An open letter by Dr. Edward Peters, a Canon Law Professor who has taught
for three years at Tom Monaghan's Ave Maria College in Michigan. He is with
the Ave Maria Insitute for Pastoral Theology and along with other Ave Maria
parents is concerned about what they categorize as a pattern of
mismanagement and disregard for human dignity in Ave Maria's various
operations. Monaghan is trying to build a new Ave Maria campus near the
small town of Immokalee, Florida and calling it Ave Mara University. The
campus is temporarily operating in Naples in a former retirement home.
Statement by Dr. Peters:
Three years ago, I came to work for the Institute for Pastoral Theology, one
of several projects in the Ave Maria system (itself funded, of course, by
Tom Monaghan) for which numerous accomplished professionals were being
recruited. At that time, these undertakings included, besides my graduate
theological institute, a law school, one (then two) regional liberal arts
colleges, a pair of radio stations, a newspaper, a network of elementary
schools, and a new convent, to name just some. We who committed to these
efforts did so with clear understandings from Ave Maria leadership about
where we fit in the overall operation, what our responsibilities were, what
administrative direction we should plan on, the organizational support we
could expect, and so on. Upon arrival in our new homes and works, we threw
ourselves into these important projects with ability and enthusiasm. By any
measure, each of these Ave Maria efforts achieved manifest, and sometimes
even stunning, results. In short, the dollars provided by Monaghan were
enabling the talent provided by us to make a real difference in the world.
Increasingly, however, it has become clear that Tom Monaghan regards Ave
Maria, not as a kind of public trust with obligations in justice to the
community, nor even as a cooperative effort between one man blessed with
money and many people blessed with skills, but rather as his personal domain
which he can effectively treat however he wants, whenever he wants. He seems
to consider himself the sole contributor to the Ave Maria project, and
therefore acts as though he should be sole decision-maker.
This is very wrong in two ways.
1. Even if it's true that Monaghan is the sole financial contributor to Ave
Maria, it is not true that his are therefore the only contributions being
made to these efforts. People, not dollars, do the real work at Ave Maria.
Monaghan has contributed a significant percentage of his money to Ave Maria,
but many, many talented people have contributed a significant percentage of
their lives to it. It is imperative that their innumerable gifts of self be
given recognition alongside Monaghan's measurable gifts of money, and that
the ideas and desires of those who work for Ave Maria be given as much
respect as the ideas and desires of those who fund it.
2. If Monaghan has, in fact, given money to various Ave Maria projects, that
means those resources are no longer his to do with as he pleases, but
rather, they become the responsibility of various boards and administrators
to expend justly. While any board that receives the majority of its funds
from a dominant donor might feel some pressure to comply with the
preferences of that donor, they must not allow themselves to be relegated to
the role of yes men, simply ratifying every wish or whim of the major giver.
Charitable work is not about control, it's about service. Philanthropy is
not about getting acclaim, it's about proclaiming the dignity and worth of
the projects and people one supports. If Monaghan has made commitments to
Ave Maria, his boards and advisors are bound to hold him to his word; if
they, in turn, have made commitments to programs within Ave Maria, they must
There is, unfortunately, as I suggested above, ample evidence that very many
commitments, expressed and implied, are not being honored within Ave Maria.
In witness whereof, incredible as it might be, consider that each of the
once-vibrant major operations listed above has, in less than three years,
either been abandoned by Monaghan (and since disappeared) or is in turmoil,
if not crisis, as a result of his preemptory announcement that he's now
pursuing different plans. Moreover, those who work for (not to mention the
populations served by) these efforts have been given a clear message: if
they don't like it, they can leave, or shift for themselves when he leaves,
as the case may be. But while a man with control of hundreds of millions of
dollars might do whatever he wants, most of us who, with families or other
dependents, pulled up stakes and moved hundreds or even thousands of miles
to work here simply can't.
So far, neither Tom Monaghan's governing boards nor his inner circle,
notably President Nicholas Healy and Chancellor Joseph Fessio, SJ, seem
willing or able to resist the relentless, even reckless, pursuit of whatever
constitutes the latest version of the Monaghan vision, despite the serious
suffering that such vacillations and abrupt reversals impose on the very
people who came here in good faith to serve, and regardless of the
destruction being wrought on their accomplishments. The personal talent,
training, and years that have gone into building up these fine works on
behalf of Ave Maria apparently count for nothing. Ironically, the very
legacy that was being built up with Monaghan's help is now being torn down
at his will. It is a tragic and scandalous waste of the human and financial
resources given by God.
Aside: I know of no one in the Michigan-based operations of Ave Maria who
wants to see the proposed Florida project fail. But it is a travesty to gut
numerous thriving operations in one place to feed a fledgling one in
another. If indeed it turns out that, like the man who set out to build
before figuring the cost (Lk 14: 28-30), Tom Monaghan has insufficient
resources to fund both, then the proper response is to humbly admit the
mistake before others come and laugh, to relinquish the direction of the
Florida idea to others-being content, therefore, to be just one among many
who would make contributions to it-and return to honor the commitments made
in the community wherein he has spent his life and within which he can still
point to many accomplishments. That, obviously, is a decision Monaghan would
have to make for himself, and it would not be an easy one. Whatever else is
happening here, he has my prayers on that.
Personally, though, and notwithstanding the unprofessional treatment I have
frequently experienced at the hands of Ave Maria leadership, I had hoped
that I would quietly continue to work in what's left of my graduate program
and to manage on what's left of my salary while I earnestly seek employment
elsewhere. But suddenly there has arisen a move to transfer what remains of
the Ave Maria College in Michigan to an entirely different school, and that
move threatens not just me, but more importantly, my son.
A bright and very involved student at Ave Maria College for three years, my
son was repeatedly assured that he could graduate from a fully functional
AMC, and not from the some legal fiction thrown together by Ave Maria
leadership with their penchant for institutional shell games. That discovery
was what led to my statement. Simply put: the forbearance with which I have
tolerated contempt for my rights and dignity will not be shown to those who
disregard my children's. I will fight any attempt to abandon the Ave Maria
College that was offered to me and my family and which we accepted in return
for my hard work. That clearly being understood, I still hope and pray that
Monaghan and his staff will cancel this plan and honor the promises made to
my son and to the other students and families of Ave Maria College.
But more fundamentally than that: While the damage already done to certain
Ave Maria projects is irreparable, several others still survive here.
Irrespective of whether Tom Monaghan returns to Michigan or pursues other
projects, I believe that, if freed from the undeserved and useless anxieties
imposed on them, the remaining original Ave Maria projects can rise above
the traumas of the last few years and resume with even greater vigor their
very important services to Church and world. Moreover, I believe that they
will, if they are once again treated by Tom Monaghan with the same deep
respect and spirit of mutual cooperation that they have always shown to him.
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD
Professor of Canon Law
Institute for Pastoral Theology