Ave Maria at the Beach

Patheos Blog

Ave Maria at the Beach

For the last three summers, I have been very lucky to hire students from Ave Maria University to help me finish some writing, pack up boxes of books, arrange my papers, clear out the beach house and give things to various charities, and the like.

I hope they forgive me for calling them “the kids,” but when they are with me, that is how I feel about them. They seem like my own grandchildren. They are intelligent, with very well-developed minds, funny, and (most of them) endowed with lovely singing voices. Most have been artists – played Shakespeare at Ave, or sung in the annual Broadway show, or soloed or done duets in the annual Cabaret Night.

IMG_2485Besides room and board (the guys at least tend to eat a lot, and the girls like to eat well), I set aside enough money each year to help each of them with a small cheque to go toward tuition or spending money. Practically all take advantage of the local outlet stores of a hundred or more of the best retailers such as the Gap, Ann Taylor, Tommy Hilfiger, Chico’s, Reebok, Brooks Brothers, Bose, and scores of others. Besides saving with discounts of 60 percent or more at the outlets, shoppers in Delaware pay no sales tax. Each fall at least a few new dresses, shirts, sneakers, purses, and other items show up at Ave that might not have otherwise.

The deal is that each student works for me for at least four hours a day (some, alas, much longer) and then has four or so hours for biking, swimming, playing frisbee on the beach, or other pursuits.

The lot that Karen and I bought twenty years ago, and the home that Karen designed and had built, sits on Cape Henlopen, back fifty yards from Delaware Bay. A little over a mile away is the Atlantic Ocean, rolling in on fine-grained sand as far as the eye can see. There are almost always a dozen or more small deer grazing on the far end of the soccer fields near the small forest in the Joseph E. Biden State Park, which runs along the ocean on the property of the old fort and naval station that used to defend the mouth of the Delaware Bay against German U-boats prowling for Europe-bound shipping and, indeed, for vessels heading south too.

We do a fair amount of restaurant hopping, at least once every two weeks. Perennial favorites include Irish Eyes, Gilligan’s (for special occasions), Striper Bites, for quiet drinks Rose & Crown, Fish On, and others. A favorite evening is always the chartered harbor cruise, up the canal from Lewes Harbor, out into the bay, and then along a slow circle around the lighthouses, just on the edge of the Atlantic. At the mouth of the bay, the yacht swings around and, for those who look sharp, there is a moment when cameras can capture the bright sunset directly through the top-most windows of the lighthouse. Not every time, but quite often, dolphins fall into the wake of the yacht and leap and glide and frolic behind us. The sunsets have been truly glorious.

pier in LewesSometimes we go out on the pier near our home and get brilliant photos of the sunset, then sit and recite Vespers. The crew this month is especially rich with splendid voices and a sure instinct for harmonies. Moving slowly down the pier singing favorites from My Fair Lady, 1776, or Oklahoma!, they have brought broad smiles and appreciative applause from fishermen and families lining both sides of the pier.

We have also seen an unusual number of movies this month, and we have done a herculean amount of work. Three tasks I divided up at the beginning: a careful editing of a book on the “humanomics” of St. John Paul II the Great, two rounds of editing earlier papers of mine on religious liberty and the American founding, and a final edit of a collection of my wife’s essays on art and mysticism.

My main job was the proofreading of the book by three of us (Paul Adams and myself, with Elizabeth Shaw) to be published by Encounter Books this fall, and titled Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is. We hope to provide the clearest definition and most thorough survey of the subject produced in some decades. Most of all, we hope to restore the term to its original meaning and role.

IMG_2538-1For the last month, I have gone back to an old love, writing the concluding chapters for a novel I have been working on for some twenty years. It is the story of the epic events of the greatest domestic catastrophe in American history, the massive Johnstown Flood of 1889, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as these were experienced a century apart by members of the same family, grandfather Stephen and his youngest granddaughter, Barbara.

IMG_2537-1Most of the students this summer arrived full of tales about their internships, usually alongside some of the smartest kids in the country from the Ivy League and top Midwestern and Western schools. They have done summer work at a wide range of institutions, from the American Enterprise Institute to the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Heritage Foundation. Nearly all have been very impressed by how Ave Maria students compete at that level, if not excel.

It has been a glorious summer, and I am very grateful to “the kids.” I love them all.

