By Ruth Zamoyta
For more than 50 years, Michael P. Ambrosio, the longest-serving professor in the history of the Seton Hall University School of Law, has touched the lives of tens of thousands of students who have gone on to careers in the service of justice. His deep passion is for “natural law” — the theory that objective moral principles exist whaich should guide and constrain legal and political decisions. Questions about the relationship between law and morality and law and religion have ignited robust classroom discussions and made a lasting impression on Seton Hall graduates working in the legal profession today.
His courses on Professional Responsibility and Law and Morality have inspired students to volunteer at
the law school’s Center for Social Justice in Newark — a legal-services clinic that Ambrosio started in 1970 — and to dedicate their practice to the service of the poor and underprivileged.
Ambrosio’s conscientious approach as teacher, legal scholar and professional advocate extends to his personal philanthropy. He and his wife, Janice Gordon, have donated more than $4 million to the University and the Law School, with a pattern of giving that reflects their sense of justice and compassion, as well as a devotion to the Catholic identity of Seton Hall.
The couple established the Michael P. Ambrosio and Janice Gordon Endowed Scholarship for Seton Hall Law Students, enabling those in need to pursue a law degree. They have also supported the Immaculate Conception Seminary, the Center for Catholic Studies, and several other funds and initiatives that align with their personal values.
In addition, they have contributed significantly to the Toth-Lonergan Endowed Professorship in Interdisciplinary Studies, which ensures there is always a visiting scholar on campus to amplify the University’s Catholic mission and help the community explore the intersection of faith with academic and professional disciplines.
“The Catholic identity at Seton Hall is very important and necessary,” said Ambrosio. “The kind of education we offer emphasizes the moral foundation of our society. So, there is a need for making our curriculum and our faculty capable of providing education at that deeper level — both intellectual and spiritual — and instilling in our students the sense that there’s a greater purpose in the world than simply getting a job. You really need good faculty who not only teach but publish, perform public service and help their students find meaning in all they do.”
Ambrosio was a good friend of the late Deacon William J. Toth, Ph.D., who served as an associate professor of Christian ethics at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology. The chair is named after Toth, as well as Father Bernard Lonergan, S.J., (1904-1984) a renowned scholar who explored the link between faith and the contemporary sciences and professions.
“Bill Toth was the quintessential example of what a Catholic university faculty member should be,” said Ambrosio. “He had the finest character and a superior intellect.”
As he worked to promote the Toth-Lonergan chair, Ambrosio also came to admire the work of Monsignor Richard “Dick” Liddy, professor of Catholic thought and culture and founder of the Center for Catholic Studies.
“Dick has been instrumental in helping the University make the kind of progress we can all feel proud about,” said Ambrosio. “And Greg Floyd is doing a wonderful job as the director of the Center for Catholic Studies. But there’s always the need for continuing support of these initiatives — financial and otherwise — that are at the core of the University.”
Ambrosio feels a unique momentum at work now, and he wants to see it surge. “Our alumni are the people who know Seton Hall and who benefit from Seton Hall,” he said. “It’s important to be grateful and to give back, if you have the means to do so. There’s a great sense of satisfaction in seeing the University progress and knowing you had a small part in helping that effort.
“The most important point is: if we don’t do it, who will?”
Ruth Zamoyta is director of advancement and campaign communications.