BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
WORK HAS STARTED in Amer ica on a new multi-million
dollar Catholic development the brainchild of pizza magnate millionaire Tom Monaghan.
Ave Maria in Florida is being built around the new Catholic university of Ave Maria which Mr Monaghan is funding. It will be the first town in America to be run according to "strict Catholic principles".
Abortion, contraception and pornography will all be banned in this new Eden to the fury of secularists who believe that Mr Monaghan's vision will contravene citizens' rights enshrined in the constitution. Even the output of digital television stations will be monitored to ensure that nothing blasphemous or immoral hits the airwaves.
But the founder of the Domino's pizza chain, the second largest pizza franchise in America, is adamant that thousands of Catholics have already expressed interest in relocating to Ave Maria, being built on former farmland on the edge of the Everglades. Business managers for the
project say that more than 7,000 potential housebuycrs have expressed an interest in purchasing a property in the town, which will eventually house more than 30,000 people. Sixty per cent of the commercial space has already been let. An estimated 5,000 students will live on the university campus.
Provost of the university is Fr Joseph Fessio, who received his PhD in theology under the mentorship of Joseph Ratzinger when the future Pope was a professor at the University of Regensburg. He has remained close to the new Pope which sources believe can only help the success of the project.
Now 68, Mr Monaghan sold his takeaway chain for an estimated $1 billion in 1998 and has ploughed money into religious schemes, primarily in education and the media. He has also funded the Legatus project – inspired after a meeting with Pope John Paul 11 in 1987 –to raise the profile of Catholicism in the business community.
Following the death of his father in 1941 he and his younger brother James were
placed in an orphanage run by Polish nuns where he claims to have received a "good grounding in the faith". However, he says his desire for Catholic philanthropy stemmed largely from reading CS Lewis's book Mere Christianity in the late 1980s.
"That was a big turnaround," he said. "I decided to simplify life. No more airplanes, no more yachts. It's been a big relief." He has already said that he hopes the university will encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
But the scheme is already causing controversy. Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida branch of the Civil Liberties Union, is insisting that Mr Monaghan's desire for Catholic supremacy in Ave Maria cannot be enforced.
Mr Simon said the Supreme Court had already ruled that ownership of a town does not mean "absolute dominion".
But Mr Monaghan remains unfazed. He said: "I think it's God's will to do this."
Sarah Johnson: Page 10