A Tribute to Father Matthew Lamb

Patheos Blog

A Tribute to Father Matthew Lamb

Published by Michael Novak at Patheos.com on February 10, 2015

Adapted from remarks given February 7, at the closing dinner of the annual conference of the Aquinas Center for Theological Renewal at Ave Maria University in Florida. The conference celebrated the university’s graduate program in theology, alumni of which presented very moving and learned papers. This year’s conference paid special tribute to Father Matthew Lamb, the bold and pioneering founder of the program.

* * *

As a quite young monk from the Trappist monastery at Conyers, Georgia, the neatly tonsured Father Matt arrived in Rome at the middle point of the Vatican Council in 1964, after the first two sessions, but before the dramatic final two. Like many other excited Catholics in America, Father Matt had been eagerly keeping up-to-date (that is, aggiornamento’d) on every morsel of information about the Council, even the juicy tidbits.

One cannot exaggerate how thrilling those days were. Television coverage almost every day. Front-page stories in The New York Times, above the fold.

Yes, Father Lamb had been closely following the suspenseful first year at Vatican II, not least the shadowy Vatican intrigue reported by the mysterious “Xavier Rynne” in The New Yorker, and gathered up from the scuttlebutt – to use a technical theological term of that time – the buzz that hung above the tables in the fragrant coffee shops along the Via della Conciliazione, and inside the restaurants from the “Hilton on the Hill” (where most of the American bishops stayed) to Piazza Navona, famous for stunning scenes starring Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren.

Sadly, nontheological scuttlebutt was at times at the very center of the Council, at least as reporters saw things. In 1964 I was among those reporters. I was working for Time that year, and Karen and I had an unlimited expense account so that we could take as many “sources” as we could out to lunch or dinner for interviews and wide-ranging conversations on the state of the Church.

If we could have known in those days that the young Father Lamb would become such an important force in the post-Council Church, and would found the theology department at Ave Maria University, and if we knew where to find him, we would have taken him to such a restaurant as neither he nor we could ever afford to enter again.

Not long after his days in Rome, Father Matt went on to further and then further studies. It seemed in those days as if further studies never ended. Matt studied one philosophy of history after another, and then the metaphysics they implied, then the different horizons employed, the higher viewpoints, the emergent probabilities. (By the way, that’s why Father Matt can always think of another higher viewpoint, horizon, meta-meta . . . and has trouble finishing an explanation.)

Another thing Matt can’t finish – he never forgets his friends. Once, he took a train from Germany back to Rome to visit Fred Lawrence and Fred’s wife, Sue. Fred had left the seminary, but kept up his studies in Rome under Bernard Lonergan. That’s how Fred and Father Matt first met.

Well, one week a few years later, Sue had to stay in the hospital during a scary pregnancy episode, leaving Fred at home with two-year-old Dyer. Like most males, Fred was not quite up to being both mother and father. (How is it most wives seem to do both?) Father Lamb volunteered to help out. He had no idea what he was getting into.

If Fred felt incompetent that week, Father Lamb became completely bewildered. For family chaos the Trappists had not prepared him. A family kitchen was nothing like the world of silence and contemplation. Eventually Father Lamb announced that he must leave. Fred would be better off without him: Be easier to care for one infant, than one infant plus Father Lamb.

When he left Father told Fred and Sue that they could contract with the North American College for a stipend to have a few seminarians come up to help them with their children – that would give them what Newman called a “real apprehension” of the challenges of marriage and children, and why Our Lord made it a sacrament of His self-sacrificing love for His Body, the Church.

Those are days Father Lamb says he truly verified his vocation: Celibacy, pure and simple. Some persons are meant for celibacy. (And by the way, Fred still agrees that after Father left, his little son settled down, at least as much as boys of two ever do.)

After Germany, Father was called to Marquette, where he fell into heavy-lifting writing and editing – including a memorable festschrift for Father Lonergan. Matt’s reputation kept growing. More and more people couldn’t follow Father Lamb’s arguments – Lonergan does that to people – although they knew Matt was quite deep, and holy, and his writing always sparkled with little diamonds of spiritual wisdom.

Then Father Lamb was invited to Boston College. There he met and inspired a marvelous company. With his old friend Fred Lawrence, and Father Joe Flanagan, S.J., who had also studied under Lonergan, and Father Ernest Fortin, the indomitable Straussian, Father Romanus Cessario, O.P., and Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard, he formed a monthly study group centered on Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae. Father Lonergan used to complain to Matt that too many had failed to devote time to studying Aquinas.

