What if you could create the ideal town, based on your Catholic beliefs? What if you could build a town centered upon prayer, open to life, in pursuit of integral truth and centered around family?
Well, apparently someone has beaten you to it. Welcome to Ave Maria, Florida. This small town in Southwest Florida used to be 1,000 acres of tomato plants. Since 2007, this swampland has been transformed into a college town with modern amenities and very distinct religious lifestyle. 76-year-old founder of Domino’s Pizza, Tom Monaghan, sold Domino’s pizza for an estimated $1 billion in 1998. With local developers, he has invested his money in this dream town. Although town and university operate independently, Catholic culture is apparent everywhere, even in Street names such as Assisi, Avila and Cana.
The entire town was built around and revolves around its center: the oratory. Avemariablvd.com quotes Thomas Merton as inspiration for this construction choice:
“Here, everywhere I went, I was forced, by the disposition of everything around me, to be always at least virtually conscious of the Church. Every street pointed more or less inward to the center of the town, to the Church…”
It isn’t an empty church, like the looming and beautiful European cathedrals. “On Sundays, some 97 percent of the whole town goes to Mass, and on weekdays about 65 percent of the students,” says Michael Novak in National Review Online. Daily Mass in Ave Maria is said at four times per day during the school year.
The college campus has single-sex dorms and every residence hall has a chapel. “We make no apologies for seeking to uphold Catholic moral teachings,” Ave Maria University President Nicholas Healy said. “We would not approve of or facilitate something that is very common, I’m told, on college campuses today, hooking up and sleeping around, and … binge drinking.” Although the lifestyle may be unusual for an American campus, the academics don’t seem to fall short. Michael Waldstein, respected professor and translator of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, comments, “Profoundly fruitful contemplation, characteristic of a genuinely Catholic intellectual life, is taking place [at Ave Maria University] among the theology professors and graduate students. I know of no better program for forming future theologians. I include in this judgment the program of ITI, which I helped to build up…” (source)
In a speech at a Catholic men’s conference, Tom Monaghan said that “pharmacies wouldn’t be allowed to stock condoms or birth control pills and that cable TV would show no pornography.” Chelsea Allan says in her testimonial, “When I go to the Ave Maria Fitness Center and start the treadmill equipped with a personal television, the station is already set to EWTN.” It is a community filled with life, literally: lots of children and with activities such as “rosary walks” in the evenings.
Want to learn more about Ave Maria, Florida? Monty, Cat of Ave Maria is a children’s book available at the local Ave Maria bookstore. There is also a newspaper, the Ave Herald and many links on avemarialiving.com. I will definitely keep my eye out for more news, controversial or not, about this unique college town.