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NOTE:  ARREST of Dan Dentino, Dean of Students, VP for Student Affairs and Adjunct Professor of Theology at AVE MARIA UNIVERSITY.  CLICK HERE for Naples Daily News report and to search for updatesin the Naples Daily News website.  You may also follow this case online at Collier County Clerk of Courts.


September 7, 2009

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

G.K. Chesterton–  The Everlasting Man, 1925

AVE MARIA:  The Promise, The Reality (Part 4) — Full Text


Part 4 was published in the September 10th, 2009 issue of The Wanderer, as the front page feature story.  It  appeared online at 1:00pm Eastern Time on September 4, 2009.

AVE MARIA: The Promise, The Reality (Part 4) by Marielena Montesino de Stuart  - Front Page Feature Story, September 10th, 2009 issue of The Wanderer

AVE MARIA: The Promise, The Reality (Part 4) by Marielena Montesino de Stuart – Front Page Feature Story, September 10th, 2009 issue of The Wanderer

AVE MARIA:  Misrepresentations

Ave Maria has the appearance of being grand, because it has involved so much human effort, resources, and millions of dollars; yet, up close it is very small, due to its unclear mission, and because it has been hindered by the deviation from the original plan — that is, the original widely advertised promise: an orthodox Catholic university, and a town with an affirmed public Catholic identity.

As described in Part 1 of this series, upon my arrival in Ave Maria in August 2007 I began to sense that misrepresentations had been made about Ave Maria. Students started their lives in the new campus with an article from the Naples Daily News dated August 25, 2007, announcing that “Ave Maria cannot even call itself a ‘Catholic university’ — as it used to on its web site — without diocesan approval.  “It’s not a Catholic university,” diocesan spokeswoman Adela Gonzalez-White said. “It’s a private university in the Catholic tradition.” (This status has not changed).

Marielena Montesino de Stuart

This meant that the administration of Ave Maria University all along had been misrepresenting the university on their web site, and in their promotional materials, by calling it “the first new Catholic university in America in 40 years.” The Naples Daily News best described the difference between being “Catholic” and “in the Catholic tradition”: “the distinction means more than pure semantics. Catholic universities must agree to follow a number of Church norms on education, usually under the administration of the bishop.”

In addition to the misrepresentations made about the university and the Catholicity of Ave Maria Town — which will be explained in further details in this article — both Tom Monaghan and Ave Maria University President Nicholas J. Healy Jr. also misrepresented and distorted their relationship with the Diocese of Venice.

Here are some examples:

In September, 2007 I met personally with Healy in his office to ask questions regarding,

A) Why the resistance to Summorum Pontificum? After all, Fr. Fessio was willing and able to celebrate the Latin Mass.

Healy said that they (Monaghan and the university administration) were obediently following the guidelines of the bishop of the Diocese of Venice. Other than that, he would not give me a clear answer. I immediately sensed I was asking a question he did not like.

B) Where did the Communion rail go?

I explained to Healy that the Communion rail kept disappearing from the temporary chapel at the Student Union — and the “chaplain” (he had no official approval from the bishop to call himself chaplain) would give me the same justification, that they (Monaghan and the university administration) were being “humble and obedient to the bishop of the Diocese of Venice.”

When I insisted that the bishop could not possibly be opposed to kneeling at the Communion rail, the “chaplain” would not give me an answer.

Healy did not give me a clear answer either, but said that they (Monaghan and the administration of the university) were being obedient to the bishop of the Diocese of Venice. I insisted that the bishop could not possibly object to the use of the Communion rail. Healy still would not give me an answer.

C) I inquired about the status of the “Oratory” (the name that Monaghan and the university administration were using — also without ecclesiastical approval) when referring to the big church built by Monaghan. (An Oratory is a place of prayer other than the parish church, set aside by ecclesiastical authority for celebration of the Mass and devotional services).  It was named Quasi-Parish of Ave Maria Oratory, after the bishop assumed liturgical and pastoral responsibility of the church.

