Hail Mary: $ 5M donation to a Catholic school for the construction of a business law center | Business Observer

  Hail Mary: $ 5M donation to a Catholic school for the construction of a business law center |  Business Observer

“We want to give our students excellent training in corporate and business law,” he says, “give them the opportunity to spend a summer with a corporate partner.”


“The story of Tom Monaghan, Domino’s Pizza … everything that was happening to me happened to him,” Cancro says, recalling a time, in the early 1990s, when he struggled to keep Jersey Mike’s afloat. “All of a sudden, the banking environment just shut down, and there was a big recession. No one could borrow money, whereas before, they were just giving it away. We flatlined.”

The answers to all the questions start with Tom Monaghan, the Michigan food industry mogul who launched Domino’s Pizza and owned the Detroit Tigers baseball team in the 1980s and early ‘90s. Monaghan, now 84, founded Ave Maria School of Law in his home state in 1999 but moved it to Naples, where he lives part of the year, in 2009. After selling the lion’s share of his stake in Domino’s to Bain Capital for approximately $1 billion, he turned his attention to philanthropy.

Story Highlights

  • Dean John Czarnetzky, who also serves as the school’s CEO, arrived at Ave Maria, a private Catholic institution, from the University of Mississippi, where he taught law for 27 years. In his new role, he’ll oversee the nascent Ave Maria Institute for Business Law, which Czarnetzky, 61, says is similar to a program he ran at Ole Miss.

  • But why does a law school need $5 million to start what is, essentially, an internship program? What business problem does it solve? And why is Cancro, who also financed the construction of a fitness center at Ave Maria, such an avid supporter of the institution?

‘In a law firm, you’re always having to get clients, maintain them, and you have a bunch of different clients, whereas in-house, you’re focusing on one client. That’s probably one of my favorite things about working in-house.’ Alicia Dietzen, general counsel at KnowBe4

Cancro says he had to lay off his entire team of office support staff, leaving just himself to oversee Jersey Mike’s fledgling network of 30 franchise locations. It was then that he read Pizza Tiger, Monaghan’s autobiography, published in 1986.

“That book gave me hope,” Cancro says. “I read it, and I underlined passages on almost every page about what he did and what happened.” Cancro says he connected with Monaghan’s deep Catholic faith but also how he put his beliefs into action through donating large portions of Domino’s profits to charitable causes. Cancro was determined to do the same with Jersey Mike’s.

“Where I see a need, I go after it if my heart is drawn to it,” he says, “and it’s the same for our franchise owners around the country. The most important thing about our company is that we give and make a difference in people’s lives.” Jersey Mike’s, with more than 2,000 stores nationwide, is on track to generate $2.3 billion in sales this year. Since 2011, when it launched its Month of Giving program, held every March, the company has raised more than $47 million for charities and nonprofits such as food banks and hospitals.

Courtesy. Jersey Mike’s Subs founder Peter Cancro has donated $5 million to Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, which will use the funds to establish a new institute for business law. But now, Cancro wants to help fulfill Monaghan’s goal of enabling Ave Maria School of Law to churn out greater numbers of young attorneys who adhere to high moral standards — practitioners who view law, like medicine, as a noble vocation that requires them to use their time and skills to help the less fortunate among us.

“The Catholic church teaches — and they’re not the only ones that teach it — that freedom is for a purpose,” he says. “It is to become what we are intended to be. That, in itself, is extremely liberating. It took me a long time in my life to understand what that meant. But once I figured it out, I can’t tell you the joy that I have found in life by living my vocation.” The establishment of the Rod Smith Institute for Business Law — the name pays tribute to Cancro’s high school football coach, who was also a banker and helped him raise the money to buy his first sub shop — also has a practical, business-focused purpose, as Czarnetzky indicated. Specifically, it aims to change and streamline the career path for law students who show interest in becoming in-house corporate attorneys.

Czarnetzky has a similar view of the legal profession, saying law schools can do a better job of producing lawyers who prioritize service to others and embrace their roles as defenders of justice and the public good. He believes that outlook will lead to greater professional satisfaction. “It’s tough to give when you’re not doing well, but attorneys, most of them can give at any time and just watch the doors open up for them when they start giving and helping others — the reward, internally, is so great when you give to others like that,” Cancro says. “And what a powerful tool they have with that law degree; it’s incredible what they can do to help others.”