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Fundraising Efforts Beginning for New Ave Maria Parish

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Now that the Diocese of Venice owns the landmark church in the center of Ave Maria, the bill for the purchase of the iconic structure from Ave Maria University, and the building's considerable annual maintenance expenses, is coming due for the parishioners of the newly-created Ave Maria parish. (right, Fr. Mayer and Mrs. Carpenter working in the parish office)

Pastor Fr. Cory Mayer asked those attending Masses last weekend to start thinking about what they could do to "help out," with their "time, talent or treasure." He thanked the many parishioners who have donated time to help with maintenance of the church, but asked people also to consider what they could do financially including the possibility of tithing a regular amount.

He announced that the new fundraising efforts will be led by Carol Carpenter, who was in charge of Ave Maria University's fundraising for many years until parting ways with the school not long after Jim Towey assumed the presidency. Mrs. Carpenter will be developing the plans to raise money for covering both the annual expenses as well as paying the diocese about $11 million to cover the church's $8-million purchase price plus interest.

Mrs. Carpenter said in an interview that she is excited to take on the challenge. "It's wonderful to have had the background of coming here before hardly anyone was here."

The purchase of the church by the diocese took parishioners by surprise when it was announced in January after secret discussions between Ave Maria University and the diocese. Along with the structure, the diocese also got the land around the church, an additional two-acre plot of land on the AMU campus on which the parish plans to build a parish hall, and a 10-acre parcel of land north of the town for which no plans have been announced.

The structure, originally called an oratory, was built by Ave Maria University for use primarily as a chapel for the university but its opening was delayed for several months because of a number of disagreements between AMU and the diocese, including how to serve the needs of residents of the town. Although anyone can attend Mass at a university chapel, a privately-administered worship facility cannot routinely perform many of the responsibilities Catholic faithful expect of parish churches such as baptisms, confirmations and religious education programs.

After months of negotiations, also in secret, between the university and the diocese an agreement was reached in March, 2008, that created a "quasi parish" through which the diocese would have sole responsibility for all liturgical matters in the oratory while the university would continue to own the building and be responsible for all costs relating to its upkeep. Details of the agreement were never disclosed publicly. At the time, however, some residents were told that the agreement was temporary and that when the population of Ave Maria reached a certain level, the diocese would build a separate parish church on land set aside by town developers and the oratory would revert to control by the university for use as a chapel.

At least a year before the sale to the diocese, AMU President Jim Towey had publicly voiced concerns about how the university was shouldering all the annual expenses for maintenance and utilities. The sale of the oratory is the latest of a number of assets the university has sold in recent years. Two years ago, AMU sold the property used as a campus for the Ave Maria School of Law in North Naples to the law school for $13 million. In 2014, the university sold a local AM radio station to a Christian broadcaster for $2.2 million.

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