Saturday, October 01, 2005

Professor Safranek's talk on founding of AMSOL



1This booklet was based upon a talk I was asked to give to the Lex Vitae Society at the Ave Maria School of Law. Many students asked for a copy of my remarks and thus this booklet was borne. Its validity from a historical perspective has been verified by Richard Myers, Mollie Murphy, and Joseph Falvey.


It is now five years since the first law school class matriculated into the Ave Maria School of Law. Since five year time frames are often associated with various remembrances and reflections, I welcome this opportunity to discuss the founding of Ave Maria School of Law.1
The stories of the founding abound. Different people were involved in different ways so that who, what, when and where the “founding” took place may be difficult to assess. Although this is so, slightly more than a handful of persons were at the center of this endeavor: Stephen Safranek, Richard Myers, Joseph Falvey, Mollie Murphy, Michael Kenney, Laura Hirschfeld, Thomas S. Monaghan, and Bernard Dobranski. This booklet is the story of the founding of the school. In more ways than one, the old adage is true, “Success has a thousand fathers, failure dies an orphan.”
This harkening back to the founding is critical because it helps to keep us aware that all good things begin in prayer and the hand of Providence. These events show us how the pride of self-will can darken the judgment of powerful people. But it also shows in a small way that the darkness cannot overcome the light.
The key to the founding, as this story will show, is that at its heart was a prayer. And in that prayer, with its reflection and interaction with the hand of God, this law school, the Ave Maria School of Law was founded.


The beginning of the Ave Maria School of Law can be found in the fall of 1998 when Professors Myers, Safranek, Falvey, Murphy, Hirschfeld2 and Dean Kenney were at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. The motivating cause for the founding of Ave Maria School of Law arose as a consequence of a dispute over the importance of the Mass.
For a long time, the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law hosted an annual Red Mass for lawyers. This mass is named after the red vestments that had traditionally been worn at the mass. Some form of these masses are celebrated worldwide. The University of Detroit Mercy School of Law decided -- for the second year in a row -– to invite a pro-abortion Michigan Supreme Court Justice to give the oath to lawyers at the end of the Red Mass.3 Professors Myers, Safranek, Falvey, Murphy and Hirschfield had protested such an invitation in 1997, but to no avail. They renewed their protests in 1998. During the mass in 1998, some of these faculty chose to stay away, others left mass before the oath was administered, and Dean Kenney found himself out of town on business that day. Outside of the mass a handful of protesters stood with signs protesting the inclusion of the pro-abortion justice in a sacred place. Professor Myers even briefly held one of the protest signs.
The president of the University at that time was furious over the protests. So too was the Dean of the Law school and various administrators. Their fury though was more than the opposition to them on the abortion issue. Indeed, they were angry because these faculty and Dean Kenney had opposed their will.

2 Hirschfeld will move from the scene around the Founding era because she chose to return to her home in Illinois to pursue other interests.
3 This Justice had written a dissent to a Michigan case because this Justice believed that the State of Michigan not only had a duty to allow women to have an abortion, the Justice had claimed that the State of Michigan had a duty to pay for abortions if women claimed they could not pay for such.


The reprisals were swift. Within less than 2 weeks, Dean Kenney, whose wife was expecting a child, was laid off by the law school in the midst of the recruiting season. Shortly thereafter, the law school began discussing how to terminate the Catholic faculty who had protested the University’s actions. Two of these faculty members, Professors Myers and Safranek, were tenured faculty members. These professors asked themselves what to do.
Instead of continuing to pour new wine into old wine skins, the Catholic faculty chose another route. That route, as you will see, led to the Founding of Ave Maria School of Law. It is worth keeping in mind that the route to the Ave Maria School of Law involved the fight over support for abortion in America.
During this time of turmoil, Professors Safranek and Falvey, friends since their days at the University of Notre Dame, decided to do a novena – a 54 day novena – to St. Thomas More. They were seeking guidance from God to help them discover whether they should stay at the University of Detroit Mercy or should they scatter to positions elsewhere. In short, what should they do and where should they go. Ora et labora was their motto.4


Professor Safranek wondered what he should do in this time of turmoil. He kept mulling over whether or not all of the effort that had gone into recruiting Catholic faculty to the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law was to be in vain. Therefore, he started working on keeping the Catholic faculty together. At this point in time – with no clear place, time, or other limitations in mind - Professor Safranek was exploring this concept broadly. He spoke with a variety of persons who might be in a position to start a law school including the Franciscan University of Steubenville and Christendom College.

