Friday, June 04, 2004

The Ave Maria Chronicles: Responses and Addenda

I'm getting responses to my material -- for a change, to my own site rather than Mark Shea's.

In fact, Ambrose brought up a very good point: "To my knwoledge there are only two econ professors on staff at AMU Naples at this time: Gabriel Martinez and Guillermo Montez. I confess I know almost nothing about these gentlemen, but some quick searches reveal some rather esoteric works with few sniffs of a 'neo-conservative laissez faire' bent - whatever that is." (Well, if you don't know, how could you "sniff" it out if it was there?) "Given that the econ departments of many Catholic schools are overrun with Marxists and socialists of various stripes, I'm wondering what a Catholic econ department should look like, and whether the Holy Father would find AMU's any more exceptionable than, say, Georgetown's. If I didn't know better, I'd think that your ideal would be one filled with distributists..."

As a matter of fact, Ambrose, I do think so. So would several popes of the last century. After the fall of communism, John Paul II was quick to remind the West of the excesses of capitalism, in the rush to rebuild the East.

Closer to home, there was a lot of word on the street that Michael Novak, and one other gentleman of that ilk, was going to be on the economics faculty. Maybe so, but I took the time to check the economics course of study at the AMU website: "Because the ultimate goal of economics is to understand the truth about the economy and to suggest ethical and appropriate courses of action, the study of Catholic Social Teaching is crucial. Understanding that the economy is a means for the fulfillment of the human person and not the converse, we guide our study of economics by the three pillars of the Social Magisterium: human dignity, solidarity, and subsidiarity. Thus our courses emphasize the primacy of labor, the right to private property, the right to economic initiative, the just regulation of the economy by government, and the role of intermediate organizations."

Now, that's more like it (and they do include Belloc on the reading list, by the way), and if they can live up to that, I'm happy to stand corrected. In fact, I'm more than happy, I'm damned delerious, if the project as a whole reflects that philosophy.

You see, in a classic sense, a university is not merely an isolated enclave. It draws a segment of the larger society to itself. That's why college towns have a certain characteristic about them. This is more than just building an educational institution. Mr Monaghan and those who assist him have a unique opportunity to inculcate a Catholic way of life on the larger society.

To that end, the original plans for the Town of Ave Maria, Florida, appear to resemble a "Catholic suburb," with all segments of land use carefully segregated, and accessible to one another mainly by automobile, as opposed to pedestrian traffic. This post-war phenomenon of urban planning has led to a waste of resources, and a push toward material excess that is characteristic of the "cultural Calvinism" that is American life. That is, you have to be a two-car family with a big house on a half- or one-acre lot to have "the good life" -- to say nothing of living the Catholic vision, as made manifest in this case. On the other hand, the proposal from the Notre Dame architecture students shows a careful mixed-use approach, more in keeping with traditional neighborhood development, and thus more conducive to various segments of the local culture interacting, and thus learning from, each other. One would hope for more emphasis on alternative forms of housing, including affordable options such as townhouses and garage apartments, to allow for a more balanced social structure in the town.

In other words, I should be able to walk from my home at one end of town, to work or shopping or whatever, in about ten minutes, or half a mile. How can you share the Faith with your neighbor, if the setting does not lend itself to meeting him? It's easier to do so on the sidewalk, than from a car. It's also easier if the wife doesn't have to put the kids in day care and work full-time, just so the family can afford to live there.

Mr Monaghan, to his great credit, left behind much of his career ambitions, to devote his life to using his fortune for spreading the Faith. If I were in a position to advise him (and I don't tend to move in those circles), I would suggest he spend less time reading Frank Lloyd Wright (who deserves more credit as an architect than as an urban planner), and more time reading Thomas Storck and Peter Maurin. The latter was influential in Dorothy Day's establishment of the Catholic Worker movement, and told of how both the rich and poor should help, and learn from, each other.

Will the "smoke-filled room" consist of shopkeepers and bricklayers as well as bankers and lawyers? Has Mr Monaghan ever heard of a concept known as "co-housing"? Can his vision of a Catholic society make room for subsidiarity at the neighborhood level, from the grassroots?

If he can expand his braintrust just enough to think outside the box, I promise to take back all the pizza jokes. Until then, the mere mention of an unsubstantiated rumor of theft was indeed imprudent, and shall be removed from this site.

He knows where to find me.


Anonymous said...

Hello David,

I must say I warmed to your post this morning - a lot of good meat to chew on.

1. I think you did right to pull the allegations of theft from the original post. The truth of the matter remains unresolved but I believe you are correct to refrain from trading in what is so far characterizable as innuendo - which I believe we all hope proves to be unfounded.

2. I appreciate the clarification on the direction of the AMU economics department - which certainly does sound encouraging. I had not heard the Novak rumor, to be honest (I happen to like Novak but I would grant that whatever point you were trying to make might carry a little more weight if he did end up on the AMU faculty). On the other hand, I know for a fact they are still filling up faculty slots. I have a faculty listing that is about a week old and so far only Montes and Martinez are the only econ faculty listed so far. So perhaps this is an issue that may bear revisiting this fall. So far, however, initial signs are encouraging.

