Domino’s Founder to Deliver School

From Associated Press

Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas S. Monaghan spent nearly four decades making a lot of dough. Then he gave it up to work for someone else: God.

Now, after several years of Roman Catholic philanthropy and support of conservative causes, he is spending $50 million to establish a law school that he says will combine legal advocacy and Catholic morality.

“This is one of the most exciting things I’ve been involved in in my life,” said Monaghan, 61. “Certainly, one of the most important. Certainly, a lot more important than selling pizzas, except, of course, that pizza made something like this possible.”


Monaghan’s planned Ave Maria School of Law has already attracted some legal stars.

Onetime Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork signed on as its first faculty member. Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) is a member of the board of governors, as is Cardinal John O’Connor, archbishop of New York. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has offered advice.

The school plans to open in 2000 with about 40 students and seven or eight teachers. It will rent space in or around Ann Arbor, where Monaghan lives and Domino’s is based.

The law school is part of Monaghan’s larger effort to promote Catholic education. His foundation runs two elementary schools and two preschools, with another elementary school under construction. He is also building Ave Maria College, a private liberal arts school.

“I’ve been very disappointed in general with Catholic education in the United States, particularly how it teaches the faith,” said Monaghan, who went to 10 high schools and five colleges and never made it past his college freshman year. “I’m afraid that much of it has become secularized.”

He also cites other reasons for promoting religious education: “The lack of God in our society, the breakup of families, the low legitimacy rate, abortion--the list goes on.”

There are already 24 Catholic law schools among the 181 law schools in the country--and no shortage of lawyers, according to Ave Maria dean Bernard Dobranski. Even so, Dobranski said, there is a need for high-quality lawyers with high morals.

“The rule of law, we believe, must be grounded in the belief that there is an objective moral order, and that will be our mission,” he said.

Some critics, such as the Rev. Robert Drinan, a law professor at Georgetown University, say existing Catholic law schools do a good job of mixing the legal with the spiritual. He said Georgetown was doing it “before Mr. Monaghan was born.”

“We have three full-time Jesuit lawyers. We say Mass at noon. What more can we do to make it Catholic?” Drinan said.

Drinan said Monaghan’s real aims appear to be political.

“The first professor hired is Robert Bork, and he’s not known for any religious faith. They want his political views,” he said, describing those views as “right-wing, anti-abortion--the views of Mr. Monaghan.”

Robert Sedler, a law professor at Wayne State University known for promoting liberal causes, said he would have no problem with Ave Maria having a political agenda.

“What’s wrong with that? Lawyers like myself advocate civil rights, antiwar, equality. Lawyers do this--they practice to advocate their causes,” he said. “I have the greatest respect for Mr. Monaghan. He made his fortune and he’s using his fortune to advance causes he believes in.”

Monaghan’s fortune did not come easy. An orphan at 4, he spent his childhood in foster homes and orphanages, served three years in the Marine Corps and then enrolled at the University of Michigan, hoping to pursue a degree in architecture.

To help pay for school, he and his brother, James, borrowed $900 and bought a restaurant named DomiNick’s. James Monaghan later traded his share of the business to his brother for a used Volkswagen Beetle. Thomas Monaghan added stores and renamed the company Domino’s in 1965.

As Domino’s Pizza grew, so did Monaghan’s flair for spending his profits. He bought the Detroit Tigers in 1983, set a record for used cars by paying $8 million for a 1931 Bugatti and spent $1.6 million on a dining room table and chairs designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

But starting in 1989, Monaghan took two years off from Domino’s to explore his religious goals. He became an outspoken opponent of abortion, which resulted in a nationwide boycott of Domino’s by the National Organization for Women. Last year, he sold nearly all of the company.

“God’s been very good to me,” Monaghan said. “This is something I wanted to do for some time--to get out of the pizza business and get on with things that are more important. I call this the main event.”