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Why Tom Golisano Believes in Ave Maria University

By Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D.
February 23rd, 2010
Inside Catholic (www.insidecatholic.com)

Some Catholic bloggers have wrongfully questioned the solid pro-Life credentials of Ave Maria University

WASHINGTON, DC (Inside Catholic) - Last November 5, 2009, Ave Maria University celebrated a generous gift of $4 million from Tom Golisano, chairman of Paychex, the second largest payroll processor in the United States. Given that Golisano is the owner of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team and Buffalo Bandits lacrosse team, his gift will go to build a field house, where the school will hold wellness programs and where its sports teams will compete.

Golisano is a well-known public figure in New York, having run three times for governor on the Independent Party ticket. Most recently, he moved to Florida to protest the high state taxes in New York.

Some of Golisano's political affiliations and statements have led to criticism of AMU for accepting his gift. The controversy erupted immediately after the November 5 event and culminated in an article in The Wanderer on January 28. The piece questioned the relationship between Golisano and the university -- it was titled, "AMU Patron Golisano… Super Generous to Anti-Life Dems."

The Wanderer cites three main pieces of evidence to back its criticism:
1. a 1994 New York Times article in which Golisano describes himself as pro-choice;
2. a $1 million donation to the 2008 Democratic National Convention; and
3. his millions in support of the William J. Clinton Foundation.

At their board meeting in November, shortly after the controversy began, AMU's board and committees discussed the Golisano gift. According to Paul Roney, the school's chief financial officer, members of the board asked the administration to further verify its initial understanding of Golisano's pro-life position.

Following the meeting, the administration was "satisfied" that the New York Times article was inaccurate and that Golisano was indeed pro-life; this was then conveyed to the board. Among those present at the meeting were Adam Cardinal Maida, Rev. Benedict Groeschel, Ambassador Michael Novak, and board chairman Michael Timmis. The issue was not brought up again at the February board meeting, other than to report on the recent groundbreaking ceremony for the field house.

AMU president Nick Healy told me that the board had relied on what Golisano had personally confirmed, but "since we continued to receive criticism, we decided to ask him to put it in writing." Golisano readily agreed -- "there was no resistance to that." Golisano sent a letter to Monaghan, AMU's chancellor, dated December 3, 2009. In it, he claimed the New York Times misinterpreted him as being "pro-choice." "I am pro-life now and have always been pro-life," Golisano said. "I believe a woman's 'right to choose' ends when sexual activity results in pregnancy. Hence, I do not believe that a woman should have a right to an abortion."

Golisano's public declaration of his pro-life convictions was enough to convince Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society:

"I am relieved and grateful that Mr. Golisano has publicly opposed legalized abortion. This is the best possible outcome of a situation that helps demonstrate the importance of Catholic institutions refusing honors for public opponents of fundamental Catholic teachings and avoiding even the appearance of compromising Catholic identity."

Deacon Keith Fournier, writing at Catholic Online, defended AMU against what he considered "petty, vicious attacks."Fournier further explained:

"It appears that Mr. Golisano, like most of us reading this article, is a work in progress. His long life reveals that he held some positions in the past which do not comport with those which he holds today. Some within certain segments of the Catholic blogging community were only too eager to point out those positions of the past."

One thing about Tom Golisano is very clear: Through his B. Thomas Golisano Foundation, he has been a generous philanthropist. He has donated more than 6 percent of his net worth ($1.3 billion) to charity. Much of his wealth has gone to universities, health care, Catholic education, science education, and services for people with developmental disabilities. (Golisano has a handicapped son himself.)

It's unfortunate that some Catholic bloggers have used their disagreements with AMU over Golisano to cast doubts on Tom Monaghan's and the university's pro-life credentials. Whatever one might think about Monaghan, his commitment to the protection of innocent life is beyond reproach. His perseverance in the face of a boycott against Domino's Pizza by pro-abortion activists is a matter of public record.

So all of that leaves us here: Tom Golisano, a pro-life Catholic, gave $4 million to Ave Maria University, a pro-life Catholic college. What's so bad about that?

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Deal W. Hudson is the director of InsideCatholic.com and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster).

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