I confess the "neo-conservative laissez faire capitalism" gloss rubbed me a bit the wrong way, mainly because it strikes me as a conflation of disparate concepts. Specifically, "neo-conservative" gets tossed around a great deal these days and like most nomenclature in the political arena, is poorly or differently understood enough as it is - but one thing that most would seem to agree on is that it is chiefly used in reference to politics and more specifically to American foreign relations. Surely every neo-con one could shake a stick at would be considered to be broadly pro-free market but then the same is true also of many other schools of political thought, and for that matter a good many economic schools of thought as well (e.g., Austrians, monetarists, etc.). Indeed, some neo-cons (especially those in the Bush Administration) get a good deal of flak from quarters on the right these days on the grounds that they are too enamoured of government power and spending.

I confess a certain sympathy for distributism. The problem is that as a practical matter it simply does not exist as a economic school of thought. Even at its peak it was always more of a philosophy than an operationalized economic system. I think it is one thing to bring in some Belloc or to bring in some of the appropriate encyclicals (which seems to be the case at AMU) to cast economic analysis in a Catholic moral framework; but if you mean to staff your department with live and breathing distributist economics professors you'll have to create them from scratch because they don't exist. But again, I am not sure this was your intention.

At any rate while it is certainly true that all popes of the last two centuries have expressed certain reservations (to varying degrees) about market economies - with good reason, I agree - I'm not sure it is clear that Church teaching is solidified enough to plant it firmly under any one standard. Especially a standard (however attractive in in visage) that has never been implemented as a going concern at any point in modern history.

3. I heartily second your comments about urban planning and what it should be. We talk about New Urbanism while sometimes forgetting the irony that it's really the Old Urbanism; man endlessly reinvents the wheel, or abandons the wheel for sleds and then figures out that wheels were a pretty good idea after all. As far as the town of Ave Maria is concerned I would second your skepticism about Frank Lloyd Wright but note that the plans shown by AMU really don't tell us much about the precise nature of the town being contemplated. No details are given about the non-academic parts of campus and not much more about the academic parts. And frankly, my information is that these plans are quite fluid at the moment anyway. I note as an aside that I know a staunch backer of AMU who moved to Naples a few months ago with the express purpose of building his own home in the town once it reaches fruition. If such people can be pointed into promoting true mixed use planning with the Ave Maria leadership I think you can add a nice feather to your cap.

At any rate, thanks for keeping a tab on the Ave Maria situation. Let us all pray it resolves itself in a manner which does justice to everyone involved and the commendable mission of the foundation.

Yours in Christ,

Anonymous said...

Here’s one Ave Maria faculty member’s experience:

Nick Healy and Fr. Fessio have consistently treated me with kindness, consideration, and respect. I am (probably) the most junior faculty member in Ave Maria, yet they have consulted me and deferred to me in matters of my expertise – maybe because I have deferred to them when it comes to running the University.

One other point: I read that “AMU faculty who came from AMC were pressured, coerced, and lured to move.” Yes, I was lured to AMU. I was lured by the brightest promise for American Catholicism. You see, small Catholic colleges that concentrate on classical learning are greatly needed: but we already have many such colleges. AMU is different.

What AMU offers is a major university, engaged with the world, of the highest academic quality, and loyal to the Church. We are building a university that truly responds to Pope John Paul II’s call to “train truly Christian leaders in the different spheres of human activity, and in society, especially in politics, economics, science, art and philosophical reflection,” men and women who will lead by being faithful and excellent, and so “play an outstanding role in promoting the inculturation of the Gospel” (Ecclesia in America, par. 71).

AMU is a joyful and serious effort to engage in a fruitful, two-way dialogue with the academic, cultural and scientific world where God found us and called us (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, par. 37; cf. Fides et Ratio), because Christ prayed not that we be taken out of the world but that we be kept from evil (cf. Jn 17, 15).

Just as importantly, AMU will serve the Church by “preparing men and women who, inspired by Christian principles and helped to live their Christian vocation in a mature and responsible manner, will be able to assume positions of responsibility in the Church,” and “by offering the results of its scientific research … to help the Church respond to the problems and needs of this age” (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, par. 31).

This is why so many Ave Maria faculty members have gone to AMU. We believe that the world, the flesh, and the devil will not withstand the attack of the Church: and we attack. We attack with the best “research within every branch of learning, carried out in a truly scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, … so that it can be seen more profoundly how faith and reason bear harmonious witness to the unity of all truth.” (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, par. 17)

And I am going to AMU because I trust, not blindly but with the experience of an insider, in the leadership of Mr. Thomas Monaghan, Mr. Nicholas Healy, and Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.

A world about the mud-slinging: Our Lord prayed, “that they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they may also be one in us, that the world may believe that thou has sent me (Jn 17, 21).” Let this be true at least of the faithful Catholics of the United States.

Gabriel Martinez (

Anonymous said...

The Ave Maria College parents' group has updated its website (Ave Parents) with three new letters:

1. An open letter dated June 8th from faculty and staff of Ave Maria College to Nicholas Healy and Fr. Fessio in reply to their letter dated June 2nd


2. A letter dated June 9th from Ronald Muller, the president of Ave Maria College, with a favorable commentary by Ave Parents


3. A letter dated April 23, 2003, from Janet Smith to some Ave Maria College administration. She took a leave from the University of Dallas to teach philosophy at Ave Maria College but subsequently left there to teach moral theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Dearborn, Michigan