4 Joseph Falvey declined an invitation to be a top level prosecutor in his home town of South Bend, Indiana and Stephen Safranek declined a faculty position at the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State.

At one point in time a Jesuit University in another state was interested in starting a special center with the aid of these professors. These plans were moving forward on parallel tracks.
It was precisely at this time that the hand of Providence was moving things in another fashion. Thomas S. Monaghan, the owner of Domino’s Pizza was in the midst of selling his business for approximately $1 billion. This well known Catholic layman had also been prepared to partner in the forming of Ave Maria School of Law.
Thomas Monaghan had a storied history. He was an orphan boy who had become a millionaire. Although he had never graduated from college, he had served on the boards of many educational institutions including the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He had been on that board when the school considered – but rejected – the possibility of starting a law school. Joseph Falvey had been one of the people who reviewed the proposal regarding the founding of a law school at Franciscan University.5 That proposal was developed by Charles Rice. It had then been discussed by Thomas Monaghan while he was on the board of Steubenville. Unbeknownst to Safranek, during the fall of 1998 Monaghan was funding a radio, a newspaper, some Catholic grade schools, an order of nuns, and a fledgling Catholic College. In short, Thomas Monaghan was a man of means who had publicly proclaimed his Catholic faith and had an interest in funding Catholic causes. He needed to be contacted. But how was Safranek to approach Mr. Monaghan? The answer to that issue came in an unexpected way.
Several years before the fall of 1998, Professor Safranek and Falvey had started a program for providing continuing legal education for lawyers in a family education atmosphere. In 1998, the conference was held at Maumee Bay
Resort in Ohio and an invited speaker was Richard Thompson. The conference occurred over October 23-25. At that time, Thompson had been ousted from

5 Falvey had prepared an extensive review of the Steubenville proposal and had been instrumental in working on that project with Charles Rice. Therefore, the first glimpse of a “Catholic” law school that was presented to Monaghan actually originated with Falvey and Rice.

his job as a county prosecutor because of his handling of the prosecutions of Jack Kevorkian. He had been hired by Monaghan. Thompson was speaking at the conference. After he spoke, Professor Safranek and Falvey approached Richard Thompson. During the discussion and that weekend, Thompson was asked whether or not he thought Thomas Monaghan would be interested in funding a Catholic law school. Thompson said that he would raise the issue with Monaghan.
Thompson raised the issue immediately with Monaghan. When he did so, the spark ignited. After that meeting, Richard Thompson excitedly called Safranek. He told Safranek that Monaghan was intensely interested in the idea and would like to see a proposal for the new law school – immediately. Thompson spoke with a sense of urgency. When Safranek told Thompson that he might need a few weeks to finish the proposal, Thompson asked if he could finish it immediately and send it by week’s end.
Professor Safranek quickly finished the proposal for a new Catholic law school. In that proposal, he described what a Catholic law school would be. Key to this document was Fides et Ratio (the Encyclical whose motto is inscribed in AMSOL’s seal), and the understanding of a Catholic law school as one where the Catholic intellectual tradition was brought to bear on every aspect of instruction. Professors Myers, Falvey, Murphy, and Hirschfeld as well as Dean Kenney reviewed, commented upon and made substantial improvements on the proposal written by Professor Safranek. This proposal took a novel approach to legal education in America. First, it maintained that all legal instruction should be taught in light of the Catholic tradition especially as steeped in natural law. Even today, no American legal institution besides Ave Maria attempts such an approach. In addition, the law school’s Catholic nature was to suffuse its entire being. “These unique attributes of AMSOL were developed by the faculty five, the small group of legal professionals who initiated Ave Maria School of Law6.”

