A Very Catholic Town
by Michael Durnan
‘There’s something very special about Ave Maria and the people who live here,” says resident Joseph Pierce. “It’s a community centered on Christ.’
These American Catholics have chosen to make Ave Maria the place they want to live and to raise their families. Located thirty miles from the city of Naples, Collier County, in Florida, Ave Maria is the brainchild of Tom Monaghan, the founder of the Domino’s Pizza chain and a Catholic philanthropist. (See below: The Tom Monaghan Story)
Ave Maria is the brainchild of Tom Monaghan, the founder of the Domino’s Pizza chain and a Catholic philanthropist.
How the Ave Maria College and Ave Maria School of Law Began
In 2000, the Ave Maria School of Law opened which was inspired by several former professors from the Catholic University of Detroit Mercy. These had left that University after it had invited several pro-abortion members of the Michigan Supreme Court to attend the annual ‘Red Mass’. These professors then approached Tom Monaghan for support to establish a Catholic law school faithful to the teachings of the Church. Ave Maria School of Law was established in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then relocated to Naples in 2009.
In early 2000, Tom Monaghan sought to establish Ave Maria University — the fledgling school was operating out of an old elementary school building at the time — in Ann Arbor on land which he still owned that he had leased to Domino Pizza. The plan included a 250 ft. crucifix, taller than the Statue of Liberty, but officials refused to grant permission for this. Hence, Monaghan was forced to seek another location. Eventually, community leaders in Collier County, Florida offered him a large undeveloped area of land, thirty miles east of Naples, on which to establish the new university.
Ave Maria Beginnings
In February 2006, the foundations of the new Ave Maria University and town were established. Ave Maria is built around a Catholic Oratory and Ave Maria University, a liberal arts college, which was relocated from Ypsilanti, Michigan. Ypsilanti is also home to the first-ever Domino Pizza restaurant. Tom Monaghan sold his control of Domino Pizza, and later his remaining shares, and has since devoted himself to philanthropic works and the support of Catholic causes.
Ave Maria town is a joint venture with a real estate developer; Monaghan owns 50% of the non-university real estate. The plan is to build 11,000 homes and several business districts. At the announcement, Monaghan stated that any businesses in Ave Maria would be prohibited from selling contraceptives and pornography which drew legal criticism and comment from the American Civil Liberties Union. Residents will tell you that they welcome anyone who is open to what the town offers, and realtors readily point out that anyone can buy a home or open a business in town.
A former student of architecture, Tom Monaghan has retained a passion for and interest in the subject, especially the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. It was Monaghan himself who sketched the first design for the Oratory on a tablecloth. The Oratory design was inspired by several works of Wright’s protégé, E. Fay Jones, especially the 1988 Mildred Cooper chapel. One of the distinctive features of the Oratory is the visible steel structure which can be seen inside and out. In 2008, The Oratory won an award for its distinctive architecture from the American Institute of Steel Construction. The facade features a monumental Annunciation relief by sculptor Marton Varo, who also created the Good Shepherd that is inside the Oratory.
A former student of architecture, Tom Monaghan has retained a passion for and interest in the subject, especially the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Ave Maria Today
Since the town of Ave Maria was established in 2007, 500 homes have been built with the eventual goal of 11,000. The goal is to attract college students and families by providing attractive housing, amenities, good schools and a safe and secure environment underpinned by a distinctive Catholic ethos.
The town has a variety of facilities and amenities, including a pub named The Queen Mary, after the eldest daughter of Henry VIII and Catholic Queen of England. The pub’s signature drink is called “The Bloody Bess,” named after Queen Elizabeth I. (This is a fact which pleases the English author of this article and makes a refreshing change from the preoccupation with her notorious Tudor father and half sister, Elizabeth.) The Queen Mary even has its own dedicated Facebook page.
The town’s newspaper of record is www.AveHerald.com There is community weblog avemarialiving.com, run by residents of the town, which provides over 100 links to pages with information about Ave Maria town.
The goal is to attract college students and families by providing attractive housing, amenities, good schools and a safe and secure environment underpinned by a distinctive Catholic ethos.
Good Manners, Generosity and Charity
Catholic writer and Templeton Prize laureate Michael Novak taught a mini-course at Ave Maria University on Religion and the Founding Fathers; he writes in the National Review about his impressions of Ave Maria and its citizens. Ambassador Novak says how he has never lived in a more Catholic culture than he experienced at Ave Maria and observed how on Sundays, 95% of the whole town attends Mass and 65% of students on weekdays.
Interestingly, what impressed Novak most were the good manners, generosity and charity of the townspeople and their willingness to help and to receive help. He was also impressed by the dedication and sacrifice of the university students and staff. Novak especially rejoiced in the large families of the faculty members and the goodness and holiness of the people he encountered in Ave Maria.
Ave Maria is still a relatively new enterprise and it remains to be seen if it will grow as large Tom Monaghan has envisaged. It appears to have made a promising start, however, supported by people who are committed to its ethos and values.
Interestingly, what impressed Novak most were the good manners, generosity and charity of the townspeople and their willingness to help and to receive help.
The Tom Monaghan Story
Tom Monaghan was born in 1937 and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When Tom was four years old, his father died, leaving his mother to raise him and his younger brother. But after two years of experiencing considerable difficulties, Tom’s mother made the difficult decision to give her sons to the care of an orphanage – the St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Jackson, Michigan, run by the Felician Sisters of Livonia.
Tom and his brother remained at the orphanage until 1949 when they were re-united with their mother. The care, love and faith displayed by the nuns inspired Tom’s devotion to the Catholic Faith and he later pursued a vocation as a priest. However, he left the seminary and enrolled in the US Marines in 1956 and he was honorably discharged in 1959.
When Tom was four years old, his father died, leaving his mother to raise him and his younger brother. But after two years of experiencing considerable difficulties, Tom’s mother made the difficult decision to give her sons to the care of an orphanage – the St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Jackson, Michigan, run by the Felician Sisters of Livonia. Tom and his brother remained at the orphanage until 1949 when they were re-united with their mother. The care, love and faith displayed by the nuns inspired Tom’s devotion to the Faith.
Monaghan then returned to Ann Arbor and enrolled in the University of Michigan to study architecture and later, with his brother, purchased a small pizza store, named DomiNick’s, with a loan of $500. His aim was to finance himself through college but the pizza business took up more and more of his time until he devoted himself to developing the business into what would become one of the largest franchise fast food companies in the US.
In 1998, Monaghan eventually sold his control of Domino’s Pizza to Bain capital for an estimated $1 billion. This accumulated wealth enabled Tom to indulge in lavish lifestyle, but after reading a passage about pride in C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, he disposed of some of his most flamboyant and conspicuous possessions, including the ownership of the Detroit Tigers baseball team, as well as his lavish office suite at Domino Pizza and calling a halt to the construction of a mansion inspired by his interest in the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, which remains unfinished to this day.
In 1983, Tom Monaghan established the Ave Maria Foundation to support Catholic education, media and community projects, as well as other Catholic charities. After visiting the Vatican in 1987, an experience that had a profound and moving impact on him, Monaghan resolved to promote the Faith with greater determination and resolve. Some of his foundations include Ave Maria Radio, the Ave Maria List, a pro-life political action committee and the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest law firm dedicated to promoting and defending issues in line with Catholic moral teaching, such as pro-life and traditional marriage. Monaghan also built several schools for the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist and also gave them land to build their Mother House in Ann Arbor.