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The Pizza Pope: The Early Years of Tom Monaghan
Thomas S. Monaghan had a challenging childhood. Born on March 25, 1937, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, his father passed away on Christmas Eve when the young Monaghan was just four years old. “My father was my hero and my favourite person in the world,” he recalls. The death proved equally difficult for Monaghan’s mother, who found herself unable to cope with the responsibilities of being a single parent. With her weekly salary of only $27.50, she was left with little choice but to send her two sons to the St. Joseph’s Home for Children, a local orphanage run by a group of Polish nuns.
From the second grade, Monaghan says he grew up determined to be a priest. “I entered the seminary in tenth grade, but got kicked out,” he recalls, “I think probably because I was more rambunctious than most kids.” He returned to regular school but never managed to get good grades, placing last among his 44 classmates. “They weren’t even going to graduate me, but I pleaded with a nun,” says Monaghan. “She said, ‘Well, you got good marks in the seminary, so I’ll let you graduate. But don’t ever ask me to recommend you for college.’”
Following high school, Monaghan used his savings to enroll in Ferris State College in Big Rapids, Michigan. “I went for a quarter, earned good marks, and got accepted at the University of Michigan,” he says. “But I didn’t have any money.” As a result, Monaghan dropped out of college and hitchhiked to Chicago to look for employment. Instead of taking on a job, Monaghan decided to take advantage of the GI Bill to attend college for free.
In 1956, Monaghan enlisted in the Marines, which would mark a major turning point in his life. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he recalls. “I attribute my success in business to the Marine Corps.” When he finished his military service in 1959, Monaghan went back to university, this time with an interest in architecture. However, he was again unable to pay for his books and thus forced to drop out after just three weeks.
It was after a conversation in 1960 with his brother, a mailman in Ann Arbor, that Monaghan’s life would take a new direction. A friend of his brother’s was selling a pizza shop in Ypsilanti, Michigan, called DomiNick’s. His brother was interested but afraid to buy into it alone. “I was having problems paying my way through school, so I said yes,” recalls Monaghan. With a $900 loan from the bank and a 15-minute lesson in pizza-making from Dominick, the brother’s had opened their new pizzeria and were off.
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