Ave Maria, Florida - A pizza billionaire's stunning investment in traditional Catholic education, culture and way of life

We vacationed in the Naples, Florida area this week and as part of this time we had the opportunity to tour and discover one of the most remarkable religious and civic enterprises it has been our pleasure to experience...Ave Maria, FL and Ave Maria University.

Our visit to Ave Maria began with Mass in the Extraordinary Form at 7:30 a.m in the town's Oratory. The photo below shows a the morning's sunrise over the entrance to the town of Ave Maria on a beautiful day that eventually was about 80 degrees with perpetual breeze that carried the almost overpowering smell of orange blossoms and honeysuckle. The town of Ave Maria is in the countryside about 30 miles from central Naples, FL.
As one drives up the 2.5 mile winding sumptously landscaped road from the highway entrance toward the town, you see in the distance the 100' Ave Maria Oratory. It is the central point of the town and the University in both physical and spiritual orientation.
The Oratory is surrounded by a semi-circular piazza of commercial/residential buildings in an Italian architectural style which feature condominium homes on the second and third floors of the buildings. The "downtown" features a number of restaurants, clothing stores, gathering places, supermarket and other commercial buildings located on the 5,000 acre property.
The interior of the oratory is superb! Although the architecture is of a modern style, the surprising overall feel is sacral and inspirational with soaring steel beams that interlock and overlap forming arches from front to rear of the nave. The Oratory seats over 1,000 persons. A huge 30' crucifix is the central icon and the beautiful tabernacle of gilded bronze and enamel will soon be completed surrounded by reredos installed on each side of the tabernacle and flanking a baldacchino over the tabernacle of ornamental woods. The reredos will be made of wood with a basket woven effect and will feature statues of 26 Marian saints and the 12 Apostles in nooks on each side of the tabernacle.The photo below shows the organ and choir loft looking up into a partially translucent ceiling of glass and stainless steel.
Along each side of the nave are beautiful carved wood confessionals topped by Stations of the Cross. There are EIGHT CONFESSIONALS! We haven't seen anything like this since the Redemptorists were building churches a hundred years ago.
The Stations of the Cross were donated by a Michigan diocese and are exquisitely carved in marble.
Flanking each side of the Sanctuary are 12 FOOT statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. They are carved in a traditional style that will impress any Catholic that appreciates the art of the centuries.
The exterior of the Oratory is not quite finished. A huge 35' carving of marble is being done by an on-site sculptor. The 7-foot prototype of the 14 huge panels is shown below showing what the finished work will be like showing a tableau of the Angel Gabriel visiting the Blessed Virgin with his announcement of her becoming the mother of God (The Annunciation). The following picture shows the progress of one of the panels. It is estimated that the carving of this central panel plus two huge side panels on either side of the Oratory of adoring angels will take several years.

We have the explicit pleasure of visiting Ave Maria on the Feast of the Annunciation. It was a special day for the Oratory. It was consecrated exactly one year earlier on the Feast of the Annunciation in 2008. There were many events scheduled for the day, including the dedication of the new 1.8 million dollar organ. Five university students played 7 pieces of beauty and difficulty on the new 4-rank virtual pipe organ.

The university, which is situated facing the Oratory is composed of about 6 completed buildings with several buildings under construction. There are currently about 500 students. Other buildings are contemplated for construction in the coming years. In addition to the university there is a K-12 preparatory school which has an enrollment of about 165 students and growing quickly. The ultimate plan is for an expanded school with 450 students. Several of the university buildings designed by inspirations of Frank Lloyd Wright are shown below.

Ave Maria, FL is not for everyone...but for those whom this type of small-town, country living surround by one's Catholic faith, it is worth the move and the expense.

About 400 families have moved to Ave Maria and are living in beautiful developments on the property developed by national companies. Featured are the condos in the central piazza, single family homes by Pulte Homes. A golf-course community of single-family and carriage home condominiums by Del Webb developers. There are other sub-divisions of homes by DiVosta Homes. In the wake of the country's financial difficulties, Florida has seen amazing drops in real estate values and this could be a very good time for those who might be interested in investing in a Florida first/second home. For example: homes that were selling at Ave Maria in 2007 and 2008 are now selling at about 40% off those prices. Something to think about.

The photo shows a sunset taken on the beach looking toward the Gulf of Mexico. At about 7:45 p.m. thousands of Naples residents and visitors line the miles of beaches to view the beauty created by our God.
There's a lot more to tell about Ave Maria, Florida. In some future posts we'll give you some more information about the university and town life. Perhaps it sounds like we're selling this community for gain...but our interest is simply to share our experience with those of like-minds.

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