By Keith Butterfield
A succinctly crafted headline for Paul Roney’s life might be: “Remarkable, Rewarding and Not Surprising.” Paul himself probably would put it humbly that way.
But — as headlines usually do – it fails to tell the story completely, because Paul’s life more than “lives up” to those descriptors. Consider:
He has gone from being a college student very undecided about his life path in the late 1970’s – including whether to marry or to pursue a single life of service to the Catholic Church – to by the early 1990s, becoming one of the executives of Domino’s Pizza. Then, in the last 15 years, he moved into his current leadership role serving multiple faith-based philanthropic causes.
So those are some of the remarkable parts of his story. What about the “rewarding and not surprising”?
“In 1981, God called me to be a businessman for him,” Paul says. While he acknowledges that other paths may have been more rewarding financially, “as I look at my life, I have approached it with a feeling of great gratitude for not only opportunities the Lord has given me, but also the clarity of never questioning my faith. As I get older, I realize what a blessing that is.”
But there are so many more riches of needed context to fully appreciate Paul’s journey.
“I’m not sure I have a fabulous story. But basically I made a decision in college to follow the Lord and be of service to Him,” he says. College was the University of Michigan, where Paul was finishing up his bachelor’s degree in accounting. Though he never questioned his faith while growing up, it was at college where he did find himself “taking my Christianity seriously.” That led to deep exploration through an ecumenical Christian Community. Within the Christian Community, there were a group of men who had made a decision to “live single for the Lord” in their service to Him. “After college I took a year of discernment to make a decision regarding my state of life.”
During the 40 days of Lent in 1981, as part of the discernment process he did daily meditations and reflection based on the “Ignatian Spiritual Exercises,” the outcomes of which were not only that “it was right for me to get married, but I felt like the Lord was saying to me I want you to be a businessman for Me.” That was significant for him because in some ways his mindset at the time was that the people really serving the Lord were those who chose to live single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Those spiritual meditations helped him realize that choosing to be married was not only the right step, but that he was still called to be a committed disciple of Christ in his marriage and in his daily life.
A short stint with a national accounting firm followed before Paul joined a financing affiliate of Domino’s in 1985, the then-already successful and still rapidly growing chain of founder and entrepreneur Tom Monaghan. Domino’s grew from 300 stores in 1980 to over 5,000 stores by 1989.
It was a rewarding career, with another “remarkable” chapter occurring in 1992, when Paul spoke up about several financial challenges facing the corporation at a meeting attended by the company founder. Tom Monaghan “probably didn’t know who I was,” Paul says. But his speaking up changed that, and by 1993, Paul was accepting Tom’s offer – again after some deep reflection with the Lord – to become the Domino’s corporate treasurer at the age of 35. It was an outcome that followed some times of consideration that he might be looking for completely new work outside the company, because Domino’s during that period was changing rapidly in its own structure.
By 1998, Domino’s was changing again — big time — with Tom Monaghan selling the company completely, and dedicating his fortune and time to causes consistent with his own deep Catholic faith. “He said: ‘Will you come with me?’” Paul recalls.
“I loved the pizza business and I felt I was able to be a Christian witness within Domino’s, so it wasn’t an easy decision,” he adds. “As I was making the decision at this time, I had many years of additional life and personal business experiences. However, I kept going back to my discernment process in 1981 and I felt the Lord was again calling me to be a businessman for Him. At that point, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to be getting into. From the get go, Tom said he would put the proceeds from the sale of Domino’s into pro-family and pro-life causes; I knew he had a priority of doing something with Catholic education and communications and that he also had an interest in establishing a public-interest law center to defend and promote America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values.
“I feel like the Lord put me in contact with Tom’s companies in 1985 and I feel like I was part of His plan. But I surely wasn’t thinking that I would be leaving there 13 years later to be involved with all of these causes.” But, again, Paul heard the Lord wanting him to use his business acumen and experience for Him. “Hopefully, I could put into practice some of the things learned in the for-profit world to things in this next phase.”
And what an experience — both remarkable and rewarding — the past 15 or so years has been. There has been the realization of Tom Monaghan’s vision of starting a new Catholic university in the U.S. Ave Maria University — located in a growing town of the same name in Florida — has surpassed the 1,000-student enrollment level, with an objective of 4,000 undergraduate and 1,500 graduate students. The surrounding town of Ave Maria was an important part of this vision and will eventually encompass 16 square miles of land and have over 50,000 residents. Paul served as Ave Maria University Chief Financial Officer from the school’s inception through 2011 and remains on its Board of Trustees, as well as the Executive Director of the Ave Maria Foundation.
There also has been fulfillment of Tom Monaghan’s vision of growing Catholic radio stations and Catholic programming from his founding of the first station in 1996 to now supplying Catholic programming to more than 250 stations nationwide. There has been the realization of the Thomas More Law Center, dedicated to public-interest law issues, as well as the Ave Maria School of Law. And, Legatus, Latin for ambassador, started by Tom in 1987 for CEOs who are Catholic, after a conversation with Pope John Paul II, has grown to more than 2,500 members.
Through it all, “I’ve been blessed with the clarity about what the Lord has called me to do,” Paul says. Though there have been momentary “what if” thoughts about his career at Domino’s, “I know I wasn’t called to move up at Domino’s. “As I think about it, I believe that when you make a decision in which you know you are being faithful to the Lord, it’s important that you don’t look back. You hit the ground running in the direction you’ve made the decision to go…It’s about being a good steward of the talent the Lord has given us here on earth.”
Looking forward, Paul says: “I have had a great example in Tom Monaghan, selling Domino’s Pizza at the age of 61 and then doing some unprecedented charitable giving since that time. However, it took a presentation from Lloyd Reeb of the Halftime Institute to help me see that this was more than just about me and my wife being appointed by the Lord to bear fruit. If we are to bear fruit that will last, then it is also very important to continue working with our grown children to make sure we leave a legacy as a family. This will require our continued involvement as parents reinforcing the core values we raised them with and to do everything we can to make sure these values continue to be important in their lives.”
And when Paul Roney puts it that way, it is truly an apt description of a remarkable, rewarding, but not surprising life dedicated to service to the Lord. He realizes the Lord chose him to not only bear fruit, but fruit that will endure.
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