Memo To Wall Street: Try Following The Path Of This Billionaire
By Michael H. Brown
A little over ten years ago I attended a pro-life conference in Chicago and there met a man named Thomas S. Monaghan, who at the time owned Domino's Pizza, a major-league baseball team (the Detroit Tigers), and a software company. Back then he was said to be worth $600 million but ended up a billionaire.
I was impressed with his wealth, of course, but more so with what he decided to do with it. He said he planned to divest his companies and dedicate the rest of his life to serving his faith, which is Catholicism. He told me two of the very highest points of his life had been meeting the Pope in his private chapel (where Monaghan received Communion from the Pope's hands) and being present for an apparition at Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina. After his spiritual awakening, Monaghan halted construction on a home that if I recall accurately was to be located in the Ann Arbor area and cost more than $30 million.
The house, I gather, ended up significantly smaller, and true to his words, Monaghan ended up selling both Domino's and the Tigers. He has taken his fortune and used it to build missions or churches in Third World countries like Nicaragua (where he paid three-quarters the cost of a new cathedral) and has founded Ave Maria, a Catholic law school in Michigan. This man who could easily have afforded a fleet of his own jets has also taken to flying coach, and has started up an organization for Catholic CEOs that focuses on spirituality. One newspaper quoted him as saying that the idea came from "divine inspiration." His new goal, he says, is to "die broke."
Obviously, Thomas Monaghan is not going to end up on the street, but it was his way of saying that he planned to allocate most of his money in service to God. I don't know the accuracy of every little detail, but the point is that he is following what Jesus asked of the rich man (Matthew 19:21) and is doing what we all, rich or poor, are supposed to do: take gifts we have been given and use them for the Lord and the betterment not of self but of mankind.
It is time for more CEOs -- for all CEOs, for all wealthy people -- to wake up to what is right to do with their money. I don't know if everyone is meant to take the exact same course, but do you realize how many kids in the Philippines or Pakistan or India or Tanzania can be fed with $1 million -- which is what countless rich Americans spend every year on their yachts?
This is a sin greater than what our "Christian" society will acknowledge. The Pope himself sternly warned in 1999 -- during his trip to the U.S. -- against a runaway free-market system and a "purely economic conception of man."
A basic tenet of Christianity is that one cannot serve both God and mammon -- yet this is precisely what a majority of Americans, a large majority, now do. Too many have become slaves to gold and bonds and the stock market, not realizing that the Catholic Church has long taught that capitalism can become as evil as socialism and that it is wrong to compete selfishly or to gamble or to gouge each other -- to take advantage, to charge "whatever the market will bear."
As historian Barbara Tuchman recounts, our Christian forbearers stated "that profit beyond a minimum necessary to support the dealer was avarice, that to make money out of money by charging interest on a loan was the sin of usury" and that "prices should be set at a 'just' level, meaning the value of the labor added to the value of the raw material." In Church history, usury was considered to be the charging of a higher rate than was absolutely necessary. Take a look at interest payments on new homes or what credit-card companies charge and see if there is something fundamentally wrong with the modern system.
This may seem radical, but it is what is taught by our Church, which values purity and service. In a right world, a man makes good money for providing legitimate societal benefit.
But this is not what we see in the modern world. Today we see executives who cart off not millions but tens of millions from companies that aren't even viable and that they did not even start and who make big money yet produce nothing.
I remember when I lived in Manhattan in the Roaring Eighties and 25-year-old kids who were working the foreign exchange desks down at the World Trade Center could afford limousines and nights out every night and I remember the commodity brokers who were sapping the systems while the farmers who actually grew the product were going bankrupt.
Contrast this with Jesus, Who Himself is never recorded to have owned anything but the clothes He wore and the scars from His cross.
I know plenty of wealthy people who are very decent -- and excellent Catholics. Being prosperous doesn't make somebody evil. And being poor doesn't make someone good.
But as Jesus said, how difficult it is for the rich to gain direct entry into heaven.
Tom Monaghan? I don't know Tom Monaghan. We met that brief time. But I'll never forget him. To me, he's an American hero, or at least a great example of a Catholic businessman. The last time I saw him in the news he was proposing to build what might be the world largest Crucifix (or at least the tallest free-standing one in the West). The proposed 25-story crucifix, planned for the law school campus, would be taller than the old General Motors Building, taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and just 51 feet short of the Statue of Liberty's torch.
I don't know if he's going ahead with that plan, but I know if more CEOs followed his way an awful lot more of them would find their way through the eye of the needle.
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