Does Heavenly Jerusalem really exist on Earth? If you were to ask this question to residents of Ave Maria in the US state of Florida, the answer would most likely be: No, but our city is at least close by. In fact, the planned city, located about a two-hour drive from Miami and just about anywhere in the swampy landscape of South Florida, is a special place. As its name suggests: it should be and want to be a special city for devout Catholics – and it was also the first Catholic city to be incorporated in the United States.
The story Avi Maria can look at is still relatively short – and essentially tied to one man: Tom Monaghan, who became a millionaire with a global pizza chain. A staunch and devout Catholic, this 84-year-old has long supported Catholic organizations, especially those committed to protecting life. After leaving his company in 1998, he devoted himself to his great vision: to establish a private Catholic university and an “affiliate” town. Justifying his ambitious project, Monaghan said, “I want to save lives. I’ve gotten so much from God, I now want to give something to my fellow human beings. The best thing I can do is help them get to heaven and avoid hell.” .
The campus is ready for occupancy one year after the foundation stone laying ceremony
The first attempt in his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, failed due to a building permit being denied – so Monaghan moved to southwest Florida, where authorities offered him a large vacant plot near the port city of Naples. A groundbreaking ceremony for the university and city took place in February 2006, and the campus was ready for occupancy in 2007. Monaghan took over as rector himself.
It is estimated that Monaghan has invested approximately $250 million in university and city infrastructure. About 11,000 homes and many commercial areas are planned – some places are still under construction or being built again. The city center has long been completed, based on the Italian model. Its center – of course – the church. Within a year, from March 2006 to March 2007, it was withdrawn. It is alleged that the architect used a sketch of Monaghan as the basis for the construction.
The House of God also has the right facade: there is a nine-meter-high depiction of the scene of the Annunciation where the Archangel Gabriel greets Mary with the words “Ave Maria”. Another amazing feature is the steel construction, a large part of which is visible both inside and out. The 30-meter-high building provides space for around 1,100 worshippers. The campus is on the left and the city center is on the right. The oval square around the church, which houses shops and apartments, is called the Annunciation Circle. All city streets flock to it.
People from all over the United States have moved to Ave Maria in the past 15 years. There are now about 10,000 people living there. There is what you need in terms of width: a few restaurants, shops, doctors and schools. Residents especially appreciate the family-friendly atmosphere and communication with like-minded people. The majority of Ave Marians are Catholic and white, but the city never tires of ensuring that everyone is welcome there. On its website or on social media channels, it actively advertises new citizens, for example through offers of houses or apartments and leisure activities.
Uni more and more popular
The private university has an increasingly better reputation beyond the Catholic bubble. A decade and a half after its founding, it now has around 1,000 students enrolled in a variety of subjects. In order to attract young people, many scholarships have been awarded in recent years. Despite the institution’s Catholic character, professors teach objectively and impartially, the students report. However, there is a dress code on campus: T-shirts without belts or with spaghetti straps are prohibited, as are shorts, slippers, usually too tight or too wide, and revealing clothing. Dormitories are separated by gender, and there are fixed visiting times. Guidelines are accepted – but many students escape, especially on weekends, and go to places where there is more freedom and, above all, more nightlife – for example to Naples.
There are also strict rules otherwise at Ave Maria. At the request of founder Tom Monaghan, store owners are encouraged not to sell contraceptives or pornography. By the way: There is no branch of the chain that Monaghan founded “Domino’s Pizza”.