PUBLISHED: 06:58, 19 July 2013 | UPDATED: 07:11, 19 July 2013
For millions of sun worshipers and retirees, Florida is paradise on earth, but for some devout Catholics, a small town in the suburbs of Naples in nothing short of the Promised Land.
The community of Ave Maria located in a remote part of Collier County was created in 2007 by controversial philanthropist and founder of Domino’s Pizza Tom Monaghan in partnership with the corporation Barron Collier Cos.
Ave Maria, designed as a family-friend college town 40 miles from Naples, sprung up in the southern part of the Sunshine State after the Florida legislature created the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District – a limited local government whose purpose is to provide community infrastructure.
New town: The community of Ave Maria located in a remote part of Collier County, Florida, was created in 2007
Ambitious: Ave Maria sits on about 4,000 acres of land, and the plan is to build about 11,000 homes
Holy land: The centrepiece of the community is a large Roman Catholic church, the facade of which displays sculptor Marton Varo’s 30-foot-tall sculpture of the Annunciation
Man of faith: Monaghan, a one-time seminarian, has been active in the Roman Catholic
The centrepiece of the community, which is still under development, is a large church, the facade of which displays sculptor Marton Varo’s 30-foot-tall sculpture of the Annunciation, depicting the Archangel Gabriel greeting the Virgin Mary with the words ‘Ave Maria’ (Hail Mary).
The $24million landmark building received an architecture award from the American Institute of Steel Construction in 2008.
Monaghan, 76, a long-time architecture enthusiast who served as the president of Ave Maria University until 2011, drew the oratory’s first sketches himself on a tablecloth.
Family friendly: Ave Maria was designed to attract Catholic families with kids and college students
Photographer Ryan Steele has recently traveled to the rural community to document its slow development
Focus on education: The new town is in close proximity to Ave Maria University, which was also founded by Monaghan
While the developers of the town have ambitious plans, which include the construction of high-end homes, top-notch infrastructure and schools, Ave Maria still has a long way to go.
Photographer Ryan Steele has recently travelled to the rural community to document its slow growth.
His images show a sparsely populated, nascent hamlet more akin to a ghost town that to a bustling college town, with empty streets, a lonely playground and a deserted gas station.
Ave Maria sits on about 4,000 acres of land, and the plan is to build about 11,000 homes. So far, 500 dwellings have been erected, according to NaplesNews.com.
For the developers of the town, the idea is to attract college students and families by creating excellent schools and a safe environment. In testimonials on Ave Maria’s website, the town has been described as being centered on Christ.
‘In Ave Maria, It’s politically correct to say, “Merry Christmas!” to my customers or anyone I meet on the street and they always say, “Merry Christmas!” back,’ gushed Chelsea Allan, a mother of ten and one of the first homeowners in town who operates a religious gift shop.
In their testimonials, Richard and Suzanne Dionne compared their life in Ave Maria to the way ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth.’
Landmark: The grand oratory seen in the mist received an architecture award from the American Institute of Steel Construction in 2008
Ave Maria has been described in promotional materials as ‘the best of both worlds — the great quality of life of Naples and a new dynamic Catholic and educational community.’
The town was designed around Monaghan’s grand Catholic Oratory and Ave Maria University – a small Catholic liberal arts college that was relocated from Ypsilanti, Michigan, which was also home to the first ever Domino’s Pizza.
Monaghan, 76, launched what was to become a multimillion-dollar fast food empire in 1960 by buying a modest pizza parlor called Dominick’s Pizza for $900.
Domino’s currently has a network of over 5,300 locations with 115,000 employees and sales of over $2.5billion.
Monaghan, a one-time seminarian who had spent part of his childhood in an orphanage, said of his religious beliefs: ‘I must say that my faith has kept me going throughout my life.’
The pizza magnate is reputed to be a member of the ultra-conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei and has been aligned with a number of other conservative Catholic organizations and causes. In the early 1990s, he also built a mission in a Honduras mountain town and funded and supervised the construction of a new cathedral in Managua, Nicaragua.
Forbes Magazine ranks Monaghan in the top 400 richest Americans and estimates his net worth at $485million. He currently lives with his wife in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Monaghan sold his controlling stake in Domino’s Pizza in 1998 to private equity company Bain Capital and sold his remaining Domino’s stock in 2004.
His name was in the news in March after Monaghan has filed a lawsuit against the federal government, asking to be exempt from providing his employees with mandatory contraception under a provision of Obamacare.
- Welcome to the promised land… of Florida: Inside Ave Maria Catholic college town built by Domino’s Pizza millionaire founder (dailymail.co.uk)
- Ave Maria residential, commericial real estate seeing uptick (naplesnews.com)
- Ave Maria Community…Oh So Fun! (barbsburnttree.com)