In the theology department at B.C. Father Lamb faced some notable theological dissent. Some seemed to take Rome as bête-noire. In fact, there was a rumor around the Boston area that Father Lamb once petitioned the president of B.C. to put into practice the principles of Affirmative Action, by hiring at least one ethicist in the theology department who agreed with the Magisterium.

Recalling his own days in theological education, when he was expected to study theological classics in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, and German – not to mention Italian, for reading La Civiltà Cattolica and other Magisterial documents – Father Lamb began to doubt whether American theologians of the future would ever be prepared to pass on the Catholic theological tradition in its fullness. How will they ever be able to grasp the terms of the Greek and Latin Fathers, the millennium and a half of theology after Christ, official Church teaching worded in Latin, and even the rest of the Catholic world outside the U.S.?

Photo courtesy of The Ave Herald

That is how Father Lamb began to dream of building a place where deeper understanding could be reached. Ave Maria is still moving toward this goal. But even now our graduates are giving a good account of themselves. Most are finding positions rather quickly, while the demand for them keeps growing – thanks to Father Matt’s vision, insistence, and perseverance.

In person, too, Father Lamb is a wise counsellor. Doesn’t get too excited about difficulties. Urges prayer, patience, and time, time, time. Employs his long experience and the fruits of many inner battles. Knows the mountains and the valleys of the soul in its voyages, its darknesses and lights. Just over ten years ago, he showed immense courage in moving from Boston College to seemingly endless tomato fields in southwest Florida, above which the great Oratory now rises up over large expanses of lawn and campus buildings and hundreds of homes, together reminding one of Tuscany.

This past weekend, the mature, profound, deep, and spiritual papers presented by these sixteen Ave Maria scholars now teaching in other universities and seminaries are a living monument, and a lasting one, to Father Lamb’s courage, depth, and wisdom. His maturing students showed also that they learned well the habit of theological friendship.

This is my way of thinking of Father Lamb: contemplata aliis tradere. He has passed along to others his own contemplation in the presence of the Love of the Holy Trinity, where all theology begins.


Following up with Emily

Patheos Blog

Following up with Emily

Published by Michael Novak at Patheos.com on February 6, 2015.


We left off last time with Emily:

Grandpa, I find your answer on the Bible somewhat unsatisfactory since the hinge of your explanation is that the Bible asks a person to face moral choices and free will; yet nearly every coming-of-age story could be said to do the same thing, just in a more structured narrative. . . .

Why is the Bible treated so differently from other books of moral fables, especially given that there are many “kid-friendly” versions of the Bible and picture-book-style renditions of the stories within the Bible that can often be indistinguishable from other children’s books?

GRANDPA: Dearest Emily, in my first attempt, I thought I must avoid evoking God, except indirectly. But you point out that I cannot really do that.

Sometimes people made similar observations about the stories of the Greek and Roman gods. One of the first steps in religious inquiry is thinking through which sacred books are true. The first pagan thinkers to hear how Christians spoke and wrote about God began to mark out the differences between their traditional gods and the Christian “god.” Some saw quickly that the Christian conception was much deeper, more like the classical conceptions of Plato and Aristotle. Less anthropomorphic. The main point is, which conception is more true? Inquirers need to think about that and decide for themselves.

You may not share belief in God – or, maybe, like your Aunt Jana, you are an “agno-theist.” That is, you understand that there is a universal intelligence active in the world, relating all things together and infusing all things with the light of intelligibility. This is more or less what Plato, Aristotle, and other philosophers have grasped too. But, as Jana used to say, she was not sure what difference to humans that God made. Perhaps that God is impersonal and distant and has little or no regard for humans’ thoughts or actions. But you haven’t asked about the idea of God yet, so perhaps we’ll pursue that theme another time, if you care to.

Often when I start reading a novel or a play, I have to begin by “a willing suspension of disbelief” (Coleridge). I have to accept the story on its own terms so that I can come to see what it’s driving at.

So let me ask you to set aside your disbelief, and assume for a while a tentative point of view – that in the Bible, as in no other book, what you read is aimed directly at your heart by Almighty God, the source of intelligence in all things. Later on, reject that if you choose.

It seems entirely reasonable to me that the God who made us conscious, intelligent, and free to choose our own destiny can make himself present in our consciousness. Assume for a moment that the Creator of sunsets, and galaxies, and the abilities of Mozart and Shakespeare and Donne, can reach into our hearts and spread light there, drawing us toward full beauty and truth.

