Ave Maria, the "custom-built" city for Catholics in Florida

In Florida there is a city called Ave Maria, whose objective is to make it easier for all its inhabitants to live the Catholic faith in community.

Paloma López Campos-April 29, 2024-Reading time: 3 minutes
Ave Maria Cathedral

Downtown, Ave Maria Parish (Flickr / Steve Knight)

Not many people are familiar with the name Tom Monaghan, but one of his projects is well known: "Domino's Pizza". However, this franchise is not the American entrepreneur's only legacy. At the turn of the 20th century, Monaghan sold his pizza company and set out to promote Ave Maria, an unincorporated community inspired by Catholicism. The term "unincorporated community" refers to a territory that is not organized with a local government and, in the case of Florida, belongs jurisdictionally to a county but retains some independence.

After being converted after reading "Mere Christianity" by C.S. LewisTom Monaghan wanted to use his money to "take as many souls as he could to Heaven. Therefore, he invested his fortune in building a large church that would be the center of this new community. Monaghan's initial approach was to build a city exclusively for Catholics. But time proved that it was better to open the doors to people of other faiths.

Despite this, everything built in the city seeks to make it easier for its inhabitants to practice the Catholic faith. The urban plan is organized in such a way that it is easy to walk and reach the center to go to church. On the other hand, the streets are named after saints or other elements of the faith.

Ave Maria Center

The Ave Maria Church in the heart of the territory wants to be "a light in the darkness that illuminates the path to Jesus Christ through the sacraments" as its website says. The aim of the church is to promote community life among Catholics, with special emphasis on giving to others, as evidenced by the museum dedicated to St. Teresa of Calcutta, which belongs to the church.

Near the building there is a chapel of perpetual adoration where it is possible to pray in front of the sacramentalized Jesus 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In addition, the parish offers various training courses for adults, youth and children, and encourages the creation of groups such as Emmaus, the Legion of Mary or Bible studies.

Interior of Ave Maria Parish in Florida (Flickr / Steve Knight)

Education at Ave Maria

There are currently several schools near the community, three private and four public. In addition, the founder of "Domino's Pizza" also opened the university Ave Maria in order to offer citizens a higher education based on the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

The university wants to turn "its students into the next generation of saints". On their website they explain that, along with the importance of academic formation, the aim is to nurture the whole person, ensuring students and professors access to the sacraments so that they can "give glory to God".

In its academic offerings, Ave Maria is not very different from any other university. While it is true that it also offers courses that could be described as denominational, such as Family Studies or Catholic Studies, it also allows its students to enroll in courses such as Computer Engineering, Classical Languages, Nursing, Physics, Biochemistry or History.

Difficult balance

Despite the Catholic focus in this Florida community, people of different faiths can also live in the town, in fact, in 2017 the first Baptist church opened. Monaghan's original idea of imprinting the Catholic culture on Ave Maria in such a way that there would be no way to separate from it was abandoned long ago, and today the entrepreneur says Ave Maria is open to everyone.

However, this large-scale project has raised doubts among many people. Overlooking some controversial statements made by Monaghan over the years, there are those who think that a community like this one in Florida blurs the boundaries between religion and politics. Building a city based on the Catholic faith leads to questions such as whether contraceptive products can be sold in pharmacies or whether access to pornography can be condemned.

Beyond these decisions, which Ave Maria has tried to resolve, there are people who also wonder if the creation of such a community does not cause children to grow up in a closed and overly protected environment that does not prepare them properly for today's society.

With these questions on the table, Ave Maria continues to move forward and is even growing, as the project attracts investors who want to build in the area. For the rest, the answers to the questions of the future, as in all cases, only time will tell.

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