OUR FOUNDER

Tom Monaghan

A TRAILBLAZER IN CATHOLIC HIGHER EDUCATION

Thomas Monaghan is the founder, chancellor and chairman of the board of directors for Ave Maria University. He is known as a wildly successful entrepreneur, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, an avid collector of Frank Loyd Wright items and the former owner of the Detroit Tigers. If his story stopped there, he might seem to fit in with other savvy entrepreneurs whose hard work and ingenuity paid off. But his greatest personal achievements came later in life, when Tom decided to fully immerse himself in charitable works, Catholic philanthropy and the call to restore Catholic higher education.

After divesting himself of all of the responsibilities and lavish distractions from a life of success, Tom set out to build America’s newest Catholic university, in an age buffeted by moral crises and anti-Christian sentiment.

Always “be good”

FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS TO UNIVERSITY FOUNDER

EARLY LIFE

Tom was born on March 25, 1937, in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and his childhood was not an easy one. When Tom was four years old, his father passed away, leaving a wife and two children behind. After two years of struggling to make ends meet, Tom’s mother was forced to enter six-year-old Tom and his younger brother, Jim, into an orphanage in Jackson, Michigan.

The orphanage that would be Tom’s home for much of his childhood was St. Joseph Home for Children, operated by the Felician Sisters of Livonia. The strong presence of the Catholic faith in the orphanage, especially manifested by the sisters, left quite an impact on Tom and inspired him in his faith. One sister, in particular, Sister Berarda, was especially inspiring and asked that whatever ambitious things Thomas would do in life, that he “be good.”

SOLDIER AND STUDENT

After graduating from St. Thomas High School in 1955 and enrolling at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, Tom enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served for three years and was honorably discharged in 1959. After leaving the military, Tom returned to Ann Arbor to pursue a degree in architecture; but that required money.

Tom’s brother, Jim, told him about a man in nearby Ypsilanti who wanted to sell his business for cheap: a pizzeria called DomiNick’s. Considering that Jim had previously worked in a pizzeria and Tom needed the money, the Monaghan brothers pulled the trigger.

“The biggest impact I can have for what I want to do, the results I want to have with what God’s given me, is to help as many people as possible get to heaven.”

THOMAS MONAGHAN

SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEUR

They took out a loan of $900, purchased the pizzeria and took turns working shifts so that Tom could continue his college education. However, he instead became the sole owner of DomiNick’s after purchasing his brother’s share of the business in exchange for the Volkswagen Beetle they’d been using to make deliveries.

Tom started pulling 100 hour workweeks, sleeping in the shop and constantly refining/enhancing his work process; he was known to make a 12-inch pepperoni pizza in 11 seconds. The shop grew, and he made constant improvements to keep up with the rush. Some of these improvements would become industry standards.

Tom began opening new stores, which he called “Domino’s.” As success built upon success, the growth of Domino’s Pizza accelerated, and Tom perfected his own franchising method. This explosive success allowed him to invest in the things he’d dreamt about as a penniless child in an orphanage: luxury homes, designer furniture, sports cars, and his beloved baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. By 1985, Domino’s was opening nearly three new stores a day, more than any restaurant chain in history.

WORKING FOR A HIGHER PURPOSE

Despite this extraordinary success, Tom felt incomplete. Something was missing in his life that couldn’t be supplied by monetary gain, business success or wealthy possessions. His thoughts turned to what was most important to him, his Catholic Faith, from which he was constantly distracted by the demands of his business pursuits. He recalled the kind words of Sister Berada from his days at the orphanage. Was he being the kind of Catholic that Sister Berarda would want him to be? He knew he needed to do much more.

In 1987 he founded Legatus, an international organization of Catholic CEOs and presidents committed to studying, living and spreading their faith through their professional and personal lives. Tom also established St. Thomas More Law Center, served as president of the Ave Maria Law School’s Board of Governors, and became a knight of magistral grace in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

In 1998, Tom sold Domino’s Pizza to Bain Capital, Inc, freeing himself from day-to-day business concerns to pursue full time work for the Church. He set out to pursue his greatest dream yet: to help renew Catholic higher education.

The dream began that same year with the establishment of the Ave Maria Institute, not far from DomiNick’s pizzeria in Ypsilanti. The institute would later become Ave Maria College and was subsequently moved to Florida where Tom had incorporated the town of Ave Maria. Permanent university facilities were completed in 2007.

“Born from the heart of the Church, a Catholic University is located in that course of tradition which may be traced back to the very origin of the University as an institution. It has always been recognized as an incomparable centre of creativity and dissemination of knowledge for the good of humanity."

EX CORDE ECCLESIAE

TODAY

Still active at Ave Maria University, Tom has received honorary degrees from 13 universities around the country, and in March of 2000, he was named an Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College within Britain’s University of Cambridge.

Today, he lives in Michigan. He has four daughters, ten grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.