Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reclaiming Thanksgiving

In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the second-to-last Thursday of November, rather than on the traditional date, which was the last Thursday of November. Disrupting such a long-standing tradition was highly controversial, so why did FDR do it? He wanted to add a week to the Christmas shopping season!

In this historical anecdote, we find a sad truth, which is that as far back as 1939, adding a week to the Christmas shopping season was already considered by many Americans, including the President, to be a good reason to move our traditional time of gratitude. But at least in 1939, Thanksgiving was an important enough part of our culture that Americans would not turn their attention to their Christmas shopping until Thanksgiving had passed. Until then, Thanksgiving, and not Christmas, was the focus.

Today, the secular Christmas season starts on November 1, if not earlier. Christmas is a wonderful holiday and I do not mean in any way to disparage Christmas shopping that is done in the right spirit. But I lament our loss of Thanksgiving. By turning our attention so early to jingle bells and Santa Claus, we lose sight of the magnificent day of gratitude to the Almighty that we as Americans can claim as our heritage.

Those of us who have attended Ave Maria have a particular stake in Thanksgiving. First, Ave Maria has given us so much for which to be thankful. Second, we have received an education focused on Him to Whom gratitude is to be given on Thanksgiving day. Let us never forget our gratitude! Let us never forget Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Father Orsi Hits It Out of the Park

Those who know Father Michael Orsi appreciate his candor and no non-sense approach - and know of his love for Ave Maria School of Law, especially the students. His column about the school's move to Florida is a homerun - and it is a good sketch of the history of recent events. These are some of the highlights and should be bookmarked as a primer of the situation:

  1. Rage makes it impossible to see the truth. The emotions of some here to fore supporters of the law school are very much like those of the old Brooklyn crowd. The attacks on Mr. Thomas S. Monaghan, the school's founder and principal benefactor, are reminiscent of those leveled at Walter O'Malley. But some pieces in newspapers, as well as on certain blogs - a platform of personal expression that didn't exist in 1957 - have far surpassed the vitriol of the old Brooklyn Eagle, the borough's newspaper.
  2. AMSOL is located in Ann Arbor, Mich., at a lovely facility practically across the street from the north campus of the University of Michigan. U of M has a very highly rated and much bigger law school. So at best, AMSOL would always be "that other law school in town."
  3. The original plan for AMSOL called for it to be moved, along with the Ave Maria College (then operating in the nearby town of Ypsilanti), to Domino's Farms, the prestigious Ann Arbor office park that houses the world headquarters of Domino's Pizza, which Monaghan had founded. Domino's Farms is a gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright-style complex surrounded by rolling fields of natural flora and fauna. Eventually, both AMSOL and Ave Maria College were to be part of Ave Maria University.
  4. However, integrating an educational campus into a property designated for office use required approval by Ann Arbor Township authorities. The Zoning Board rejected the proposal, claiming that it would negatively affect township revenues by converting taxable business property to tax-exempt educational use. (There was suspicion at the time that other factors might have been at work in this decision. Tom Monaghan, long known locally for his conservative views, had clashed many times with the powers-that-be in liberal Ann Arbor, and a Monaghan-sponsored university would only have given him a bigger megaphone to comment on local affairs.)
  5. Monaghan began to explore alternative locations, and during a trip to Naples, Fla., he received an offer of free land if the university would become the cornerstone of a proposed development. The idea was to design a modern university town with the flavor of a medieval European village. Florida politicians, the local bench and bar (legal community), as well as a considerable number of area people welcomed the idea. A partnership was established between Monaghan and the Barron Collier Companies, the biggest developer in Southwest Florida, to build the school facilities, along with housing, a shopping center, golf courses - in short, a whole new town: Ave Maria, Fla.
  6. A feasibility study was completed, and - like Brooklyn and L.A. in 1955 - the demographic trend of Michigan contrasted sharply with what the Naples area had to offer. The West Coast of Florida has a growing population, where Michigan is experiencing a net loss. In addition, the resources of Naples' (extremely affluent) population bode better for the long-term financial viability of AMSOL than the potential giving base in the Ann Arbor area. On top of that, there is no other law school even remotely close by. After due diligence was observed, a decision was reached by the board to relocate, with the opening of the new Florida facility set for fall of 2009.
  7. The new location will provide a very strong foundation for the law school's future. The mission of the School of Law will remain the same, yet the new location will help to ensure that the School of Law will be able to grow and prosper.
  8. Best of all, the university and law school would be the beneficiaries of money generated from the sale of single-family houses, townhomes, and condos, which in time, would put AMU and AMSOL among the best-endowed Catholic schools in the country.
  9. The warm welcome and rich source of potential funding made the move very attractive to the law school - particularly so, since up to this point, most of the school's expenses have been paid by the Ave Maria Foundation, the organization created by Monaghan to disperse funds derived from the 1998 sale of Domino's Pizza. Building a strong institutional support base normally takes many years, since the alumni of a new school can't be counted on for significant gifts until their careers have matured. Relocating to Florida and participating in the town development plan would be a major financial leap for AMSOL, even if with a lag in other giving.
  10. Ave Maria School of Law has recently experienced a good deal of internal controversy. And it must be acknowledged that not all the questions being debated among faculty, students and alumni are related to the Florida move. However - to use a legal concept - "but for" the move, I doubt that most of these other issues would have become as problematic and disputatious as they are. Certainly, we did not see the current level of acrimony when a brand new AMSOL was dazzling the legal profession with high bar-passage rates and receiving ABA accreditation in record time.
  11. [I]t takes money to have the kind of excellence that Ave Maria School of Law is committed to. AMSOL's Board of Governors had to make a choice for the long-term good of the school.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Catholic Musican Matt Maher

