Ave Maria, minus the snark

ave-ajpgFor some reason, there's just something about a billionaire pizza czar trying to build a neo-Frank Lloyd Wright Catholic college and a conservative, faith-friendly town to go with it that makes mainstream journalists get miffed. I mean, check out some of these earlier GetReligion visits to the press coverage of Ave Maria University near Florida's west coast. However, reporter Mitch Stacy recentlly paid a visit to Immokalee, Fla., and came back with a perfectly normal Associated Press story about a powerful man and his big dream. I don't think there are any basic facts screwed up or anything.

Hurrah for normality. It's a kind of mini-journalistic miracle, the snark-free Ave Maria story.

The news hook this time around is rather obvious -- the bad economy. How much money has Thomas Monaghan of the Domino's Pizza past invested into his "spiritual military academy" (he says $400 million) and how far behind schedule is he, they or it?

The recession has a stranglehold on much of southwest Florida, but billionaire Thomas Monaghan's vision for the 1,100-seat church and the Roman Catholic school he created continues to take shape, even if construction isn't progressing as quickly as he had hoped.

The 72-year-old founder of the Domino's Pizza chain had hoped to have a gym built for the basketball team by now. He and the town's developer also expected to see more than the 300 or so houses and condos that have gone up, and more restaurants and stores open in the town center surrounding the towering church. And plans to erect one of the largest freestanding crucifixes in the world -- 65 feet tall, with a 40-foot body of Christ -- on the church grounds had to be put on hold.

But that's not what Ave Maria, the town, is famous for. Right? You want to know about the sex stuff.

Monaghan made headlines before the first shovel of dirt was turned, saying that stores in Ave Maria would be prohibited from selling contraceptives and pornography, and the cable TV system wouldn't carry adult movies. He backed off after civil rights advocates raised a stink, but says he hopes those things will remain unavailable here.

It is true that the story -- at a normal wire-service length -- does not pay a great deal of attention to some of the problems that have plagued Ave Maria, such as the long-running fight inside the law school, arguments about the architecture, the usual academic personality wars, etc.

I agree that it would be fascinating to know more about the people -- especially the owners of the businesses -- that are working with Monaghan and developer Barron Collier Cos. on the project. Who has the pizza franchise, for example? It seems the town has been highly influenced by planned-community trends, which is often territory dominated by progressives. What's up with that?

However, it does sound like Ave Maria, the school, is still growing, from 367 students in 2007, to 697 this year and an expected 900 this coming fall. Things are going a bit slower than expected in the town, which is probably good. The powers that be still say the goal is 5,000-plus students in 20 years, surrounded by a town with 25,000 residents.

This is just a wire-service update. That's all. When you compare this with the snarky MSM coverage of the past, this is progress.

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