Obviously the Bible was put together by many different hands over many centuries. Its chapters present themselves sometimes as history, sometimes as allegory, sometimes in the form of a narrative about the origins of human life, and about the turbulent, still to-be-decided direction, and the final destiny of human history.

Parts like the Canticle of Canticles appear as magnificent love poems, and other parts as silent cries, such as those of King David over the sufferings of his people in exile and slavery, and the feeling of abandonment they suffer – or deep cries of joy, wonder, and gratitude. There is enormous variety in this book – authors, viewpoints, styles, literary forms.

* * *

Just as an experiment, open the Bible. Flip the pages randomly. Put your finger on a page, and read that passage as though it were written directly to you. Does it echo in your heart? Not all passages do. From the first pages on, though, the main message of the Bible is clear: What counts most to God is our choice, to open our ears to Him or to shut Him out.  Nearly every story in the Bible receives its drama from the decisive choice each person makes regarding an important crossroad.

My proposal, however, is that over some weeks you read about eighty or ninety pages, all in a sequence, in order to get the drift, the point of it. I think you owe that to your ancestors, who first heard the gospel in about 1200 A.D. (as nearly as we can tell). It was they who entrusted it to us.

So, since you were brought up a Christian, it might make sense to begin by concentrating on the Testament that is more familiar to you. There you might focus on the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles – altogether, fewer than a hundred pages. But it would give you a big chunk of one major storyline of your family. You won’t be the first in your family to turn away, if you do. Each chooses for himself or herself.

Then, slowly, you might attempt to climb through other great portions of the Great Book. You might find for yourself why such a momentous thinker as Fyodor Dostoevsky took pains to read from the New Testament at least ten minutes every day, and why Abraham Lincoln steeped himself in both Testaments. It both cases absorption in the Word of God deepened their own thinking immeasurably.

The Bible struck them with an often counterintuitive wisdom not so simply voiced anywhere else (“If you wish to live forever, you must first die to self”; “Sit not in the first place but in the last”). That wisdom deepened their souls – their vision – and toughened their writing, and lent them courage.

In my view, you are on the right track, simply by facing deep and hard questions. Necessarily, this must go on in every generation.

By the way, you may take too much for granted how much Christian imagination still operates in Western secular people today, loving the poor and giving their lives for others, as so many do. Secular people are moved by lessons learned from Christianity much more than they admit. You, too.


Dr. Seana Sugrue of Ave Maria University announced as First Laub Novak Award Recipient for 2015

Ave Herald

Seana Sugrue is 1st Laub Novak Award Winner This Year

Published in The Ave Maria Herald on Saturday, January 17, 2015 


Dr. Seana Sugrue, a professor of politics at Ave Maria University, has been named as 2015's first recipient of the Laub Novak Award for excellence in teaching.

The award is a private initiative of author Michael Novak and is named for Mr. Novak's late wife, the artist Karen Laub Novak.

Dr. Sugrue is one of Ave Maria University's longest-serving faculty members and teaches courses in politics, government and history. The award ceremony will take place at the private dining room of the AMU student union at 7 p.m. Jan. 30. There will be classical entertainment and light refreshments will be included, along with encomiums of Dr. Sugrue by students. Students, colleagues and town residents are welcome to attend the ceremony.

Three other recipients of the award have also been announced: Dr. Andrew Dinan (Classics), Dr. Catherine Pakaluk (Economics) and Dr. Blanford Parker (Literature). Awards carry with them a $1,000 prize.

Remarks at Ave Maria Gala America: Near Its End or a New Beginning?

Delivered by Michael Novak at the Ave Maria Law School Gala and published by The Catholic Thing on Saturday, December 6 2014  

Editor’s Note: These remarks were presented by the author at the Gala Dinner for the Ave Maria Law School in Naples Florida honoring philanthropist Tom Monaghan on December 5. – Robert Royal

In France, when people want to get something done they turn to the State; in Great Britain, to the aristocracy. In the United States, we turn to each other.

To put up schoolhouses all across this land, we used to gather for square dances and auctions (see Oklahoma!), for clambakes and raffles, for bake sales, quilt sales, and (at least we Catholics) – bingo. Tonight we take part in one of the oldest and most solemn of all American public liturgies: A fundraiser! Better than relying on the State is to build what we cherish most by ourselves.

I am deeply, deeply honored to be here to contribute to the Thomas Monaghan Scholarship Fund and the annual auction. For years I used to praise Tom as “my favorite billionaire saint.” Then Ave Maria School of Law – and the University even more – bit into Tom pretty hard. Now I praise him as my favorite “former billionaire saint.”