Healy said that he could not discuss the status of the Oratory, nor when we could expect the bishop to dedicate it — but he insisted that they (Monaghan and the university administration) were being obedient to the bishop — and that I needed to be patient.

Tom Monaghan's architectural choices for his Ave Maria Oratory

D) I asked him if their intentions were to ask the bishop if Fr. Fessio would be the pastor (given that he was willing to celebrate the Latin Mass). I was new and unaware about the degree of hostility that existed. Healy responded that Fr. Fessio is a theologian and a businessman — and that his talents would be better applied in those fields — not as a pastor.

The only concrete thing that Healy did during our meeting was to take down my contact information, including my name, my husband’s name, and my children’s names — on his yellow legal pad (Healy is a lawyer) — so that I could be contacted.

As I was leaving his office, he walked behind me. I made a comment about the Catholic identity of the town. He responded — “Oh no, it would be too boring if it was just Catholic.”

I never heard from Healy again.

Ave Maria, Florida

Ave Maria, Florida

The Misrepresentations Continue

The following excerpts contain Healy’s statement to the Naples Daily News, published January 18, 2008:

“‘We won’t make any comment about the relationship with the diocese,’ Healy said last week.

“‘We’re very hopeful that things will get resolved and it will become clear. There are issues that are not easily understood and hard to explain and we don’t want to comment on it’…according to Healy the university community is a ‘private association of the faithful,’ a status granted by Dewane’s predecessor Bishop John Nevins.

Nevins, Healy said, confirmed Fr. Robert Garrity, a university employee, as the association’s chaplain or more technically a spiritual adviser.”

The following excerpt contains the statements made by Adela Gonzalez-White, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Venice, in the Naples Daily News published February 9, 2008:

To my knowledge the Diocese has nothing on file to indicate this request [for a private association] was ever made or granted.”

This status with the Diocese of Venice has not changed.

Gonzalez-White added that “no bishop with the Diocese of Venice has ever appointed a chaplain at Ave Maria University.”

When told of the diocese’s comments, Healy said that private associations don’t need explicit diocesan approval and there were “hundreds if not thousands” of associations operating without that sanctioning. Healy said changes to Church laws might not do enough to reflect the laity’s growing influence after the Second Vatican Council. “It might take a while for canon law to catch up to all that,” he said.

By March 2008, my husband and I had grown very impatient. Our son was ready to receive his First Holy Communion, and our daughter was ready for Confirmation — but the big $24 million church that appeared on every real estate promotional brochure for Ave Maria, remained locked — except for occasional musical performances, charismatic “healing services,” and tours or visitor hours — for the purpose of raising money.

So, I decided it was time that we speak with the man at the center of it all — Tom Monaghan.

My husband and I met with him at his office for about 15-20 minutes. I respectfully and kindly spoke to him about my life under Communism, the efforts we made to move to Ave Maria across the United States with two young children. How we had changed our lives and made huge sacrifices to come to this town. He remained quiet. He appeared emotionally distanced from the conversation. We explained that our children were ready for their sacraments. That we were not going to go to another parish for their sacraments, since we had crossed this continent to have a full Catholic life inside Ave Maria Town — just like he had promised, and inside that big church he had advertised so much. My husband asked him similar questions about the status of the Oratory. We received no answers. He seemed uncomfortable with our visit.

The only thing that Monaghan said was that he could not speak about his communications with the bishop, and that he had to be obedient and patient, and that the bishop did not want him to talk about “it” — whatever “it” was. That we should not have any expectations about the “Oratory” in terms of the sacraments that our children needed, and that he could not give us any opinions.

We went home sad and deeply disappointed. A few days later, it was announced that the bishop would be dedicating the Oratory on March 31, 2008.

What we did not know was that the “humble” “patient” and “obedient” descriptions used to  justify the obscurity behind the “Oratory’s” pending status — was actually Monaghan’s attempt to carry out a Protestant-style control, by assuming the “Right of Presentation” (the right of a bishop to appoint an administrative priest or pastor).

This was an even deeper disappointment — since we had spent months hearing people in the town calling the bishop “difficult” — while Monaghan, Healy, and the “chaplain” had personally told us that they had to be “humble” “patient” and “obedient,” while they waited for the bishop.

