Catholic school to be built here

Ave Maria University, town planned for east Collier County

The founder of Domino’s Pizza and the chairman of Barron Collier Companies of Naples said Wednesday they will build a private, Catholic university in a town they will build in eastern Collier County.

OVERVIEW: This is a rendering of the planned university and the adjacent town of Ave Maria. Special to The News-Press

Thomas Monaghan, Domino’s founder and chairman of the Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Mich., envisions the university as a “Catholic Princeton of the South.”

Monaghan will endow the school with $200 million and build it on a 750-acre site that has been donated by Barron Collier Companies.

The location is in rural eastern Collier County, about five miles southwest of Immokalee — two miles north of Oil Well Road and a mile west of Camp Keais Road.

Monaghan said the campus will open as soon as possible, and no later than fall 2006.

In the meantime, Ave Maria will begin classes next fall on a temporary campus in Naples at the Vineyards, a community east of Interstate 75.

“If I were a betting man, I’d say we’ll have 150 students,” Monaghan said. “But whatever it is, we’ll be ready.”

The new university will be part of Ave Maria the town, which will be built on about 5,000 acres owned Barron Collier Companies. Barron Collier’s stake in the project is more than $50 million.

“Thomas Monaghan is the kind of person we like to do business with,” said Lamar Gable, chairman of the board of Barron Collier Companies. “His handshake is impeccable.”

While the cost of developing the town will be split between Monaghan and Barron Collier Companies, Monaghan will fund the building of the university.

Monaghan said he expects an enrollment of about 650 students the first year and 5,000 in the future.

Originally, Monaghan had targeted his hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., for the university, but zoning restrictions and Florida’s favorable climate led him to the Barron Collier site.

“Warm weather, near the beaches ... that should make recruiting students and teachers easier,” he said. “And there’s not many Catholic schools in the South.”

Florida has three: Barry University and St. Thomas University, both near Miami; and St. Leo University, north of Tampa.

St. Thomas is the last Catholic university established in the country, in 1961.

Like the other schools, Monaghan said he wants the Ave Maria’s high education standards to work hand-in-hand with an emphasis on morals and ethics.

“There’s no point in making a “There’s no point in making a lot of money if your kids are in jail, or on drugs, or their marriage is breaking up,” he said.

TOWN SCENE: This is the rendering of the town area at the planned Ave Maria University in Collier County.

He even wants to compete in athletics someday at the Division I level, especially in football.

“My hope is to have that as quick as we can,” he said. Realistically, though, Monaghan said it could be 20 years before the first football game is played there.

“It may be pretty small” when football does start, he said, “just one side of the stadium, room for 10,000 attendance. We’ll look for donors” to expand.

John J. Nevins, bishop of the Diocese of Venice, was at Monaghan’s side Wednesday.

“This could be the Notre Dame of the South. Why not?” Nevins said.

“All our modern teaching institutions were written by the Catholic Church, not the state,” Nevins added.

The 65-year-old Monaghan, who was orphaned at the age of 4 and has devoted much of his life to the Catholic religion, founded Ave Maria’s Michigan campus in 1998.

That year, Monaghan — who owned Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers from 1983 to 1992 — sold Domino’s Pizza to Bain Capital Inc., relinquishing the day-to-day operations he had overseen for 38 years.

At Ave Maria, students can choose from undergraduate programs such as classics and early Christian literature, economics, history, philosophy, political science and theology.

“We expect students to know they are entering a rigorous academic program,” said Nicholas Healy, president of Ave Maria.

Ave Maria University

He said the incoming class at the Ypsilanti campus, located just east of Ann Arbor, earned an average score of 1,200 on its Scholastic Aptitude Test. A perfect score is 1,600.

That campus, which has 215 students, will remain open at least five more years, Healy said. Officials have not yet made a decision on whether or not it will be closed at that point, he said.

When built, Ave Maria will become the third four-year institution of higher education in Southwest Florida, joining Florida Gulf Coast University and International College.

“We welcome them,” said Brad Bartel, provost and vice president for academic affairs at FGCU. “It’s a small Catholic school and it’ll be noncompetitive.”

Terry McMahan, president of International College, does not expect competition either.

“Our niche is the adult learner,” he said.

The students who enroll at Ave Maria will consist mostly of recent high school graduates.

Students coming from outside the region and state will be required to live in non-coed campus dormitories. Those who live off-campus will be those who grew up in the area and chose to live at home. There also will be off-campus housing run by the university in the town of Ave Maria.

Wherever they live, though, they will be challenged in class.

The new campus eventually will include programs in engineering, fine arts, landscape architecture and nursing, in addition to those already offered in Michigan. The Florida campus also will offer graduate programs in education and theology some day, with a law school becoming part of attraction.

Collier County commission Chairman Jim Coletta, who represents eastern Collier County, lauded Monaghan.

“We’re approaching a new level of diversity in the county,” Coletta said. “This ranks right up there with the Barron Collier family’s founding of the Tamiami Trail.”