Why does Mr. Monaghan give so much? He knows the fragility of freedom and of faith. Freedom can be lost in a single generation. Only one generation has to give up on America’s founding laws, switch off the lights, and walk out the door. And then it’s gone, this noble experiment.

I think Tom asked himself: Does this century mark America’s last? Is this nation a short-term meteor that has blazed across the heavens, and is now exhausted? Or rather, is our present fog a transient time of trial, those hours cold and dark, bombs bursting in air, ramparts red-gleaming? Are we nearing our end, or at a new beginning?

Tom Monaghan, who began life as an orphan, and was made a man by the U.S. Marines, knew instantly what he would choose. He chose to make these years a new beginning – for his faith and for his country. And he started with the law. As Blackstone put it, right at the top of his book, the Law of Moses became through Jesus Christ (taking it to the Gentiles) the font and spring of constitutional government among all peoples: “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws. . . .[N]o human laws should be suffered to contradict these.”

The founders of the United States held that there can be no republic without liberty, and no liberty without morality; and – for most people – no morality without God. Modern lawyers may no longer hold this. But our founders did. George Washington did:

In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens [he spoke of religion and morality]. . . . Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths?

And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Given the horrors of the century just passed, who would wish to bet our republic’s continuance on a people who have no inner policemen, no inner conscience?

Where nearly all citizens live by inner policemen, official police forces can be small. Among peoples without inner policemen, no number of policemen on the street will suffice.

Mr. Monaghan expected original intellectual contributions from the Ave Maria School of Law. Did not Tocqueville hint that Catholics would one day become the best articulators of the inner principles of American law? Mr. Monaghan gave us a command: Advance the intellectual inheritance that Catholic faith brings to law. Some of that inheritance includes:


A global institution. The first global institution in human history was the Catholic Church. “Go teach all nations.” Not just one people, nor race, nor tribe, but all humans everywhere. “Catholic” is a more ancient term that “global.”

  • International law. Outside the United Nations building in New York City stands the statue of Francisco de Vitoria, O.P., founder of modern international law.
  • Universal human rights. As Harvard’s Mary Ann Glendon has shown in her splendid study of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both Catholic and Jewish thinkers led the way in inventing a new universal language for human rights, including the family and other institutions more vital than the State.
  • Natural rights. The earliest writings about natural rights in the American hemisphere did not spring from Hobbes, Locke, Hooker or Jefferson, Madison, or Marshall, but rather from Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566). Some men are by nature slavish and deserve to be slaves, Aristotle had written. As brilliantly told in Lewis Hanke’s Aristotle and the American Indians, Friar Bartolomé could no longer accept that.
  • How even inequality serves equality. Tocqueville marveled at the delicious irony that Catholic societies even under feudalism, aristocracy, and inequalities of status, dramatized the equality of all humans more vividly than its rivals. The king knelt at the same communion rail as his serfs. The Almighty and Infinite God was not impressed by the wealth or station of any human being, no matter how great in their own eyes. Before God, all humans are as dust. Or embraced warmly and equally as daughters and sons, through the sacrifice of Christ.
  • The primacy of civil society. Closer to our own time, Jacques Maritain’s Man and the State clarified the primacy of civil society over the state in new language, which had earlier proved crucial in persuading some nations to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because it protected primary, smaller institutions from the State.
  • The first law of democracy: association. Tocqueville wrote that the first law of democracy is the principle of association. He noted that the Catholic traditions of the Middle Ages went beyond the mere individual, through a multitude of sodalities, fraternities, guilds, and associations. Of necessity, this habit of association was reborn in America, where society was formed small-scale first: from associations of neighbors helping each other, to villages, then to townships, then to states, and only after 150 years to a Union of States, the United Americans aren’t great as individuals; most of our lives have been spent in building communities, from the ground up.
  • From individual to person. Catholic thought also gave rise to the crucial distinction between the individual and the person. This particular yellow pencil [pulls from pocket], our family dog, “Hollow,” the beech tree in our back yard – those are individuals. Persons have far more capacities and responsibilities than individuals, and the higher dignity of choosing their own destiny. Regarding their past, persons can reflect on it, and choose to change their ways. Regarding their future, persons face a dizzying multitude of open paths, and must by themselves choose the one dearest to them. We do not gain dignity from being individuals, but from being persons capable of reflection and choice. Animals do not build republics. Only humans do, from reflection and choice.
  • Where “liberty, fraternity, and equality” come from. The German atheist Jürgen Habermas had the honesty and guts to admit publicly (in debate with Cardinal Ratzinger), that these battle-cries of the Enlightenment, “Liberty! Fraternity! Equality!” derive from Jewish and Christian principles. No pagan thinker held to them. Certainly not to fraternity, and not to the other two, either.
  • What is liberty? Liberty is not the freedom to act as one pleases – that is the freedom only of animals. Human liberty is the freedom to act as one ought to act. Animals know no ought. Human consciences do.
  • A self-evident DUTY grounds the right to religious liberty. As Jefferson and Madison both demonstrate, it is self-evident that a duty of gratitude is owed by any conscious creature to her Creator. Both Madison and Jefferson trace religious liberty to this primordial duty. The duty of a creature to her Creator is so deep no one else dares to interfere with it. The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Religious Liberty also grounds religious liberty in this duty.