The Difficulties Were Not Over

On Wednesday July 16, 2008, during the noon Mass — well after Bishop Frank J. Dewane had taken over the liturgical life of the Oratory, and the Communion rail had been restored to its rightful place — a priest, who is a faculty member at the university, stopped me and my two children in the line of communicants, to admonish us that we should not be kneeling at the Communion rail to receive Holy Communion. After Mass, this priest proceeded to lecture me outside the Oratory, in public and in front of my children, about “standing to receive Communion in the United States.” This went on for several minutes. The following day, he apologized to us as we were leaving the church.

On Saturday, July 19, 2008 (Vigil Mass), another priest, who is also a faculty member at the university, publicly humiliated me immediately after Mass, in the middle of the church, and in front of my children — while others were still praying in the pews. He told me that “we were trying to be different” for kneeling at the Communion rail to receive Holy Communion during the Mass he had just celebrated — and that if we wanted to kneel at the Communion rail again, we would have to wait for “one of Fr. Fessio’s Masses.” This priest has never apologized — and when he passes us by he avoids eye contact.

During both incidents I remained respectful, and calm; however, the actions of these two priests have left a negative impression on my children that they will never forget.

These priests, who as faculty members remain involved in the formation of young men and women at this university, obviously did not understand that one of the motivations for me to come to this town, was the advertisement of reverence, by Monaghan and by the university administration. Even a virtual tour of the Oratory online showed a beautiful Communion rail. And yet, the reverence that had been promoted so much, was under attack in Ave Maria.

A few weeks later, the quasi-parish administrator appointed by the bishop, announced that never again would anyone be kept from kneeling at the Communion rail to receive Holy Communion.

Paradoxically, the above incidents took place within a period of seven days following the Mass at the Ave Maria Oratory — during which my son received First Holy Communion, and my daughter was confirmed — and both knelt at the Communion rail, as they received the Body of Christ from the Bishop.

So, these defiant university priests do not want my children and I to kneel for Communion– but appear to be too afraid to impose their irreverent rules, when the Bishop is present.

Fear Of The Secular World

Unbeknownst to many who purchased homes in Ave Maria Town between 2006 and 2007, Tom Monaghan and his developer partner, Barron Collier, had shifted their course — by denying in some secular news programs the original promises of a town that would adhere strictly to Catholic moral laws in its administration. Was there something unconstitutional in the original promotion of the town that prompted Monaghan to have more fear of the secular world, and not enough fear of God?

This public denial of the Catholic identity of the town is a contradiction to the mission of the Ave Maria School of Law, founded by Monaghan — where he claims that future lawyers will be taught to defend God’s natural laws in our society. One would expect that Monaghan would set the example for these future lawyers, by living up to his original promise of Ave Maria Town.

Sacred Words For A Secular Venture

Monaghan, in partnership with Barron Collier, has violated something sacred: the use of Our Heavenly Mother’s name and the Angel Gabriel’s announcement of the Divine Conception of our Lord Jesus Christ, Ave Maria, by appropriating these sacred words for a secular venture: Ave Maria Town. Furthermore, using the name Ave Maria to name a town, constitutes a religious representation to attract faithful Catholics. After all, the vast majority of residents would not be here if this had been named Buddha Town.

The excuse thrown in the faces of the faithful Catholics who trusted Monaghan’s original Catholic marketing promises of Ave Maria Town, has been that those of us who signed on the dotted line to buy homes in this town between 2006 and 2007, should have known about Monaghan’s backpedaling in some secular news shows.

This excuse is not only ludicrous — but an insult and a violation of the good faith and trust of faithful Catholics. As if faithful Catholics across America were supposed to know when to tune in to a secular show, suspecting that a backpedaling move would be made in the secular media by Monaghan and his Barron Collier partner, Paul Marinelli, now deceased.

