Alan Cooperman was understated on Sunday in covering conflicts between Thomas Monaghan and Joseph Fessio, S.J., the founding chancellor of Monaghan's Ave Maria University in southwestern Florida. Monaghan abruptly dismissed Fessio (a former student and longtime friend of Pope Benedict XVI) as chancellor of the school, then brought him back within 24 hours as theologian in residence. Monaghan has become a primary bete noir for the cultural left because he is (1) rich, as the founder of Domino's Pizza; (2) A conservative Roman Catholic who affirms his church's teachings on sexuality and abortion; and (3) Determined to share much of his wealth to with pro-life movement and Catholic-centric causes. Janeane Garofalo's character in Reality Bites warned her friends way back in 1994 about the evils of eating Domino's Pizza. (Pro-choicers who believe in pizza choices can relax: Monaghan sold his controlling interest in the chain four years later.)
No coverage of the conflicts makes clear just what led to Fessio's dismissal, but NBC2.com referred to a post on the anti-Monaghan AveWatch, which links to several of its own critiques of Ave Maria under Fessio's leadership.
Monaghan and Fessio are both headstrong, visionary men. As California Catholic Daily reported on Thursday:
Departing Ave Maria is not the first of Fessio's peregrinations. In March 2002, his Jesuit superior, the provincial, Father Thomas Smolich moved Father Fessio from his longtime base in San Francisco to Santa Teresita Hospital in Duarte in what some considered a punitive move. After University of San Francisco president Father Stephen Privett changed the character of the Saint Ignatius Institute, founded by Fessio, he started the now defunct Campion College in a building nearby the university. Seeing Campion, perhaps, as a competitor to the Institute, Father Smolich ordered Father Fessio to cease all ties to the college and assigned him to work as a chaplain at Santa Teresita Hospital.
The Naples Daily News has covered the dispute especially well, and this page includes a photo gallery about Fessio, from a cornerstone-laying ceremony one year ago to images of students upset about his dismissal.
The conflict between Fessio and Monaghan feels similar to the very public falling out between Richard John Neuhaus and the Rockford Institute. Monaghan's detractors are no more likely to cheer for Fessio, who is just as committed to the church's teachings on sexuality. Indeed, some reporters asked whether Fessio's recent remarks on homosexuality could have led to his dismissal. It's difficult to imagine that the remarks would have bothered Monaghan.
As this latest conflict makes clear, Monaghan will stay in the glare of public scrutiny as he builds Ave Maria. But as Peter Boyer's remarkable New Yorker profile of Monaghan (abstract) made clear, that's not likely to slow him down.