"Pie in the Sky"

Meet billionaire pizza mogul Tom Monaghan, the person responsible for Domino’s, a chain whose pies I cannot recommend. He grew up poor, dropped out of college, and turned out to be an exceptional businessman, innovating in the field of pizza delivery and amassing enormous wealth.

Here’s his character arc:

As Monaghan’s business grew, so did his appetite for spending. He bought a Gulfstream jet, a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, and a fleet of cars—among them the Packard that had ferried Franklin Roosevelt to his 1933 inauguration, and a handmade Bugatti Royale. (The latter cost him $8 million, the most ever paid for a classic car.) He also began buying up Frank Lloyd Wright homes, and assembled the world’s largest collection of Wright furniture. But his most famous purchase was the Detroit Tigers, which he bought in 1983. When the team won the World Series the following year, Monaghan had his private helicopter ferry hundreds of Domino’s pizzas to Tiger Stadium.

Then he remembered his Catholic roots…

…beginning in the mid-1980s, he started delving more deeply into his faith, and embracing conservative Catholic causes. Then, in 1989, at the suggestion of a Catholic scholar friend, he read a passage from the C. S. Lewis classic Mere Christianity that railed against pride as “the essential vice, the utmost evil.” It dawned on Monaghan that his hunger for success and flashy belongings was pride in its purist form. He immediately swore what he called a “millionaire’s vow of poverty” and began shedding his possessions. Finally, in 1998, he sold Domino’s for an estimated $1 billion and announced that he was retiring from the pizza business so he could devote his time and money to Catholic education. “I want to die broke,” he declared.

Early plans for a Catholic law school suggest he never lost his taste for spectacle!

The proposal might have sailed through unnoticed if it weren’t for one detail: a 250-foot crucifix. That’s taller than the old General Motors building and almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty. The idea touched off a firestorm in Ann Arbor Township, a wealthy rural community with roughly 5,000 residents near the city of Ann Arbor. Many locals still nursed resentments over Monaghan’s previous architectural ventures; years earlier he had tried to build the “Leaning Tower of Pizza,” a thirty-five-story copper-and-bronze-clad tower with a slight eastward slant. A few also grumbled that the onetime pizza baron—who had already opened two convents, a pair of Catholic radio stations, and a Catholic newspaper in the area—was trying to turn the township into a theocracy.

These excerpts are from Mariah Blake’s excellent piece on Ave Maria Law School, published in The Washington Monthly. I’ve avoided details that are core to the piece in hopes that you’ll read the whole thing, and learn how a conservative Catholic law school quickly rose to excellence, boasting a 100 percent bar passage rate one year… and how it imploded.

This is precisely the kind of narrative non-fiction story that a right-leaning publication practicing Electric Kool Aid Conservatism ought to be telling. I can’t say I am surprised that I read the piece in an exceptional left-leaning publication instead.