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Domino’s Pizza’s Tom Monaghan

Tom Monaghan

SOURCE: August Pollak

Most people who find themselves in disagreement with their city’s development policy will lobby officials or organize supporters for change. But when local officials in Ann Arbor, Mich., refused to approve zoning changes sought by über-conservative Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, he moved to Florida and started his own city. Monaghan has made a life of pouring his pizza-made millions into a bevy of conservative Catholic organizations, businesses, schools, and other ventures—and he governs all of them with the total control of a CEO.

Monaghan built his fast food empire from a single pizza parlor he purchased in 1959 in Ypsilanti, Mich. Decades later, Monaghan turned his attention—and money—to building up Catholic enterprises across America and beyond. In 1983, the same year he bought the Detroit Tigers baseball team, Monaghan established a foundation to funnel money into various Catholic projects. A fellow conservative Catholic, author Ralph Martin, pointed out to Monaghan that “just because it’s Catholic doesn’t mean it’s correct.” No, Martin continued, much of modern Catholicism is simply not conservative enough for Monaghan’s money. Martin considers the University of Notre Dame, for instance, to be a well-known liberal cesspool. (Notre Dame is a school where “The Vagina Monologues” stirred up a huge amount of controversy.)

Monaghan’s opposition to the supposed liberalism of most American Catholic institutions, coupled with his conviction that Christians shouldn’t focus entirely on amassing personal wealth, led him in middle age to take what he called a “millionaire’s vow of poverty.” Since then, Monoghan has devoted his money and time to a series of arch-conservative Catholic institutions, many of which receive support from his Ave Maria Foundation. (Ave Maria is Latin for “Hail, Mary.”) Monaghan founded Legatus, a leadership organization for Catholic business executives who pledge to “study, live and spread the Faith in our business, professional and personal lives,” in 1987. He launched Ave Maria Communications in 1997, which in turn spawned Ave Maria Radio, featuring hosts like his buddy Ralph Martin.

There’s also Monaghan’s Thomas More Law Center, which offers conservatives legal protection against the “inordinately” influential ACLU and features endorsements by former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and homophobic radio DJ Michael Savage on its website. And don’t forget the successful Ave Maria Mutual Funds. Or the now-defunct Ave Maria List, a pro-life, Catholic political action committee. Are you sensing a pattern here? And there’s Ave Maria Singles, a service for only the most ridiculously conservative Catholics—those “who do NOT believe in Catholic dating and who DO believe in courtship,” whatever that means.

In addition to his domestic endeavors, Monaghan took special interest in combating Central American liberation theology, which emphasizes the Christian mission to help the impoverished and oppressed. In the process, he “wholly endorsed” the cause of the Nicaraguan Contras, armed groups—also famously supported by the Reagan Administration—who were infamous for their human rights abuses, though he claims he provided them with no direct support, according to the New Yorker. In 1990, when violence calmed in Nicaragua, Monaghan was summoned by a cardinal to help rebuild a cathedral in Managua. He scrapped the initial plans, saying, “If you’re going to build a cathedral, build a cathedral.” He then designed and financed most of a $4.5 million structure—according to Monaghan, “Some have said it looks like a woman’s breast”—despite the fact that Nicaragua didn’t have much, you know, food and stuff.

But his network of right-wing organizations still seemed incomplete to Monaghan. Rather than allow the continued corruption of Catholic higher education, Monaghan opened Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich. in 2000. This Ave Maria, like all the others, pursues “the only secure foundation for human freedom—the natural law written on the heart of every human being.” Among the many conservative scholars in the community seeking to bring about this freedom are Judge Robert Bork, recommended by right-wing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and National Review editor Kate O’Beirne, who sits on the school’s Board of Governors.

Of course, Ave Maria School of Law also sends its graduates out to fulfill the extreme political mission of its founder. Monaghan describes himself as a single issue voter. That issue is abortion: “All the other [issues]—whether we’re going to have a minimum wage, high taxes or low taxes—don’t matter. …We’ve got to stop killing babies.”

But what does Monaghan offer those students who want to squelch reproductive rights but don’t feel called to study the law? Ask and ye shall receive: Monaghan recently christened the brand-new facilities of Ave Maria University in sunny new Ave Maria, Florida.

According to one Ave Maria student, “Other Catholic schools—and the rest of America—have embraced modernism and the culture of death.” To combat the evil forces of progressive religiosity, which Monaghan once called the “work of the devil,” Ave Maria University intercepts ultra-conservative undergrads before any other sinful Catholic school can shake their faith. The school’s provost, Reverend Joseph Fessio, is friendly with Pope Benedict XVI. Meanwhile, the school’s president, Nicholas J. Healy, called Islam “a hostile and aggressive religion” in the school’s student newspaper. Students follow suit, embracing the school’s Chastity Team and lobbying for more traditional Masses on campus—since obviously “The offertory in the new Mass is essentially a Jewish table grace.”

The most remarkable thing about the school may be its location in the town of Ave Maria. After Ann Arbor declined to grant Monaghan the necessary zoning exceptions to build the college at the Domino’s Pizza headquarters, complete with a 250-foot crucifix featuring a 40-foot Jesus, he took his business to a patch of Florida land offered by developer Barron Collier. The two forged an agreement, with Collier developing most of the city in return for lots more of Monaghan’s money. Monaghan envisioned Ave Maria as a Catholic refuge from the rest of the world. In 2005, he told the Boston Catholic Men’s Association that he planned to “control all of the commercial real estate, so there’s not going to be any pornography sold in this town. We’re controlling the cable system. The pharmacies are not going to be able to sell condoms or dispense contraceptives.” Sounds like fun!

Unfortunately for Monaghan, free speech advocates everywhere shot down his original vision of a new Catholic Eden by pointing out its obvious breaches of separation of church and state. Monaghan seemed surprised that he didn’t have complete control over his new city: “I thought we owned the real estate, so we can lease to who ever we want and put things in the contract, but there are laws…” Go figure.

The exclusivity of Ave Maria rests only on its extremely expensive homes and, Monaghan hopes, peer pressure. “[I]f there’s an openly gay couple living next door to some family, and those kids would have to be subjected to that, I don’t know,” he told The New Yorker. “In the first place, I don’t know how many gay couples are going to want to live in the town.” Neighbors like Monaghan virtually guarantee uniformity—what progressive in her right mind would want to join his flock?

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