Troubled Times at Tom Monaghan's Ave Maria U
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Apr 02, 2007 at 03:40:40 PM EST
Tom Monaghan's Ave Maria University, located in the friendly confines of the still-under-construction Ave Maria Town in Florida has been the subject of unwanted headlines during the past few weeks. Within the space of 48 hours, one of the university's top administrators, Provost Joseph Fessio, was fired and then rehired.

Details of the original firing are still murky. At first it appeared that Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press in San Francisco (the primary English-language publisher of Pope Benedict XVI) and the University of San Francisco's Ignatius Institute, wasn't up to the task of enrolling enough students or raising the necessary money for building the first new Catholic university in the U.S. in 40 years. Then, it seemed that the former student and longtime friend of the current Pope (formerly Cardinal Josef Ratzinger) may have been let go because of his comments to the California Catholic Daily suggesting that homosexuality has biological roots.

Fessio told the publication that "same-sex activity is considered disordered. If there are ways of detecting diseases or disorders of children in the womb, and a way of treating them that respected the dignity of the child and mother, it would be a wonderful advancement of science." Is it unclear, however, which part of these comments would upset Monaghan.

This we do know: On March 21, Fessio sent a brief email to member of the Ave Maria community which read: "To the Ave Maria Community: I have been asked to resign my position as provost and leave the campus immediately. I will miss Ave Maria and the many of you whom I hold dear."
The California Catholic Daily reported that a university-issued statement said Fessio "was asked to step down ... as a result of irreconcilable differences over administrative policies and practices." His resignation, said the statement, does not signify "any difference in our commitment to our mission or to the Magisterium of the Church" or "to maintaining the highest quality of scholarship." The university thanked Fessio for his contributions "to the liturgical and intellectual development of the institution." And, said, the statement, "we look forward to him serving the University in an advisory capacity in the future."

The future evidently manifested itself in a hurry: A day after he was fired, Fessio was rehired as a "designated theologian in residence," with teaching duties, a room on campus, and making plans for student study abroad. Although the university did not say why it reinstated Fessio, it did say that it was "as a sign of our esteem for his great gifts and abilities." In reality, it may have been student protests that caused the university to rethink its position.

Monaghan's mission

Ave Maria University -- the focal point of a new city also called Ave Maria ("Hail Mary" in Latin) located 20 miles northeast of Naples, Florida -- is the brainchild of Tom Monaghan, the Domino's Pizza founder who over the years has become a major contributor to far-right Catholic causes.
The News-Sentinel of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, recently noted that "Promotional materials [for the town] promise roomy homes, which range from about $170,000 to the high $600,000s, by builders Pulte, DiVosta and Del Webb; a commercial center with offices, shops, a Mexican restaurant, coffee shop, pub and ice-cream parlor; schools, parks, a golf course, fitness center and water park."

Monaghan wasn't always concerned about monastic things. As Peter J. Boyer pointed out in a profile in The New Yorker (February 19 & 26, 2007), "In the nineteen-eighties, as Monaghan attained a place on lists of the wealthiest Americans, he went on a wish-fulfillment spree. He wanted to fly, so he bought a Gulfstream jet and a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. He was a college dropout who had longed to study architecture; instead he became the world's leading collector of the decorative works of his hero, Frank Lloyd Wright. ... In his teens, Monaghan had been a penniless car buff; now he acquired a fleet of automobiles, including a handmade Bugatti Royale, and the Packard that conveyed F.D.R. to his second inauguration. ... [And, at age 46] in the autumn of 1983, he bought the Detroit Tigers baseball team."

All this accumulation of goodies happened before Monaghan's now much-publicized religious awakening, when he decided to use, as he put it, "Gods money," to save the Catholic Church from itself.

After Monaghan bought the Tigers in 1983, he set up a foundation that was generally aimed at supporting the Catholic Church. In discussions with "a fellow-parishioner, the Catholic writer Ralph Martin," Monaghan began to understand the problems within the church. "He explained it to me," Monaghan told Boyer. Martin, Boyer noted, is the author of the "influential" 1982 book called "Crisis of Truth," "in which he warned that clergymen and theologians within the Church were working against the true faith, and that the Church's embrace of trendy ideologies was corrupting an unsuspecting flock."

According to Boyer, Martin's beef with the Church grew out of the "liberalizing reforms of the second Vatican Council, convened in 1962, had mutated into an assault on Church teaching and scriptural authority." The essence of the split therefore was between those that were "oriented to a judgmental God and the promise of redemption, [and those that saw] God's will at work in the pursuit of social justice," Boyer wrote.

"I just told him [Monaghan], 'Hey, there's a lot of different stuff going on in the Church these days,'" Martin told Boyer. "And some of it really is in harmony with two thousand years of Catholic tradition, and some of it isn't."

Monaghan became a major protagonist in the struggle against what Boyer called "the zenith of liberation theology"; the Reagan Administration's struggle against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. According to Boyer, "The struggle became a kind of proxy war between Catholic liberals and Catholic conservatives outside Nicaragua."

