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The announcement that a new Catholic law school — Ave Maria School of Law — would open in Ann Arbor, Mich., last August generated an enormous amount of media attention. Ave Maria was featured in a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education(“Ave Maria: a ‘Seriously Catholic’ Law School,” Feb. 18, 2000) and in an article in Lingua Franca(“Domino’s Delivers,” November 1999), to name just two of the articles that appeared. This interest in Ave Maria is relatively easy to understand. Many are intrigued by the involvement of Tom Monaghan. Monaghan is the former owner of Domino’s Pizza who sold his business for nearly one billion dollars and is now devoting his life to philanthropic causes through the Ave Maria Foundation. One of the principal areas of interest of the Foundation is Catholic education, including the founding of Ave Maria School of Law. Although not many people think that the United States has too few lawyers, most seem to agree that we do not have enough good lawyers — lawyers of character and integrity. And that is the type of lawyer that Ave Maria strives to educate. Ave Maria School of Law seeks to accomplish this goal through two major emphases. First, Ave Maria seeks to recapture the sense of law as a vocation. This ideal has largely been lost in the profession over the last generation, and we seek to foster this conception of the lawyer and of the lawyer’s role. Law is one of the traditional learned professions, and it is critical that this noble heritage be retrieved. Second, Ave Maria self-consciously seeks to draw from the Catholic intellectual tradition. In particular, much of the inspiration for the law school has come from the writings of Pope John Paul II — primarily the encyclicals “Veritatis Splendor” (“The Splendor of Truth”), “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”), and “Fides et Ratio” (“Faith and Reason”). In fact, Ave Maria School of Law draws its motto — “Fides et Ratio” — from the Pope’s encyclical by that name. Moreover, Ave Maria School of Law has affirmed its whole-hearted commitment to “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” (“From the Heart of the Church”), Pope John Paul II’s 1990 Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities. Ave Maria’s emphasis on its Catholic identity is another major explanation for the attention the School of Law has drawn. Some wonder whether the ideal of a Catholic law school is coherent, and even if it is, wonder whether it is an ideal that is possible to achieve. To answer these two questions, I thought I would describe in more detail the mission of Ave Maria School of Law. THE MISSION Ave Maria School of Law is a Catholic law school dedicated to educating lawyers with the finest professional skills. Our mission is to offer an outstanding legal education in fidelity to the Catholic faith, as expressed through sacred tradition, sacred scripture, and the teaching authority of the Catholic church. We affirm Catholic legal education’s traditional emphasis on the only secure foundation for human freedom — the natural law written on the heart of every human being. We affirm the need for society to rediscover those human and moral truths that flow from human nature and that safeguard human freedom. This substantive vision underlies all of our activities. We seek to educate lawyers with the finest professional skills. To accomplish this, we are devoted to excellence in teaching. This commitment to excellence in teaching goes beyond training students in the necessary technical skills. Our students are trained to reflect critically on the law and their role within the legal system. We are dedicated to research and scholarship, to serving the common good, and to building a community. In recognition of the dignity of every human being, we welcome people of all faiths who wish to receive the education we provide and to join with us in our dedication to the truth. We seek to accomplish this mission by offering an intellectual culture that is different from that which characterizes most American law schools. In a famous article entitled “The Ordinary Religion of the Law School Classroom,” Roger Cramton, then the dean of Cornell Law School, concluded that certain “[m]odern dogmas entangle legal education — a moral relativism tending toward nihilism, a pragmatism tending toward an amoral instrumentalism, a realism tending toward cynicism, an individualism tending toward atomism, and a faith in reason and democratic processes tending toward mere credulity and idolatry.” A Catholic law school can and should differ in every respect. The intellectual culture of the Catholic law school will promote the integration of faith and reason; it will understand the social nature of man, it will affirm the necessity of examining the moral aspects of the study of law; it will affirm the ideal of law as a vocation or calling; and it will affirm the existence of truth, and in particular moral truth. A Catholic legal education will aspire to that education described by Newman in “The Idea of University,” in which “A habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom …” It is important to note that law has a certain autonomy. “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” notes that each academic discipline retains its own integrity and has its own methods. And this rightful autonomy of the law is, of course, honored at Ave Maria School of Law. But, Catholic moral and social teaching offers truths (about the nature of human beings, about the nature of freedom, about morality, etc.) that provide a framework through which to evaluate critically the law, and this is an important part of the study of law at Ave Maria. THE CURRICULUM AND SPIRITUAL AND INTELLECTUAL LIFE This effort to integrate law and morality is accomplished through four required courses — a first-year course entitled “Moral Foundations of the Law,” advanced courses on “Jurisprudence” and “Professional Responsibility,” and a third-year course entitled “Law, Ethics, and Public Policy.” Where appropriate, Catholic moral and social thought is discussed in other courses as well. The spiritual and intellectual life of Ave Maria School of Law is very different from the typical law school. The law school has a chapel and a full-time chaplain. As “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” states, a Catholic university (and, of course, this would include a Catholic law school) ought “to promote the pastoral care of all members of the … community, and to be especially attentive to the spiritual development of those who are Catholics.” This ministry helps “to facilitate the integration of human and professional education with religious values in the light of Catholic doctrine, in order to unite intellectual learning with the religious dimensions of life.” The intellectual life of the law school consists of much more than what goes on in the classroom. Ave Maria sponsors the annual Ave Maria lecture. The first speaker in this series was Justice Clarence Thomas, who delivered the inaugural Ave Maria lecture in November 1999. In addition, we sponsor academic conferences such as the one co-sponsored with Sacred Heart Major Seminary in June of 2000. That conference, “St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition,” featured the leading natural law scholars in North America. We also sponsor conferences for lawyers and their families, such as our recent “Law & Family” conference, which foster the professional and spiritual development of those in the profession. Moreover, we sponsor study groups for faculty and students — such as the John Paul II Study Group — which foster the intellectual and spiritual development of those in the law school community. In sum, Ave Maria School of Law is a tremendously exciting new venture that offers a distinctive vision of law and legal education. Richard S. Myers is a professor of law at Ave Maria School of Law. To find out more about Ave Maria School of Law, visit their Web site at www.avemarialaw.edu.

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