The recent appointment of Fr Joseph Fessio SJ as Chancellor of the new privately-owned Ave Maria University, with the approval of the Jesuit order, was welcome news for many Catholics worldwide, who have long admired Fr Fessio's many achievements, notably the founding of Ignatius Press.
Ave Maria University - which continues to expand - is located near Ann Arbor in Michigan and has been largely funded by Tom Monaghan, the billionaire founder of Domino's Pizza.
After receiving a billion dollars from the sale of his business, Mr Monaghan has been returning thanks to God by devoting his resources to building an independent chain of primary, secondary and post-secondary Catholic educational institutions, through the Ave Maria Foundation, of which he is principal benefactor.
He describes his life thus: "While attending the University of Michigan, my brother James and I borrowed $900 and bought a small pizza store called DomiNick's in Ypsilanti, Michigan. We changed the name to Domino's and Domino's Pizza Inc was subsequently founded on 8 December 1960.
"On 21 December 1998, I sold Domino's Pizza in order to devote my full-time attention to Catholic activities. I founded Legatus, an organisation of Catholic business leaders in 1987 after receiving an inspirational meeting with Pope John Paul II.
"This began my dedication to using my money to found and support sound and orthodox Catholic endeavours. Currently, I lend my support to a variety of philanthropic interests, primarily through the Ave Maria Foundation, a private foundation I founded in 1983."
According to the Private Catholic School Network, independent Catholic schools encourage family involvement, character formation and religious instruction based on the established and unchanging teachings of the Church.
Ave Maria Foundation opened its first school, Spiritus Sanctus Academy, in 1997 on Domino's industrial park near Ann Arbor. Each academy has an enrolment of about 100, featuring small multi-grade classes, typically kindergarten, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8, thus encouraging co-operative learning and mutual assistance between older and younger pupils.
The foundation is also active in higher education. In 1998, it underwrote the founding of Ave Maria College, a four year co-ed liberal arts institution with an intellectually challenging curriculum and an active campus life emphasising piety, evangelism and charitable service.
In 1999 Ave Maria College became Ave Maria University adding another campus - St Mary's College. With its 115-year tradition, St Mary's offered 16 majors with a focus on pre- medical and other pre- professional programs as well as on theology and philosophy. In addition the university operates an extension campus called Ave Maria College of the Americas, which is located in San Marcos, Nicaragua.
The most recent addition to Ave Maria University has been the new law school which began classes in 2000 with 75 students. The school claims it is unique in that it approaches legal study from the perspective of Catholic moral and intellectual traditions with its concepts of natural law, individual rights, and human dignity. Students come from 39 universities from 31 states and Canada and have a median matriculation score in the top 20 percent.
Tom Monaghan has also launched a web-based singles introduction network. "On 3 January 2000, I brought Single Catholics Online under the Ave Maria Foundation because for a long time I had been seeking to find a way to bring serious single Catholics together. This was my opportunity to do that. Now under the name Ave Maria Singles, I look forward to seeing it grow in great numbers all around the world with many marriages, children and holy Catholic families established."
Zenit News Service