Moving to Naples, Florida, to become the Chaplain at Ave Maria School of Law was an unexpected blessing. It was a change of pace from my former life as a parish pastor. I left behind family, brother priests and lay colleagues, wonderful parishioners at St. John’s, Darien, fire and police first responders whom I served.
I had a deep conviction soon after a telephone conversation with Ave Maria Law’s founder, Mr. Tom Monaghan, that the Lord was calling me to join the law school. He felt my work here would contribute to the mission of the formation of the law students as men and women of strong Catholic conviction and Christian virtue. He pointed out that lawyers have a strong influence on society and our nation. Mr. Monaghan wanted a priest on the campus to reinforce the Catholic environment.
I love being a Catholic priest. It is not easy, but being the Lord’s priest is very rewarding.
What I cherish most about Ave Maria Law is the family-like warmth and the professionalism of the faculty, the Dean, and staff dedicated to the mission of the school. I relish the extra prayer and study time that I have found. In some ways, I am living like a monk. St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism, summed up the monk’s rule of life as “work and pray.” A monk’s prayer and contemplation is balanced by his physical and apostolic work. After prayer I “go forth from my little hermitage” to work with the students.
Then there is the intellectual stimulation of the school environment. I occasionally sit in on classes, hear lectures by guest speakers prominent in the fields of law, ethics, and philosophy. There are rich discussions with professors and students as well. I smile and tell myself that I am learning law by the process of osmosis. In my former life as a pastor engaged all day with people and administration, I had a lot less time to read and study.
I am grateful to work with the young law students; they inspire me. They have come here for the purpose of becoming informed and skilled attorneys who are empowered by their faith and love for God. They hope to be well informed Catholics who bring their faith into the public square. I should add that not all are Roman Catholics. We are blessed with the presence of Protestants, Mormons, and Muslims, and students of the Jewish faith. They are all very inspiring men and women.
My dog Driver loves it here. Dean Cieply nicknamed him “Ave Law Dog.” Everyone on campus adores him. He has several fans. I like to think he adds significantly to the environment by his unconditional love, loyalty and willingness to play fetch with his tennis ball. He consoles many, as well, in times of need. Parishioners in Connecticut gave him to me on my 40th anniversary. I could not leave him in Connecticut. He has proven to be an asset to all of us.
I would like to share my personal advice for those faithful individuals considering the path of law school. As you think about your decision on where your law school home will be, I hope you will consider Ave Maria School of Law.
From the moment you arrive on our campus, you realize that Ave Maria Law is an environment of kindness. There is a balance of a very focused, hard-working community and a joyful atmosphere.
I would like you to experience this for yourself. I wish you well in your future endeavors and look forward to our paths crossing here on Florida’s Gulf Coast if you decide Ave Maria School of Law is for you.
Monsignor Frank McGrath is the Chaplain at Ave Maria School of Law. He lives on campus with his Golden Retriever, Driver. He celebrates Mass on campus twice daily every Monday through Friday and is available for the Sacrament of Confession. A native of New Britain and raised in Stratford, Connecticut, Monsignor McGrath attended Notre Dame High School, St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield and St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland, where he received the Masters in Divinity. He was ordained for the Diocese of Bridgeport in 1970.