Florida already has a city called Naples. Pretty soon it could have its own Vatican too. Thomas Monaghan, the entrepreneur behind Domino's Pizza, is funding the creation of a community in South Florida where Catholic Americans can live the holy life. The new town will be centered on Ave Maria University, the catholic liberal arts school Monaghan founded in 2002. The school encourages its students to become nuns and priests, and recently made the news by founding a scholarship in the name of Terri Schaivo, the brain damaged woman whose story sparked a national debate on euthanasia.
The university's new $220 million campus is to be situated in a newly-built gated Catholic community, also called Ave Maria, in Collier County, Southwestern Florida. (The university was originally to have been sited in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but local officials reportedly objected to the plans for a 250-foot crucifix holding a 40 foot Jesus.) The new town is being built by the Barron Collier Companies, a group of local real estate developers who have donated 900 acres of land to the university. Each home will be within walking distance of a private chapel, while the town's central church will hold hourly masses every day from 6 am. Monaghan claims to have had no fewer than 3,500 web inquiries from Catholics hoping to buy a house in the new town. He emphasizes that the community will control all commercial real estate, to ensure that Ave Maria remains untainted by sinful products such as pornography and contraceptives. But not everyone feels that religious separatism will be that easy. Even Father Joseph Fessio, the town's top ranking priest, has said that the town will be open to everyone and that Barron Collier, rather than Monaghan, will have ultimate control. If the town does become the Catholic haven of Monaghan's dream it will be through self-selection rather than entry policy. The first homes in the town will go on the market in 2007.