To present a fully developed Christian philosophy of law is the impulsion given to Ave Maria School of Law by Tom Monaghan. Now is the time, this is the place, to push forward that great work, as no other law school has done before. The duty to achieve greatness has been thrust upon this School. And just at a time when our floundering nation needs it desperately. And the Catholic faith, as well.

I want to conclude tonight with the story of Dr. Joseph Warren, the physician who delivered the babies of Abigail Adams and many other mothers. Dr. Warren stood with the Minutemen at Lexington, even took a bullet through his hair. Two months later, just commissioned a Major General in the Continental Army, he learned that 1,500 patriots had crept up Bunker Hill at night and silently erected earthen walls.

At daylight, battalions of Redcoats put all of Charlestown to the torch, and tongues of flame from 500 houses, businesses, and churches leapt into the sky. Breathless, Abigail Adams watched from a distant hillside, and heard the warships thunder shot and shell on Bunker Hill for five long hours. As they did so, Doctor Warren – now Major General Warren – was galloping to Boston and when he arrived took a position in the lowest ranks on Bunker Hill.

The American irregulars proved their discipline that day. Twice they broke the forward march of 3,500 British troops, with fire so withering they blew away as many as 70 to 90 percent of the foremost companies of Redcoats, who lost that day more than 1,000 dead. Then the ammunition of the Americans ran out.

While the bulk of the Continental Army retreated, the last units stayed in their trenches to hold off the British hand-to-hand. That is where Major General Joseph Warren was last seen fighting, as a close-range bullet felled him. The British officers had him decapitated and bore his head to General Gage.

As Tom Monaghan has recognized, freedom is always the most precarious regime. Even a single generation can throw it all away. Every generation must decide. And what holds for America holds also for the Catholic faith. When the Lord returns, will he find on earth even a single person who is still faithful to Him?

Like Tom Monaghan, Joseph Warren told the men of Massachusetts:

Our country is in danger now, but not to be despaired of. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important questions upon which rest the happiness and the liberty of millions not yet born. Act worthy of yourselves.

Let us go now, with generous hearts, into the auction – to support the high mission of this blessed School. And in honor of – Thomas Monaghan.


Ave Maria Gala 2014 image2 Ave Maria Gala 2014 image1

Tim McDonnell Honored with Laub-Novak Award

PHOTO: Michael Novak is pictured with Dr. McDonnell and his wife, Maria.   (photo by Katie Miller)  

Ave Maria University music department chair Timothy McDonnell was praised by fellow students and by noted author Michael Novak Wednesday night as he was presented with the third Laub-Novak award for excellence in teaching in the humanities.

"Dr. McDonnell may be the single best ambassador of the university, taking his artists to the Naples Philharmonic and the schools and churches of the larger Naples community," said Mr. Novak in presenting the award named for his late wife, the artist Karen Laub-Novak. "His insistence on excellence is obvious to all who are thrilled by the many musical events presented throughout the year. How can we thank him enough for helping to make Ave Maria a home for beauty, a place in which artistic expression, creativity, and mastery thrive" (pictured, Dr. McDonnell at right with his wife, Maria, and Mr. Novak - photo by Katie Miller)

Dr. McDonnell's accomplishments directing the Ave Maria University chorus was cited by Myra Daniels as a major factor in her decision to help raise money for a new performing arts center on the AMU campus.

As with the previous Laub-Novak award presentations, tributes from current and former students were read and the gathering was treated to performances from some of them.

