At the age of 23, Tom Monaghan purchased a failing pizzeria in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Following the death of his father, Tom Monaghan spent half his childhood in a Catholic orphanage. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he bought DomiNick’s to pay for his architectural studies at the University of Michigan. To do this, he and his brother—whom he later bought out of the business with a Volkswagen Beetle—took out a $900 loan. By the mid-1980s, through the innovation of a thermally superior delivery box and the creation of Domino’s Farms, he had built Domino’s into a thriving corporation. By the early ‘90s, he had amassed a sizeable fortune and was an American entrepreneurial legend. The once penniless orphan who gave up his dream of being an architect to pursue business purchased a private plane, amassed a collection of rare cars, and became the world’s leading collector of Frank Lloyd Wright memorabilia.
After reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, in particular his warnings against pride, “the essential vice,” Monaghan divested himself of many possessions. He sold the Detroit Tigers to business rival Mike Ilitch, owner of Little Caesars, and abandoned his dream home mid-construction in order to focus on a new goal: “to get as many people into heaven as possible.” He has since given large financial gifts to numerous educational and charitable Catholic organizations. In 1998, he sold his controlling stake in Domino’s Pizza to Bain Capital for a billion dollars. That same year, Monaghan founded Ave Maria College in two former elementary school buildings near the campus of Eastern Michigan University. Monaghan sought to build a full college campus for 1,500 students on his 280-acre farm, including a 25-story crucifix (with a 40-foot Christ) at the junction of two highways, but was denied zoning approval by the Ann Arbor Township.
In 2003, Barron Collier Companies, one of Florida’s largest real estate developers, offered Monaghan nearly 1,000 acres—at no cost—to build his university in a rural area of southwest Florida. In return, they would develop the neighboring land for residential and commercial use. Monaghan invested millions into the speculative town, planning to recycle the profits from its development into a reincarnation of the college that he would call Ave Maria University. It would take a personal effort by then Florida Governor Jeb Bush to put in place the legislation that would allow Monaghan and his investors to develop Ave Maria.
The town continues to grow slowly, but will most likely never meet its founders’ expectations. By early 2015, only 720 of the 11,000 homes planned for Ave Maria have been built—a mere 15 percent. And of those built, not all are occupied—in 2014, 138 households had moved in. 85 percent of the 100,000 square feet of retail space that encircles the giant, stone-faced 1,000-seat Ave Maria Oratory, partially designed by Monaghan, has been leased.
Now 79 years old, Tom Monaghan divides his time between his home in Michigan and a house in Naples, thirty miles west of Ave Maria.
About : Rylan Steele is an established artist teaching as a tenure track faculty in photography at Columbus State University. Rylan received an A.S. in Photographic Technology from the Southeastern Center for Photographic Studies at DBCC, a B.F.A. in Photography from Florida International University and a M.F.A in Photography from the University of Georgia. Rylan is currently working on a new group of photographs that explore Ave Maria, a catholic inspired community in a remote area of southern Florida. These photographs are an investigation of the infrastructure that supports the founders’ utopian vision. To view more of Rylan’s work, please visit his website.
About : Nora Wendl is Assistant Professor of Architecture at University of New Mexico. Her compositions upon architecture and its histories have resulted in numerous exhibitions, performances, and publications. She is co-editor of Contemporary Art About Architecture (Ashgate, 2013), with Isabelle Loring Wallace and author of the concrete poetry collection Glass Document (Ugly Duckling Presse, original web book series, 2016). In collaboration with photographer Rylan Steele, she was recognized as a finalist for the 2015 Lange-Taylor Prize by the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies. She is widely published in numerous journals, including 306090, Architecture and Culture: Journal of the Architectural Humanities Research Association, Flyway, Forty-Five, Journal of Architectural Education, Offramp, On Site: Review, Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, and Thresholds. Over the past decade, she has presented, performed and exhibited her poems and artifacts at numerous national and international venues.