Why did he announce his backpedaling to a secular audience, instead of announcing it directly to the traditional Catholics that he had been targeting for donations to the university, and for the promotion of the town? Did he ever announce his backpedaling in his fundraising letters, in Ave Maria’s The Angelus (which until a few months ago covered Ave Maria Town) — as well as in church bulletins and traditional Catholic news sources?

The Wall Street Journal reported on August 19, 2006 that after the ACLU threatened a lawsuit — and Monaghan had already backed down, he continued to “tailor his message to his audience.” In June [2006] he told a Catholic gathering in Denver that “our plan is that no adult material will appear on the town’s cable system and the pharmacy will not sell contraceptives.”

It seems obvious that Monaghan has played both sides, in the way that he has misrepresented Ave Maria Town.

One thing is clear: we trusted Tom Monaghan, the Catholic man — but I guess we were not supposed to trust Tom Monaghan — the businessman.

Identity Crisis

Ave Maria Town and Ave Maria University have proven costly and disruptive to many — who bought into both, trusting the original promise. Yet, there are those who persist in blaming the thwarted Ave Maria situation on the economy. What is clearly evident is that Ave Maria Town lost its biggest selling point when Tom Monaghan and Barron Collier denied its much-publicized Catholic identity.

And the university, with the ongoing questions regarding institutional instability, accreditation, and lack of clear mission (See Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series), has experienced a remarkable turnover of employees — losing even some of their top faculty members. The current narrow economic margins, worsened by professional risks, could not quiet Dr. Matthew Levering, who wrote the now famous Levering Memo, outlining his concerns about Ave Maria University’s instability. Dr. Levering no longer teaches at Ave Maria University. (See Part 2 of this series.)

This turnover of employees and loss of former loyal supporters is even more remarkable, when one considers that Ave Maria University was established in 2003.

MENORAH on Ave Maria University grounds - December 2007

MENORAH on Ave Maria University grounds – December 2007

Catholicism In Parentheses

There are many examples of attacks on the Catholic identity of Ave Maria — but one represents vividly this environment:

One evening in December 2007 — my first Christmas in Ave Maria — I took a stroll to the center of town, when I came upon a Menorah placed on the grounds of Ave Maria University. This Menorah was visibly displayed, and could immediately be seen by anyone visiting the center of the town — a bold message of interfaith dialogue — from a university that, to this day, has not been recognized as Catholic by Church authority.

If the administration of Ave Maria University has any serious intentions of obtaining official Catholic recognition from the Church, it should concentrate on that; furthermore, the administration would be well-advised to read the contents of a letter written by Benedict XVI, published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera (November 23, 2008) where he states that “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.”

The Pope also added that in true theological terms “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.” Benedict XVI clarified that what is important is “intercultural dialogue, which deepens the cultural consequences of basic religious ideas.” It is worth noting that my Orthodox Jewish friends agree with the Pope on this matter.

While this Menorah was displayed on the Ave Maria University grounds, not a single “Merry Christmas” sign was placed in Ave Maria Town by the town’s developer, nor by its administrative associations. Only “Seasons Greetings” and “Happy Holidays.” One brave family placed a homemade sign with the message “Merry Christmas, Mr. Monaghan” across from the Oratory. The sign soon disappeared.

And — so as to assure the secular world that this is not a Catholic town, in October 2008 Ave Maria even welcomed a “Pet Psychic” to an event for dogs and dog owners.

Challenging Church Authority

The reason that the Knights of Columbus is successful as a lay initiative, is that the Knights work in support of the clergy; however, many other lay initiatives have as their raison d’être to challenge Church authority.

These lay initiatives that challenge the authority of the Church are growing like mushrooms in the dark, and they present what would appear as a solution to the “crisis” of the Church — i.e., the bishops who have failed to speak firmly in support of the Church’s teachings when the political and social climate openly attacks the most basic foundations of human dignity; however, while the intentions of these lay groups may seem noble, many questions must be asked regarding the way in which they operate and the outcome of their endeavors. Their questionable practices have led the Vatican to embark on inquiries and investigations of these groups, after their practices have misguided many individuals and their families into a state of disorientation as to what is authentically Roman Catholic.