"On the whole, Dr. McDonnell's contribution to the life of AMU is, frankly, immeasurable," wrote one student, "but for me his gifts to the community were those evenings of festivity, liturgy, reverence, and sheer beauty. It was the beauty of the many facets of what Ave Maria University strives to be, unified in a single moment that turned and unfolded time- a terrible and wonderful thing to behold which each time left me moved, chastised, and consoled."

The Laub-Novak award is a private initiative of Mr. Novak's family foundation. The award began this year, with the first presentation to AMU literature professor Michael Raiger and the second to Travis Curtright, AMU's director of Humanities and Liberal Studies and the creator of the popular Shakespeare in Performance course.

For another look at Dr. McDonnel, see Ave Herald Editor Patricia Sette's November, 2012, column in the Naples Daily News Collier Citizen.


Published in The Ave Herald on May 8, 2014

A Humble and Rousing Shakespeare at Ave Maria University

Published by Michael Novak in the Gyrene Gazette on June 11, 2013 Shakesspeare at AVeIt is too bad the people of Naples were not able to see the humblest (yet stunning) production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING staged in this area for some time. That was not Naples’ fault. It was the disadvantage of Ave Maria’s very recent founding.

Ave Maria University has no Theater Arts Building.  No stage. No drama department. Its production of MUCH ADO was performed for three weekends in April in a large classroom, its seating arranged in a pattern not unlike that of the Blackfriars Theater in Shakespeare’s time. The audience was close up, surrounding the play, part of the play.

This humble setting did not prevent the amazingly talented and energetic cast from presenting a belly-laughing, silence-inducing, and often unforgettably taut three hours of theater. Seldom has a crowd left a Shakespeare theater so exhilarated. (I speak as a veteran lover of some 200-plus performances, in London, New York, and Washington). Many viewers were still speaking of it days afterwards.

The young cast was tutored this semester in a special class by the professionally experienced Shakespeare director, Professor Travis Curtright (www.shakespeareinperformance.net). Despite their youth, the cast gave precise attention to every detail, even their timing for breaths. Not despite but because of much repetition and care in advance, the whole cast were free by second natured to be their spontaneous selves

To be sure, one advantage twenty-somethings have over older professionals is that they are playing characters their own age, with the distinctively tender and fragile feelings, high excitements and crushing blows of that gloriously vulnerable time of life.

 Some of the troupe played modern songs before the show and during intermission. They picked songs they found related to Much Ado.

VANESSA TOMPKINS – keep that name alive in your memory. One day soon, expect to see her in local, regional, then national opera (since childhood, opera has been her first love) or musical comedy (hear her sing “My Fair Lady”)   – or in an effortlessly romantic role on stage.

Earlier this year, Frank D’Ambrosio, who sang “the Phantom” in The Phantom of the Opera some two thousand times on Broadway, agreed to come back for a second year as main attraction of an Ave fund raiser because, he said, “I will have another chance to sing with Vanessa.”  And so he did, brilliantly. Many who had never heard Vanessa sing, said she more than hold her own, even slightly bested the wonderful D’Ambrosio as the richer talent of the two.

Vanessa’s special talent as an actress is that at each moment, the whole intensity of every scene comes slowly to her face. As Beatrice, she evinces the most painful grief at the “dying” of her dear, dear cousin Hero, who falls helpless under an utterly false accusation against her chastity. Then shortly thereafter, Beatrice lets  escape the most marvelously radiant love for Benedick, who had until then been her despised partner in brutal, disdainful banter. She immediately covers it over, and resumes her barbs. At the end, she leaps with unsuppressed joy into his arms.

It is wrong to single out Vanessa, for no heroine in theater can ever shine unless the whole cast around her lend their own depth of color and tiniest detail. I doubt if there has ever been a Dogberry, commander of the night watch, of so many sinewy bodily movements, innocently hilarious pronouncements, and laughter-producing moments as Peter Atkinson  (veteran of theater since his boyhood). Just to see him plunge his hands into his belt, palms outward, and walk with the oddest walk the stage ever saw made the audience laugh — even before his delightfully abundant malapropisms broke his lips.

Peter’s older brother Charles played in deliciously drawn-out voice, slinky movements, and bounding glee in evil done, the most villainous villain, Don John. The warrior with words – and pursuer of Beatrice– Benedick displayed an astonishingly humorous sense of male ego, conceit, and pleasure in his own prowess in all respects. The most noble nobleman Leonato, shattered father to Hero and uncle to Beatrice, played a role so fatherly, tender, and manly as to comfort the soul that something is right in the human world. At the monument for the ‘dead’ Hero, his sad voice also sang beautifully. And his wife Innogen’s taunt to the slanderer of her daughter, “Come here, boy-yy! I will whip-p you, boy-yy!” was exquisitely uttered.

