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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Monday, February 11, 2008

AMU's Identity Crisis: Is AMU a Marine Corps School or a Catholic School?

Mark your calendars. This Saturday, February 16, is the Fourth Annual Gyrene Gala at Ave Maria University. What is a "Gyrene," you ask? A "Gyrene" is a nickname for a member of the United States Marine Corps.

There happens to be a lot of things at AMU that have to do with the Marines. Besides the annual Gyrene Gala, AMU has an "Ave Maria Gallery of Gyrene Greats." (Last year, Tom Monaghan was one of 5 members inducted to the Gallery, honored with a plaque bearing his likeness that will be displayed at AMU). AMU has an "AMU Marine Corps Scholarship" program. (The scholarship program was first established "to assist current and former Marines interested in an AMU education" but it has now been opened up to veterans from all branches of the U.S. armed forces.) AMU also has the "Carleton and Marjorie Tronvold Endowed Scholarship" established for former Marines attending AMU. The team nickname is the "Ave Maria University Gyrenes." Just like "Chesty", the famous bulldog mascot of the Marine Corps, AMU's mascot is also a bulldog. AMU's bulldog is named Jax and can often be seen wearing a blanket emblazoned with the word "Marines." (Check out the spiffy "AMU Gyrenes" bulldog logo here. It looks like a bit of money went into that design. Cool!)

Does AMU have an identity crisis? Why is there so much Marine Corps stuff at AMU?

Well, because Tom Monaghan used to be a Marine himself. I guess Tom really likes Marine stuff, and since AMU is Tom's school, Tom can introduce as many Marine stuff to the school as he wants.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't have any problem with the United States Marines Corps. I like the Marines. I am as patriotic as the next Joe American and I admire the Marine Corps as defenders of our country and our freedom. There is certainly nothing anti-Catholic about the Marines.

The problem is that there is nothing uniquely Catholic about the Marines. There are lots of groups that are patriotic and aren't anti-Catholic, but that doesn't make them good choices for an institution which prides itself on being uniquely Catholic. An example of this is the Boy Scouts organization. Having everything about the Boy Scouts at a university might be nice; after all, the Boy Scouts represent the virtues of good citizenship, patriotism, and industriousness. There is nothing anti-Catholic about the Boy Scouts.... but there is also nothing uniquely Catholic about the Boy Scouts.

Suppose that Tom Monaghan was a former member of the New York City Fire Department and was very proud of this involvement. (The FDNY is an institution that represents the virtues of patriotism, courage, selflessness, and faith, all great virtues.) Suppose AMU established an annual "FDNY Gala," at which honored members of the FDNY were inducted into the AMU Gallery of FDNY Greats. Suppose money was raised for a scholarship devoted to former members of FDNY. Suppose that the school's nickname was the "Ave Maria University Firefighters" and the school's mascot was a dalmation. There would be nothing wrong with all this, but wouldn't it seem out of place? Why celebrate the FDNY when you could be celebrating the Catholic Church? Wouldn't that be more appropriate? After all, it is the Catholic Church that makes AMU unique and special, not the FDNY or the Marine Corps.

I've explained before why I'm outraged over Tom Monaghan's actions. But now I'm more sad than outraged. It's really sad to see Monaghan's hubris in action, inappropriately naming so many AMU things after the Marines, just because of his personal preference, just because he himself is a Marine. And I'm even more sad to see that there is no reasonable person in the AMU administration who can sway Monaghan from his fascination with the Marine Corps to something more fitting Ave Maria.