Ralph Martin was deeply opposed to liberation theology; "he had built a network in Central America, and one of its members, Father Enrique Silvestre, persuaded Monaghan to visit his mission in a squalid Honduras village called El Mochito." The Honduras visit set Monaghan in motion: his first philanthropic efforts including buying bought Silvestre a pickup truck and a generator for the hydroelectric plant and started a sewing factory.

More importantly, Monaghan found his cause in the Nicaraguan Contras. Although, according to Boyer, Monaghan claimed he "provided no direct, material support for their effort," he acknowledged that he thought the Church was being "persecuted" by the Sandinistas.

Beginning in the late 1980s, Monaghan "was moving in elite orthodox Catholic circles," hanging with such notable intellectuals as George Weigel and Michael Novak, "who were far more grounded than he was in the Catholic intellectual tradition," Boyer pointed out.

He was profoundly influenced by an essay by C.S. Lewis -- the only Protestant writer included in Dinesh D'Souza's book "The Catholic Classics" -- which posited that pride was "the essential vice, the utmost evil. .... It was through Pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind."

"That hit me right between the eyes," Monaghan told Boyer. The day after reading Lewis, he "began to dispossess himself of the earthly treasures he'd accumulated."
In 1998, he sold Dominos for a billion dollars and went on a philanthropic tear: he renamed his foundation and gave it $250 million; he founded Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan, opened the Ave Maria School of Law in the fall of 2000 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Monaghan's plans for moving the law school from Michigan to the new campus on the edge of Florida's Corkscrew Swamp by 2009, has angered a number of the law school's student and teachers, the blog Gay Religion reported on March 27.)

A few years later, he set about laying the plans for his orthodox Catholic town.

Controversial from the beginning

Controversy has surrounded the building of the town from the point when Monaghan first proclaimed, in a speech to a Catholic men's group, that "We're going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drugstore and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won't be able to get that."

Since that time, The News-Sentinel reported in late March, "Monaghan softened his initial commandments for the Collier County town, backing away from claims that it would ban birth control, pornography and abortion."

"The university is Catholic; the community is going to be everybody,'' said Blake Gable, vice president of real estate for Barron Collier and project manager for Ave Maria. "The cable, Comcast, is the exact same as everywhere. The commercial lease is the same as everywhere.''

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and other groups have criticized Monaghan for "what they say is his attempt to impose his conservative religious ideology on residents," The News-Sentinel reported. "This is not a debate about whether people who are of similar religious or ethnic or racial background have a right to live in the same community,'' said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. "The issue is: Will the laws of the community be reflective of religious dogma and thereby end up restricting the rights of people who are religious minorities in the community?''

And the town has come under fire from environmentalists as well. "Defenders of Wildlife objected to the town's location, which the organization says encroaches on the habitat of the endangered Florida panther," The News-Sentinel reported. "Last month, the group threatened to file a federal lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers for approving the project."

In a post titled "Jeb Bush, FPL Glades Power Plant, Ave Maria University, and Scripps by gimleteye" (March 27), Eye on Miami pointed to a recent Miami Herald story that told of how "Government agencies were marshaled to avoid consideration of important environmental impacts, like the fact that Ave Maria University is squarely in the midst of habitat for the Florida panther."

"The Herald report features prospective buyers touring the construction site in trolley cars, the same way they did in 1920 in Coral Gables. Buyers lured with flags and demonstration units and incentives, surrounded by functional wetlands turned into stormwater ditches."

On Monday, March 26, at the Annunciation Mass, The Rev. Robert Garrity, the university chaplain, tried to put the best possible spin on the turbulent events of the past week. Garrity asked about 450 people who gathered under a billowing white tent "to forgive and put the difficulties in perspective," according to a report posted at

"Have there been some traumatic events in the history of Ave Maria University?" Garrity asked as he celebrated the Mass which marks the day the Angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her she would become the mother of Jesus. "Yes, there will always be difficulties and bumps in the road and traumatic events."

Garrity reminded the students, staff and faculty in attendance that "We are almost in the Promised Land. You can see it right over here," he said, pointing to a spot a short distance away where work is being done to finish up university buildings and condos in time for the official August opening.

I need complete repairing of home including door windows and removing cracks so in this case, birmingham foundation repair is helping me. Thanks for your services.

by lifetime on Sun Jan 26, 2020 at 05:45:46 AM EST

The biggest facility is that they are available all the time 24/7. So I in urgent case is beneficial .Thanks.

by lifetime on Tue Jan 28, 2020 at 02:53:13 AM EST

WWW Talk To Action

Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (374 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (198 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (111 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (101 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (113 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (144 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (126 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (118 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (250 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (64 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (161 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (176 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (70 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (80 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (218 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (253 comments)
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (107 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (211 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (165 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (163 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (169 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (167 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (130 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (330 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (148 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (90 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (214 comments)

More Diaries...

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.