Ave Maria Catholic University - New Town of Ave Maria, Florida

Ave Maria University - Ave Maria, Florida

A new ultra-conservative Catholic University and town funded largely by Thomas S. Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza

The country's first new so-called "true" Roman Catholic university in four decades and a new town "Ave Maria, Florida" opened July 21, 2007. The town square includes one of the nation's largest Catholic churches and crucifix, is funded by one of the country's richest men with ultra-conservative religious views. Thomas Monaghan, 70+ years old, founder of Domino's Pizza and former owner of the Detroit Tigers sports team says the $240 million first phase of the campus plans to be centered around the "Oratory of Ave Maria," a 10-story high steel and stone clad church with aluminum and glass arches, and will include the nation's largest crucifix in stained glass with a 60 foot high bleeding Jesus.
Top: The Ave Maria University's "Frank Lloyd Wright" design prairie style campus buildings

The church itself, the “Oratory” is 100 feet tall. Officials originally said the church would be the largest fixed-seating Catholic church in the nation, but that has now been revised with room for only 1,100, down from the original plans for 3,333 to 3,500 worshipers. A cornerstone ceremony was held on March 25, 2006.
Right: The Ave Maria Oratory (photo by Don Browne)

The university campus, built in the "prairie style" of simple lines made famous by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, includes a gymnasium seating 2,500, a science, math and technology center, a library and a student activities center. An original completion date of Summer 2006 was delayed one year, with students attending first classes in the fall semester of 2007.

A new town called Ave Maria, Florida and a golf course, built on an additional 5,000 acres in a venture with area land developer, the Barron Collier Companies. The new town will promote “traditional family values” and although Catholic centered will open to people of all faiths, there may be some surprising restrictions on what town stores may sell, reflecting Monaghan’s conservative religious beliefs. Drug stores, for example may not be able to sell contraceptives or adult magazines in Ave Maria if Monaghan has his say. Stores are asked not to sell such items although not prohibited, according to Monaghan.

Residences were available starting in late spring of 2007, built in partnership with several national builders. The Collier companies donated the school campus land but owns all the surrounding properties in partnership with Monaghan's companies. Up until now all the acreage a few mile south of Immokalee, Florida was farm land.

Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan is the seed of the new "University". Monaghan founded that small college in 1998, with a few hundred students and then decided to move to Florida. The Michigan college is seeking educational accreditation as is the new Ave Maria "University." The Florida school operated with barely over a hundred students in temporary facilities in Naples in the clubhouse of a former retirement community.

Tom Monaghan pledged $240 million of his personal pizza and sports team fortune to begin the school and another $300 million to begin an endowment program for the future. Domino's Pizza, founded in 1960 is the world's largest privately-held restaurant chain. In 1998, he sold Domino's, reportedly for $1 billion, to devote his money to what he sees as God's work. "The bottom line is to get people into heaven," says the Domino's founder about the school plans.

Photo: Ave Maria founder Tom Monaghan

The university will not be associated with any church Diocese or church order but will claim to teach the "true Catholicism." The church building was dedicated on March 31, 2008 after many delays. The church was officially designated as The Quasi-Parish of Ave Maria, a unique title after some undisclosed disagreements between Monaghan and the Bishop of the Diocese of Venice over control of the finances of the church and other matters.

Monaghan reportedly has ultra-conservative political and spiritual views and believes other Catholic institutions have become too "secular" and are not holding to his more conservative views about Roman Catholicism. Monaghan and his colleagues believe some of the social ills seen in society are symptoms of the failure to teach and accept "true" Catholic doctrine as they see it. Many Ave Maria daily masses are being said in Latin. The university will try to teach a more conservative approach, representing views of some conservative Catholics who are more interested in keeping some of the observances practiced before the Second Vatican Council, but with a "Catholic liberal" twist of promoting 'evangelization" of the Catholic faith to outsiders, more like conservative Protestant sects who actively recruit followers..

About half the Ave Maria University students attend Mass every day while students, faculty and administrators pause three times a day when the campus’ "Angelus" bell rings, signaling a time of prayer. At times, a group of students hold nightly “rosary walks,” proceeding around the campus while praying the rosary at the "twelve stations of the cross."
During the first 18 months of fund raising, Ave Maria received contributions from about 25,000 donors, raising about $3 million or about $120 per donor, on average. The school has a pledges of $5 million each from John Donahue, chairman of Pittsburgh-based Federated Investors, Inc., and an anonymous donor from New Orleans. Two other million dollar pledges were also received early on.
Photo: The Ave Maria Oratory in the center of the new town of Ave Maria, Florida (photo by Don Browne)

Critics Question Development and Monaghan’s Conservative Views

The new school is not without its critics. Considering legal action was the Sierra Club, concerned that the new community will disrupt the endangered Florida panther in the now wildlands near the farming community of Immokalee, Florida. “You’re creating real trouble by placing massive development virtually right next to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge,” said Frank Jackalone, staff director of the Sierra Club’s St. Petersburg office.

