented and analytical. We track how well the students do in high school and beyond. We are not supporting this program to make ourselves feel good. We are doing this to get good outcomes for the students and their future generations.”
And the metrics for the Prep’s Howley Scholars are good. “We have been happy with the success of the students we’ve had at the Prep,” Nick says. Lorie concurs. “The school does a great job of retaining and supporting its students, sending them to and through college.”
The gift ensures that the Prep can continue providing a high-quality education to young men from across the Delaware Valley. “I believe that if you look forward 50 to 100 years, St. Joe’s Prep will still be a shining light in the city, a beacon of high-quality educational opportunity for diverse students of all economic means,” Nick says.