Published on Saturday, August 13, 2005 by Inter Press Service
Pizza Magnate Flees the Pagan Hordes
By Bill Berkowitz
OAKLAND, California - They may not become as ubiquitous as the Domino's Pizza outlets that dot the U.S. landscape, but Tom Monaghan, the man who founded that fast food giant, is hoping that the town he is building for orthodox Catholics in Florida will one day replicate itself across the country.|
In late March, at the first annual Boston Catholic Men's Conference held at Boston College High School, Monaghan, a major conservative philanthropist, triumphantly told the enthusiastic crowd of more than 2,000 men (including over 80 priests) that construction of Ave Maria University -- the first Catholic university built in 40 ¬years -- was moving forward.
The 240-million-dollar first phase will be centred around the "Oratory of Ave Maria," a 60,000-square-foot church with aluminium and glass arches, and will include the nation's largest crucifix in stained glass with a 60-foot-high bleeding Jesus. The church would become the largest fixed-seating Catholic Church in the nation, with room for more than 3,000 worshipers.
Students enrolled at the new university in southwest Florida would be high quality students, Monaghan said, with higher median SAT test scores than those attending other Catholic institutions. He also pledged that dormitories would be single-sex and that teachers in at least one quarter of the classes will be "wholly orthodox" priests.
Grander news, however, awaited the crowd as Monaghan then launched into a description of a new Catholic-centred town that was under construction alongside the university. While there are no plans to name the town Monaghanville, or MonaghanWorld, it is clear that Monaghan's vision is writ large over the new town, called Ave Maria.
"We're going to control all the commercial real estate, so there's not going to be any pornography sold. We're controlling the cable system. The pharmacies are not going to be able to sell condoms or dispense contraceptives," Monaghan told the crowd.
At the Ave Maria web site, the university and town are described as "a new community of uncompromising quality and boundless opportunity." The site makes no overt reference to the town's religious mission.
The project evidently grew from plans Monaghan began developing in 2002. His Ave Maria Foundation brought the Naples, Florida-based land developer, Barron Collier Companies -- which donated the land for the project -- on board to carry out the construction.
The complex, located less than 30 miles from Naples and the beaches of Collier County, "is a visionary community with a strong commitment to preserving the area's significant environmental resources as well as its rural and agricultural heritage," the web site noted.
The first phase of the project will be "open" in the spring of 2007, and by 2016, the town and the university is projected to have a population of 30,000.
Monaghan's personal story is inspirational. His father died when he was quite young, and much of his youth was spent in foster homes and a Catholic orphanage. By ninth grade he had entered, and was subsequently kicked out of, the seminary. After high school, Monaghan spent a brief time at the University of Michigan, dropped out and enlisted in the Armed Forces, joining the Marines.
In 1960, along with his brother James, he bought Dominick's Pizza -- which later became Domino's Pizza when Tom became its sole owner. Over the years, Domino's evolved into a highly successful international pizza delivery franchise and fast-food restaurant, which, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, "had 7,100 stores in 50 countries [and] it was the second-largest pizza chain in the United States when it went public in 2004."
Its 2003 sales totaled over 4 billion dollars. In 1998, Monaghan sold his interests in Domino's to Bain Capital, Inc., for an estimated one billion dollars.
In 1983, while still running Domino's, Monaghan founded the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Mater Christi Foundation, which soon became the Ave Maria Foundation. Over the past 20-plus years, Monaghan has supported anti-abortion groups, school choice initiatives, and a number of Catholic charities, especially those emphasising Catholic education.
Monaghan has also helped fund the campaigns of ultra-conservative Republican senators like Sam Brownback of Kansas, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
By the end of 2004, Monaghan had given away 450 million dollars of his 950-million-dollar fortune, Business Week reported.
Ave Maria's success appears in part to be hinged to Father Joseph Fessio, the new College's provost and top-ranking priest. Fessio enjoys a close relationship with Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI.
The San Francisco, California-based Ignatius Press, which Fessio founded and still runs, is the primary English-language publisher of Ratzinger's works. After Ratzinger was named Pope, Time magazine acknowledged Fessio as a member of the new pontiff's inner circle.
Although Fessio has been among those Catholics urging the Church to censure, and voters to reject, any Catholic politician that in supports abortion in any way, he was more circumspect about the future of the new town.
Acknowledging that the developers would have ultimate authority over the town's character, he added, "No matter what Tom's personal desires might be, or anybody else's, this town is going to be open to everybody."
But others are not so sure. "The whole idea of setting up a Catholics-only town or any religious town in a pluralistic society is very disturbing," Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, a Washington-based independent Catholic organisation committed to women's rights and reproductive health, told IPS by telephone from Germany.
"In addition to a myriad of other legal questions, there could be all sorts of problems related to education and health care. Would public tax dollars be used to support private schools? What will happen regarding reproductive health care services? Will pharmacies refuse to dispense birth control? Will people not be able to have advance directives regarding health care choices that might conflict with Catholic teachings at the end of their lives?" she asked.
"From a human and a Catholic perspective, I don't think it is a good idea for human beings to isolate themselves from diversity and differences," Kissling added.
From a religious perspective, Kissling believes that tolerance and diversity make stronger Catholics: "We have to learn to tolerate the fact that there are other religions -- as well as non-believers -- and the interplay of cultures help make each of us more productive members of society. A Catholic-only town goes totally against that."
"If you are a conservative Catholic, aren't your values strong enough to live in a pluralistic society without fear? Interacting with children of other faiths and no faiths can only enrich their Catholicism."
© 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service