As is typical in South Florida land promotion schemes, the large Florida land owner and developer, Barron Collier Companies, "donated" the rural farm land on which the new school will sit, but owns all the surrounding land in partnership with Monaghan, and will develop the new "city" of Ave Maria around the campus. Land in the area is expected to increase in value because of the the University's and town plans. Pre-publicity land values were about $4000-$5000 per acre for the rural pasture lands. Lots vacant for decades in Port LaBelle, 20 miles north of Immokalee have seen lot prices go from $300 per quarter acre to $40,000 or more in two years. After the recent real estate downturn prices have returned to more reasonable numbers, and the home builders at Ave Maria are scrambling to find buyers.

Others are concerned with the right-wing conservative views of the founder and his appointees at the school. Monaghan has supported various conservative Catholic causes during his lifetime including organizations opposed to abortion.and backing legislation to prevent legalized abortion. Monaghan says he will promote at the new University and his other religious schools “more vocations to the priesthood and nuns than any institution in the world.” Monaghan had reportedly employed Joseph Pearce, allegedly a former criminal nazi youth leader in London, and a well known author and academic on the religious far right, to the position of writer in residence at the sister Ave Maria College in Michigan.

Monaghan founded Legatus, an elite Catholic group of millionaires that reportedly backs a cult called The Word of God. Members of Legatus, among other qualifications, must be the head of a company doing $4 million in sales. Critics of The Word of God says the group is an authoritarian cult maintaining absolute control of its followers.

Monaghan reportedly set up the Siena Group, made up from wealthy and influential Catholics from the multi-thousand member Legatus. The Siena Group was reportedly instrumental in the formation of Human Life International. Critics say the group is militantly anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-women's rights. The Siena anti-abortion group was founded by Father Paul Marx who reportedly laid blame for "the abortion holocaust" on the "shoulders of the Jews."

Monaghan In Nicaragua, Central America
Monaghan bought a small Central American school in 2001 as part of his plan to promote conservative Catholicism thought conservative education. Located in a small village in Nicaragua, the now named Ave Maria College of the Americas hoped to attract about 600 students. Previously it was a branch campus of the University of Mobile (Alabama), a Baptist school started in 1993 after the fall of the leftist Sandanistas. In 1999 they pulled out, after losing a boat load of money. Jesuit Father Joe Fessio, then president of Ignatius Press in California, got Monaghan to put $1 million into the school plus another $400,000 to pay off some school debts.
The plan was to get wealthy Nicaraguan parents to send their kids to Monaghan's new Nicaraguan Catholic University, competing against several other Catholic schools in the region and higher priced U.S. schools. Monaghan has been reported as saying that wealthy parents in Central America, who normally send their kids to the U.S. for college, should be concerned that studying in the United States means "studying in a secular university where Catholic teaching isn't present, and where other philosophies can be found that are hostile to the Catholic vision." About one-third of the Nicaraguan university students are U.S. residents or legal citizens and thus eligible for Pell grants and other education subsidies from the U.S.

Monaghan has funded a controversial Catholic cathedral in Managua, Nicaragua to the tune of about $3 million. He also has funded five Catholic elementary schools, two in Honduras and a conservative Catholic law school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Monagham also founded Legatus, an elite organization of major Catholic businessmen who must be wealthy to be considered for membership. He also owns a Catholic newspaper and recently purchased WNRW-FM radio in Naples, Florida for $4.9 million in cash, and programmed 24 hours a day Gregorian Chant into the station format. Now management and programming has been turned over to a local broadcaster and the station plays country music. He also founded the Thomas More Center for Law and Justice, a public interest law firm that handles religious freedom cases and is committed to outlawing abortion.

For those wishing to contact Thomas Monaghan, here’s his various mailing addresses as filed with the Florida Secretary of State (We suspect, however, that is it unlikely that you may get any response from him.)


The Collier County Tax appraiser’s office shows this address:  10047 Gulf Shore Drive, Naples, Fl. 48105 for  Thomas S. Monaghan, a beach front home bought in August 2003 for $3,575,000.

Links to Thomas S. Monaghan’s various educational and religious enterprises:

Legatus.org - Membership Requirements
Ave Maria University of the Americas – Nicaragua
Ave Maria College – Ann Arbor, Michigan
Thomas More Law Center
Ave Maria Singles - Dating website for Conservative Catholics funded by Tom Monaghan

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