A photo of Art Modell accompanied a 2003 story in the Catholic Review.
(George P. Matysek Jr. | CR Staff)
I only had a chance to interview Art Modell once in my journalism career.
A few days before the then-owner of the Baltimore Ravens was to be honored by the National Catholic Educational Association in 2003, I was assigned to find out why this Jewish businessman from Brooklyn, N.Y., was spending part of his fortune boosting Catholic schools in inner-city Baltimore.
Shortly after moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996, Modell made a major five-year gift to support the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Partners in Excellence program. Co-sponsored by the archdiocese and more than 400 philanthropies, businesses and private benefactors, the program has provided more than $22 million in tuition assistance to thousands of Baltimore families since Cardinal William H. Keeler launched it in the same year Modell arrived in Charm City.
Seated in a white golf cart on the sidelines of the Ravens’ practice facility in Owings Mills, Modell told me he was happy to spend his money on a worthy cause like Catholic education. Catholic schools are well-known for inculcating values and discipline in their students, he said, and the Catholic school system was “the best anywhere.” He was impressed with Partners in Excellence, he said, because it is “a good program that can benefit anyone no matter their religion.”
Modell noted that his more than three decades as an owner of a professional football team gave him unique insights into the far-reaching value of education.
“Thousands of football players have gone through my system,” Modell explained, whose Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV.
“Invariably, when you research their background, there’s a connection between the schools they’ve come from and what they’re like,” he said. “The ones who had a good education invariably turn out to be the better guys in terms of character and commitment.”
Together with his wife, Patricia – whose funeral was offered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore nearly a year ago – Modell also made contributions to the basilica’s restoration, Catholic Charities, the House of Ruth, the Hospice of Baltimore and other charitable causes.
As much as I remember Modell’s matter-of-fact answers to my questions, I will also always remember his legendary wit.
As his players raced up and down the field preparing for a big game with the Kansas City Chiefs nearly a decade ago, the white-haired businessman reiterated how he took delight in supporting a good cause such as Catholic education. Then, he paused.
“It’s better than taking my wife to Neiman Marcus,” he quipped.
Art Modell died Sept. 6 at age 87. Funeral arrangements are pending.