Domino's founder Tom Monaghan is building a Florida town based on Catholic values.
AVE MARIA, Florida -- We drove for miles and saw nothing but endless plains of green, on the edge of the lush Florida Everglades. And then there it was: a giant cathedral rising from earth, surrounded by a European-style piazza of soon-to-open businesses and restaurants. It was Ave Maria, a town built from scratch, founded and funded by billionaire Tom Monaghan. His vision: a community that would reflect traditional Catholic values.
Monaghan grew up in a Catholic orphanage, where he was raised by nuns. He found God at an early age and dedicated his life to serving the church. For a while, he considered becoming a priest. Eventually, he turned to business, opening a pizza parlor, then another and another. You'll recognize its name: Domino's Pizza.
Monaghan poured his Domino's money into various Catholic causes. He became active in the anti-abortion movement, and he founded Ave Maria University
, which promises to be more conservative and traditional than other Catholic colleges. The original campus was in Monaghan's home state of Michigan, but next week, its new facilities open their doors in Florida. A new college with a new college town built around it.
If all goes according to plan, 25, 000 people will live in Ave Maria within a decade; 5,000 students will be enrolled at the university. Monaghan insists all are welcome, not just Catholics. But as I stood on the corner of Pope John Paul II Boulevard and Annunciation Circle, I wondered why non-Catholics would want to live here. It's charming, to be sure; not a Stepford community of look-alike houses. It has distinct neighborhoods and lovely landscaping. But like a medieval European village, Ave Maria is dominated by the giant church at its physical and spiritual center.
Initially, Monaghan wanted to ban pornography and contraception from being sold in Ave Maria. He soon realized that would be illegal and he backed-off. Prospective retailers have been asked to abide by community moral standards. No requirements, though.
Tom Monaghan admits he has a personal stake in this. He says he's trying to get into heaven and wants to drag as many people with him as he can. It seems like a worthy goal to me. What do you think? What do you make of Tom Monaghan's vision?
-- By Claire Brinberg, CNN Producer