6 Monaghan’s Letter “Having an Impact” by Thomas S. Monaghan, Advocate at 4 (Winter 2002).

But these faculty members did not merely make a proposal for Monaghan to fund. Instead, they risked their professional careers, they risked their professional reputation, and they risked a large part of their financial resources. Before submitting the proposal, Safranek wanted to ensure that the faculty were willing to take this risk. Because the faculty were so committed to founding a Catholic law school in Michigan, they agreed to contribute a sum of money to the school – equaling in total a six figure dollar fund for the new school. In addition, because the faculty were negotiating with the University of Detroit Mercy about leaving the school, they were willing to donate their entire severance package pay – over a year’s worth of working without any salary - to the new school. Later, Monaghan’s chief assistant told one of the faculty how impressed Monaghan was by the generosity of the faculty.
With the idea and then the proposal in hand, Monaghan undertook a flurry of activity. He called people he knew asking them if they knew these faculty members and what they thought about a new law school. The existence of many of these inquiries floated back to the faculty. One of the key people Monaghan spoke with was Charles Rice at the University of Notre Dame. Rice had taught the founding professors and Michael Kenney at Notre Dame Law School. In addition, he had served on the Board of Franciscan University with Monaghan.
Monaghan flew Dobranski into town to discuss the law school proposal. This meeting took place in mid-November. During that meeting, with the faculty five’s proposal in hand, Monaghan and Dobranski discussed various aspects of a Catholic law school and Dobranski’s willingness to serve as the Dean.


The flurry of activity continued. In a meeting held with the faculty five on December 4, 1998, Monaghan asked for the faculty’s commitment. Their proposal contained an offer to “initiate” the law school, to add their widow’s mite, and to work for over a year without compensation for the new venture.
Monaghan went around the table asking each of them whether or not they were in if he was willing to provide the majority of funding for the school. Joseph Falvey made an important exception to his commitment. He recognized that the school could not succeed without a recognized leader. The faculty five had discussed some of the options available and had contacted four potential candidates. Given their pre-existing relationship with Dobranski, they thought that he would be the best selection for the position. Monaghan agreed. Thus, on a handshake deal the faculty five committed their lives and fortune to what was to be named the Ave Maria School of Law.
Monaghan and Dobranski came to a deal in principle rather quickly thereby cinching the deal. And although Dobranski would not arrive in Ann Arbor for approximately 8 months, the founding faculty were working in cubicles at Domino’s Farms on January 12, 1999. Patrick Novecosky, Ave Maria’s former director of communications wrote, “At the beginning of 1999, the group that had met with Monaghan (the Founding Faculty) began developing the country’s first law school founded by Catholic lay people. Falvey served as Acting Dean for eight months.” Despite his absence, Dobranski was substantially involved with the project as it moved forward.
During the year 1999 a variety of projects were taking place at the same time. Professor Myers and Safranek helped Richard Thompson open the Thomas More Center. Falvey and Murphy handled the less glamorous but critical issues regarding the starting of the school. A building site needed to be found, considerations over student housing were discussed, the law school seal and other aspects of its intellectual property were developed. All the while, Michael Kenney was busy working on the recruiting of students and the development of admissions material.
In all of this, the law school was aided by so many people who were not directly connected to the law school project. Chief among these people was Charles Rice of Notre Dame. He lent his credibility to the project from the start by vouching for the character of the founding faculty. He encouraged students– including students considering Notre Dame – to attend Ave Maria. In short, he provided key credibility for the foundling institution.
Foundings though mean little or nothing without execution. During the last 5 years so many have contributed so much to the Ave Maria School of Law that the ideas, the money, and the effort of the founding days pales besides them. Any who claim priority of place completely fail to recognize that the hand of Providence is far, far more significant than anything that man has contributed. Nevertheless, in the litany of those who should be recognized a few stand at the very pinnacle and their role should not be diminished in any way.
First, without money, the law school would not have thrived, and may not have survived for long. Consequently, Thomas Monaghan should be recognized for his contribution to the school. When looking at cause from an Aristotelian perspective, one could say that Monaghan was the material cause of the founding. In addition, Monaghan has been a faithful chairman of the board of directors of the school. He has offered not only his money, but his time, his insights and his prayers for the school.
Second, without leadership, no organization can persist, move forward, or thrive. Dean Dobranski should be recognized for the leadership he has provided to the school during these five years. The many problems that a school encounters are often not seen by those on the outside. The fact that AMSOL has so successfully moved forward in the past five years is a tribute to him.
But standing even higher than all of these is the Founder Himself. As we look at the past five years, we should not forget what has been done, the debt of gratitude we owe to so many, and the as yet unknown persons to whom much will be owed. In so doing, we should thank God for His blessings upon us and pray that we may not only use His gifts with wisdom and charity until that day when we will be called to meet with Him, but also that we may hear the Words,

“well done my good and faithful servant.” Amen.


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