IMMOKALEE, FL. -- 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 including one of the nation's largest Catholic churches and planned crucifix, is funded by one of the country's richest men with ultra-conservative religious views.
The Oratory of Ave Maria, the centerpiece of the new town. Photo by Don Browne
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 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.
The church itself, the "Oratory" is 100 feet tall. Officials originally said the church was be the largest fixed-seating Catholic church in the nation, but as plans changed it now holds about 1,200, instead of the 3,333 to 3,500 worshipers hoped for. A cornerstone ceremony was held on March 25, 2006.
The university campus, built in the "prairie style" of simple lines made famous by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, including 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 had been delayed one year, with students attending first classes for the fall semester of 2007.
The 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 new school is seeking educational accreditation and the Michigan school has been closed to the dismay of the students there. The Florida school operated with barely over a hundred students in temporary facilities in Naples in the clubhouse of a former retirement community.
Ave Maria University and Ave Maria, Florida's "New Town"