When Domino's Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan sold most of his restaurant empire in 1998 for a reported $1-billion, he vowed he would die broke.
Wednesday, Monaghan, 65, took a major step toward that goal, pledging at least $220-million to build a Catholic university and a town to support it on what is now 5,750 rural acres near Naples.
"This should do the job very adequately," he said, looking ahead to the steady evaporation of his fortune in the Florida sun. "Universities are expensive."
Monaghan, who also formerly owned the Detroit Tigers baseball team, has a long history of advancing Catholic causes, including antiabortion efforts that once led the National Organization for Women to call for a boycott of Domino's. Since selling his company, he has devoted himself to orthodoxy in Catholic education.
Monaghan spent part of his childhood in an orphanage. The nuns who ran St. Joseph's Home for Boys in Jackson, Mich., where he lived for six years before entering a series of foster homes, were "very holy women," he said. "It was incredibly strict, but I seemed to thrive there."
Those elements _ holiness and strictness _ remain the core of Monaghan's view of what Catholic education should be.
At Ave Maria (Latin for Hail Mary), he has declared, there will be no coed dorms. All faculty members teaching theology will be required to obtain a mandatum, or seal of orthodoxy, in strict compliance with Pope John Paul II's 1990 encyclical on education.
Asked why he wants to start a new university rather than donate to one of the 220 existing institutions of Catholic higher learning in the United States, Monaghan said: "I don't comment on what other universities do. All I can talk about is what we want to do."
Originally, Monaghan intended to build Ave Maria near Domino's headquarters in his hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich. He said he spent about $80-million to start an undergraduate college in 1998 at a temporary site in Ypsilanti, Mich., and to found Ave Maria Law School in Ann Arbor the following year.
But the township rejected a zoning variance for his planned campus. Monaghan announced the move to Collier County Wednesday morning in Naples, where his plans received the enthusiastic support of Bishop John Nevins of Venice, and _ in a pretaped video appearance _ Gov. Jeb Bush.
"As a Catholic, I am very proud that students will be able to obtain an education with the highest academic standards and with a firm grounding in religious and moral values," Bush said.
Officials of Monaghan's Ave Maria Foundation said construction has begun on a 7-acre interim campus in Naples that should be ready to receive students next fall. The permanent campus, scheduled to open in 2005 or 2006, is about 15 miles away in relatively remote eastern Collier County. Monaghan said the Barron Collier Cos., a real estate and agricultural firm, has donated the 750-acre site.
A joint venture between the educational foundation and Barron Collier plans to develop 5,000 surrounding acres into the town of Ave Maria, providing housing, shopping and recreation for faculty and students.
Nicholas Healy, the university's president, said the campus in Ypsilanti would remain open at least another four years. He said he expects to have at least 300 students in Florida by the 2004-05 school year and hopes the university gradually will add schools of engineering, business, education and medicine, growing eventually to 5,000 students.
Monaghan also contemplates a strong athletic program. He made frequent comparisons to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, promising to field a Division 1-A football team as soon as possible.
_ The Associated Press and the Orlando Sentinel contributed to this report.