The Opening of Ave Maria

The Naples Daily News has been running a series of articles about the opening of the new campus for Ave Maria University, the centerpiece of the Florida development dreamed up by the ultra-right wing founder of Domino’s Pizza, Thomas Monaghan: 

“Ave Maria is not a Catholic town.”

Despite evidence to the contrary, the well-rehearsed line, articulated by town developers Barron Collier Cos., has become ingrained in pitches to prospective home and business owners, and members of the local and national media.

To believe it, visitors to the newly opened 5,000-acre town must ignore the town’s name, Latin for “Hail, Mary.”

Drivers and pedestrians should regard street names, such as Pope John Paul II Boulevard and Annunciation Circle, as clever brand names, adding theme, not tone, to the town.

To see past the religious overtones of the town, one must overlook the town’s focal feature. A 100-foot-tall steel-beamed oratory, topped with a 10-foot Celtic cross that is visible for miles, is positioned squarely in the town center, aptly named “La Piazza.”

Students attending the university will have to abide by a strict set of rules and regulations:

Student-led organizations, such as the Chastity Team and Pro-Life Club, will be based in the activity center.

“At Ave Maria, we’re trying to create a culture that faith informs life,” said Dan Dentino, vice president for student affairs. “Our students form friendships for life, because they are grounded in a certain truth and are able to express themselves.

“These are groups that can be controversial, and may be considered strange at home, but here, they can be the people they are meant to be.”

Students will be expected to adhere to Ave Maria’s strict housing rules, including limited access to rooms occupied by the opposite sex, no televisions and regulated music selections.

As for those living in the town, while they might not have a supermarket, gas station or bank, they will apparently have a lot of likeminded neighbors:

Jim and Ann Longon, a Philadelphia-area couple who are so enthralled with the Ave Maria concept they’ve bought two homes. Jim Longon, 63, who owned a company that provided outsourced office spaces, learned about Ave Maria through Legatus, a Monaghan-founded organization for Catholic business leaders.

The idea of living in a community where he could take certain shared political, moral and religious values for granted was exciting for him.

“On the golf course all we talk about is whether abortion is OK or not,” Longon said.