It is sometime thought in certain Catholic circles that the only music that can lift the soul must have been written long ago, forgetting the battles fought in yesteryear over the introduction of pagan influenced latin chants, secular musical instruments such as the organ, and the like.

This past summer I took my son to Stuebenville Atlanta. For those who don't know, Franciscan University of Steubenville youth conferences now serve about 40,000 young people each year. You have not experienced all that it is of Christ and his church until you have praised him in the Blessed Sacrament with 3,000 young people singing his praises led by someone to whom God has given the gift of music as a gift to us in these times. His songs have already been nominated for or won Grammy Awards. I have seen the next generation of the Church, and Matt Maher is one of those helping raise them up (and he introduced me to the music of Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, and Hillsong).

So for those who love contemporary music and our Lord, may I suggest checking out Matt and his band here or on iTunes.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

New Guide to Catholic Colleges: Ave Maria University in the Top 10%

Its no secret: many (most?) institutions of higher education boasting a Catholic name and Catholic provenance are places where the official Catechism would be overtly mocked by administrators, faculty and students - if you could even find a copy on campus.

The Cardinal Newman Society has published a guide to 21 colleges that buck this trend, and Ave Maria University has made it onto this list of schools most faithful to a Catholic identity:

The culmination of two years of research and interviews, the unique Newman Guide recommends 21 Catholic colleges and universities which most faithfully live their Catholic identity and provide a quality undergraduate education. Each college profile examines the school's history, governance, Catholic identity, curriculum, student life and community.

Those recommended represent the top 10 percent of Catholic colleges in the U.S. based on Catholic identity and cover a wide range of institutions in terms of history, size, location and academic focus.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

U.S. Expert in Catholic Social Teaching Cuts Through the Putrid Smoke and Clears the Air

Templeton laureate Michael Novak has penned a rather fine article in National Review Online about Ave Maria School of Law. This excerpt captures the clarity and essence of the piece:

Sometimes, though, a violation of fairness seems so flagrant that one feels a duty to ask all contenders to step back, slowly examine the evidence on all sides, hear the best arguments from each, and then try to go forward in fairness and justice. Law professors, above all, should wish to hear both sides of a case. So should we all.
Ambassador Novak should be applauded, so we'll do so here.