- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

The nation's first Catholic university founded by laymen opens in balmy west Florida next fall, a project funded by Domino's Pizza founder Thomas S. Monaghan for a growing church population in the South.
"I wasn't thinking about doing something historical but about meeting a need," Mr. Monaghan said of Ave Maria University. "So many people are moving down to the Sun Belt."
Mr. Monaghan, who supports Catholic projects through his Ave Maria Foundation, gave $200 million in "seed money" to build a 7-acre campus in time to enroll 650 students next year.
The school is accredited under Ave Maria College, already established in Mr. Monaghan's home state of Michigan, but expects to have its Southern university accreditation when it reaches a 5,000 enrollment in 2006.
The final 750-acre campus is being built in tandem with a town center and residential area by Barron Collier Cos., a Florida developer that donated the land.
Mr. Monaghan's funding of more conservative Catholic causes, including pro-life activity and a Catholic legal action agency, has given the school an early reputation.
"I've been creating waves for so long, I'm used to that," he said in a telephone interview.
The nation has 238 Catholic colleges and universities, but only 16 are in the Southeast. Florida now will have four, and Georgia is getting its first.
North of Atlanta, computer millionaire and Notre Dame graduate Tom Clements opens Southern Catholic College this fall on 338 acres, also pledging to steep students in faith, morals and academics.
The school will start with 150 students and reach 3,000 after a 15-year building plan, which also includes a town and residential area in its Dawson location.
"We would appeal to a more serious market of Catholics, with the spiritual first and the academics right behind," Mr. Monaghan said.
Mr. Monaghan, the former owner of the Detroit Tigers, also envisions a Division 1 athletic department in 20 years.
Well-acquainted with university campuses, where he first set up pizza businesses, Mr. Monaghan also sat on the board of six colleges and universities, five of them Catholic.
"I began to think, 'There must be a better way,'" he said.
A sunny Florida location, with Naples nearby and Miami less than two hours away, offers students the cosmopolitan life and recreation, he said.
"It's the best place to recruit students, and hopefully parents and grandparents will come to visit."
The school is recruiting 5,000 "founders" to donate $10 a month.
"Catholics will support this because it's proactive," said the school's president, Nicholas J. Healy Jr., who developed Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
To promote a more traditional Catholic outlook, a new university is best, he said.
"Trying to change major institutions is nearly impossible," he said.
Michael James of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities said the rapid startup of Ave Maria is unique.
"But our Catholic institutions have always had an entrepreneurial spirit," he said.
A university-level Catholic school has not been founded for 40 years, though a few conservative Catholic colleges have been founded by laity, such as Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., in 1977.

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