Orthodox, Florida

Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, obviously feels a strong and sincere allegiance to the church. Since selling his franchise pizza business, he has spent millions to found Florida’s Ave Maria University. Now he is busy expanding this unusual Catholic franchise. The conservative Catholic benefactor is building a town (also called Ave Maria) thirty miles east of Naples, Florida, for what folks at Ave Maria University like to call “orthodox” Catholics and their families. The project will feature a one-hundred-foot-tall church in the center of town. In an interview with Newsweek (February 27), Monaghan said nonbelievers are welcome in Ave Maria, but it’s clear that he’s seeking like-minded individuals to live in his community. “I believe all of history is just one big battle between good and evil,” he told Newsweek. “I don’t want to be on the sidelines.”

America has a long history of millennial sects striking out into the wilderness to build utopian communities. Self-described “orthodox” Catholics do, on occasion, remind one of such aggrieved exiles. It will be interesting to see how Monaghan’s experiment fares. Even thirty miles east of Naples, one imagines that the evil temptations of the larger culture will still be felt strongly. It was not all that long ago that Catholics emerged from what was called a “ghetto.” There is some nostalgia for the social cohesion and spiritual clarity, if not the poverty and strife, of those days. If nothing else, building a spanking new ghetto in sunny Florida shows that Monaghan has not lost his commercial touch.

Published in the 2006-03-10 issue: 
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