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Welcome to the promised land… of Florida: Inside Ave Maria Catholic college town built by Domino’s Pizza millionaire founder

By  Daily Mail Reporter

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


Bay steps: So far, there are about 500 completed homes  in Ave Maria



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


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Mary and Jesus: The town has been described by some of  its residents as being centered on Christ



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.


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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


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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.’

 Magnate: 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

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.

The developers of the town want to attract Catholic  college students and  families by creating excellent schools and a safe  environment
Words of praise: 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’

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.

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