By Fr. George Welzbacher
September 2, 2007
Two weeks ago, on Sunday afternoon, August 19th, I attended a graduation party for one of our young parishioners, Anthony Allan, the son of Scott and Chelsea Allan. Armed with several years of serious study of Greek, Spanish and Latin over and above the courses that make up the standard high school curriculum, Anthony graduated with high honors from Immaculate Conception High School in New Hampshire. He has received a four years' scholarship to Ave Maria University on the school's brand-new campus, open for the first time this fall, in the newly chartered town of Ave Maria, Florida, not far from that state's City of Naples. He will follow a program of study (with a major in biology) preparing him for candidacy for medical school. Congratulations, Anthony!
On its new campus in Florida Ave Maria University has attracted considerable attention. Its founder and chief financial patron, the former owner of Domino's Pizza, Tom Monaghan, established the first Ave Maria college (complete with a Law School) in Michigan. Though his decision to transfer the university to Florida has evoked fierce controversy he has remained adamant in holding to that decision for reasons that to his way of thinking trump countervailing arguments. He is, after all, free to use his vast wealth and the wealth of similarly minded benefactors as he and they see fit.
An interesting article on this important new Catholic university in Florida (and the pros and cons of the relevant debate) appeared in the August 1st edition of USA Today, I reprint it here with some abridgment.
* * * * *Ave Maria Crosses New Ground-Catholic University Attracts a Range of Fans and Foes
By Mary Beth Marklein USA Today
In Krystelle Dieseldorff's first class on her first day of college, students recited the Hail Mary in Latin. It was led by her biology professor. She was ovejoyed.
"I knew there had to be some people out there who practiced their faith and lived it as well," says Dieseldorff, 19, who graduated from a public high school in Miami and is now a sophomore pre-med Major at Ave Maria University. "God showed me this place, and it was perfect for me."
In time for the start of the fall semester on August 27, the 4-year-old university is moving from its temporary quarters at a former retirement community to its permanent campus 30 miles east in Ave Maria, a town being built to support the college.
The campus and to some degree the town are the invention of Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, 70, who sold his company in 1998 and devoted himself full time to one goal: getting people into heaven.
One way to do that, he says, is to train the next generation of Catholic leaders, including lawyers, doctors, teachers and priests.
And not just any priests. "Good priests," he said during a recent conversation in the new campus library. "One good priest is worth far more than an average priest."
The Florida university, into which he has poured more than $200 million, boasts a state-of-the-art science, math and technology building, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture and a central green space where students might use Frisbees or study under one of the imported oak trees.
It offers 10 undergraduate majors-mostly liberal arts staples such as math, history, philosophy and literature. It also offers studies in sacred music and theology and a pre-business program. It has master's and doctoral programs in theology.
But its defining feature is its promise to remain true to Ex Corde Ecciesiae, the apostolic constitution issued in 1990 by Pope John Paul II that instructs Catholic colleges to provide "'academic professional development with formation in moral and religious principles and the social teachings of the Church "
That's what attracted Dieseldorff, who wanted to get an education and grow in her faith. She can find a chapel in nearly every building and can enjoy daily Mass and rosary walks with members of Esto Femina, which she likens a bit to a sorority.
Though Ave Maria University bills itself as the first new Catholic university in the USA in 40 years, it's also part of a wave of Catholic higher-education institutions springing up around the country.
Monaghan founded the now defunct Ave Maria College in 1998 and the Ave Maria School of Law in 2000 [both in Michigan]. The University of Sacramento opened its doors in January, 2005; that fall, Southern Catholic College north of Atlanta welcomed its first class. John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego enrolled its first class last fall; Wyoming Catholic College in Lander opens this fall.
Those schools, too, vow fidelity to the church. But if for no other reason than Monaghan's fame and money, Ave Maria University has gained far more national attention.
Though the school is relatively small-it expects to enroll about 450 undergraduates this fall and about 150 graduate students-Monaghan has high aspirations. One day the university will boast a student body of 5,500, Division I athletics and an academic reputation as "a Catholic Ivy, " he says.
Monaghan also has created an extraordinary amount of ill will, particularly among former faculty and staff, many of them devout Catholics who once admired Monaghan's vision but eventually grew embittered by their experiences....
Most complaints can be boiled down to one thing: Monaghan, who is the university's primary donor and chancellor, has too much control over an institution of higher education, of which shared governance is a hallmark.
Monaghan, no stranger to controversy, has heard most of this before. He calls the lawsuits frivolous and says most negative comments are "either half-truths, out of context or just plain false." He isn't worried about criticism, "except to the extent that it affects the university."
Monaghan also acknowledges a difference between business and academia, but adds, "I believe that 95% of it is the same. I think I bring something new to [higher education], which is good. We've got the advantage of starting with a clean sheet of paper."
Moreover, he has a long list of supporters who like what he is doing. More than 35,000 people have made contributions, [some] from $25 to $5 million, to the university.
"Very few people have the guts to stand up and defend the Ten Commandments as laws of order for society," says Mary Ann Lynch, who coordinates a club for donors in Fort Lauderdale and has hosted recent university graduates at her home. "These people are going to be world leaders. These are dynamos."
Monaghan also has the endorsement of the Cardinal Newman Society, a Manassas, Va., non-profit.. It protests, for example, when Catholic institutions allow the play The Vagina Monologues to be produced on campus and when they select commencement speakers who support abortion rights. In a college guidebook it is publishing this fall, it identifies Ave Maria University as one of just 22 of the nation's 225 Catholic institutions where "students can reasonably expect a faithful Catholic education...." [ The Catholic Studies program at our own University of St. Thomas fits that formula to a T!].