And what shall be said about the wronged Hero (Sophie Pakaluk), whose maidenly face and girlish joy, as the play opens, turns soon into the most radiant face of love for her passionately appreciative fiancé, Count Claudio, returned as a young hero from the recent war. Before long, however, that haunting and innocent face turns ashen, utterly done-in. For at the very moment when the two lovers kneel at the altar for their betrothal, the self-misled Claudio lashes her with hideously false allegations.

Not often does one see the sheer radiance of a soul so innocent of mind and heart left defenseless and scorned even by her own father. Hero’s inwardly driven collapse into unconsciousness is one of the most gracefully executed faints I ever saw performed.

Shakesspeare at AVe2Then, too, one dare not overlook the superabundance of talent at Ave Maria, especially among the young women.  So rich is the female talent that a full second cast of the lead parts for women took its turn over the three weeks of performances. Each one of the second cast kept the joy of the play alive when her chance came, particularly Leslie Nagel, who played an entirely different Beatrice, to great and moving effect.

 Leslie Nagel plays Beatrice’s sharp tongue well in the Masquerade scene.

On this stage, no one lets the team down.  Prince Pedro has the quiet dignity, good humor and valor one expects in a Prince, taken in as he is by a deceitful pantomime. He thought he was seeing Hero with a lover at her window the night before the wedding. Later, the brave confession of full responsibility for that deceit by the servant who for a mere thousand ducats betrayed fair Hero to her death, brings a breath of nobility to his character. Moreover, just at the moment when all seemed bleakest, the good Friar by his quiet wisdom, peaceful manner, and clever reasoning set in motion the total vindication of Hero.

It was an evening to remember for a long time, a down-to-earth, unpretentious Shakespeare that seemed just as it must have seemed four hundred years ago at Blackfriars priory. It spared its audience hardly a moment without laughter, then black sorrow, and a joyously rousing conclusion.

It makes one cry that the whole city of Naples could not see this performance (although some local high schoolers did get a chance one evening, and may have been the best and most responsive audience of all).

Ave badly needs a theater worthy of its talent and joy.

Musings from Michael: A Banner Day at Ave Maria

imagesCALON9GJFeb 9 was a banner day at Ave Maria University. At 6 pm, the 24-hour “Homerathon” concluded – an oral reading in Demetree Auditorium of every book of the Iliad by students, in groups ranging from one to fifteen per book. The last hour was read with quiet, deeply felt and powerful passion by Professor Lombardo from the University  of Kansas, whose command of Greek idiom, and customs, and funerals was effortless -- and extraordinary. His new translation of Homer is translucent. I wish I had benefited from it in my schoolboy years.             Afterwards, one felt an enormous pride in the Ave student body, who carried the reading through all night and all day long. Professor Lombard said of his experience that the Ave campus was one of the most extraordinary he had ever experienced – because of the quality, keen interest, and sense of purpose he experienced among the students. He corrected himself from “one of the most,” to “most,” and then to “unique.”

            As far as I had experienced myself, he nailed it.

            It was neat, too, that the Chairman of our Board of Trustees was a key mover behind the Homerathon. And that Travis Cartwright, Professor of Theater and Performance as well as of English Lit (specialist in Shakespeare) and the Classics Department coached the readers in advance rehearsals. I understand that attendance was often at about 20, sometimes 50, and by the last hour had reached 175  (I hand-counted them myself, to be certain).

            The night concluded with a videotape of the New York City Metropolitan Opera performing Richard Wagner’s Das Rhineland before a live audience in Manhattan.

            In between these two thrilling performances, I ducked in for  a quick dinner at the Queen Mary’s Pub (perhaps my last martini before Lent, plus a Queen Mary Burger –  thick, juicy, and medium-rare). At the end of the evening, driving home on my battery-run golf cart, with  the profound myths and metaphysical soliloquies of  Wagner still terrifying my imagination – I hummed quietly through the warm, rain-pregnant evening air under the huge Florida sky.

Out of sheer generosity of spirit, I said a heartfelt prayer for my friends and family up north, who were just then enduring the last of 30 inches of snow drifting quietly down. The terrifying Wagner prompts me to confess that that I also felt a wee touch of what the classics called “morbid delectation.”