The important battle against relativism in the Church seems to be undermined by lay initiatives like Ave Maria University. Rules concerning “social justice” (code word for socialism)– charity toward our fellowmen, respect for institutional rules and agreements — seem to disappear when “the greater good” is in the balance. This leads one to ask — just “what IS this greater good” — and “at what price” — and “whose greater good” is it anyway?

Does “the greater good” mean being rewarded for supporting the administration of Ave Maria University — even when the administration is not living up to the highest standards of an institution of higher learning? (See Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series.)

It seems that at Ave Maria University “the greater good” is “the bottom line.”

An Ecumenical Feast — Or A Waste Of Catholic Talent?

The associate director of admissions at Ave Maria University, Michael Williams, very recently — and suddenly, resigned from his position after several years of support and involvement with Ave Maria University.

Sources say that approximately four years ago, Williams stood on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, when he turned to one of his colleagues and enthusiastically mentioned Monaghan’s promise of an orthodox Catholic university.

Soon after, Williams, a faithful Roman Catholic, found the beckoning of Monaghan’s promise so appealing that he decided to come to Naples, where he could be closer to his parents and some of his siblings, and began to work at the interim campus of Ave Maria University. Williams is described as a dedicated and hard-working individual, who has a clear understanding of the type of academic standards needed in a Catholic liberal arts college — and the value that these standards have in Catholic higher education.

Williams has been replaced by two individuals who are not Catholic — a remarkable administrative decision, considering that the administration at Ave Maria University seems to be making overtures about obtaining Catholic recognition. But are they sincere about it?

The fact that they have hired two individuals who are not Catholic to lead the Admissions Department — positions that are crucial to Catholic standards of academic preparedness and fairness — indicates more and more that the administration of Ave Maria University has either lost its Catholic compass — or is determined to become an ecumenical and charismatic institution — that will appeal to president Healy’s “broad Catholic middle” — at best, or to anyone (Catholic or not) that is willing to walk in the door.

Moreover, two of the six members of the University Council are not Catholics. The University Council is comprised of the highest-ranking members of the administration, who are involved in making major decisions at Ave Maria University.

This brings us back to Nicholas J. Healy’s rebuttal to my Open Letter to the Ave Maria University Board of Trustees in the Naples Daily News (see Part 1 of this series) — where Healy asserted that Ave Maria is a “mixture of faiths and worship styles.” More and more, his assertion seems to be true.

Monaghan’s “Two-for-One”  Deal

I recently came across a pizzeria-style corporate fundraising letter signed by Tom Monaghan, dated August 15, 2009. Noted under the date are the words “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” He states that he needs your help “to help thousands, millions of people get to Heaven.” Monaghan goes on to say, “When we strive for, and inspire the next generation to make Heaven their aim, we sometimes get the earth thrown in as well! Not a bad two-for-one deal!” Monaghan then asks for $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 or more, and encloses his “AMU Chancellor Tom Monaghan’s MONEY BACK GUARANTEE.”

Such a personal plea for money, “to help as many people get to Heaven as possible,” deserves a personal response:

Mr. Monaghan: St. Boniface baptized thousands and dealt with the challenges of other Christians who had fallen out of contact with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church — but he worked in full obedience to the Church’s hierarchy and the Pope. The magnitude of his accomplishments in leading the German people to Christ cannot be measured — and he did it without a cent in his pocket — and without a “Money Back Guarantee.”

Your Money Back Guarantee has been set in motion. Please have your checkbook ready. There will be a long line waiting at the door.

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COMPANION ARTICLES:   “AVE MARIA: The Promise, The Reality”    Part 1,  Part 2,  and  Part 3
>Ave Maria– A Town Without a Vote, Now and Forever
You may also read Marielena Montesino de Stuart’s commentaries through: RenewAmerica, USAToday, The Dallas Morning News, U.S. Politics Today (an EIN Service for Political Professionals-*) Poynter Online, Spero News, Daily Estimate, The New Liturgical Movement-Poland, The Naples Daily News, Les Femmes-The Truth, Culture War Notes,  ProLife Blogs,  The Wanderer, etc.

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