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Diocese of Venice Purchases Ave Maria Oratory Building

signing400Ave Maria University has sold its iconic Ave Maria Oratory to the Diocese of Venice which has made Ave Maria a regular parish rather than the "quasi parish" that it has been since 2008, the diocese announced Thursday.

The oratory – a designation for Catholic churches that are not owned by a diocese -- now becomes the Ave Maria Parish Church and will serve Ave Maria and the surrounding area.

The university also agreed to donate to the diocese a 2.5-acre parcel of land, at the corner of Clancy Ave. and Ave Maria Blvd., that will be used eventually for a new parish hall. Ten more acres, on Camp Keais Rd. just north of the Ave Maria media300boundrary, are also being donated by Ave Maria Development for longer-term future use by the diocese. (Above, Bishop Frank Dewane and AMU President Jim Towey officially sign documents for the sale. Watching are AMU Founder Tom Monaghan (L) and AMU Board Chairman Michael Timmis - Photo by Robb Klucik. Right, Bishop Dewane and President Towey - photo by Daniel Dix)

"By working together, the diocese and the university have strengthened their relationship and ensure that the rapidly growing pastoral and spiritual needs of the Ave Maria community are being met," Bishop Dewane said in the news release. "It is encouraging to see this vibrant faith-filled community under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, continue to grow and strengthen." (right, Bishop Dewane and Mr. Towey)

oratorynapkin400No purchase price was disclosed. The oratory, and the 3.1-acre parcel of land on which it sits, have an assessed value of about $15 million.

The singular structure is the best-known landmark in Ave Maria and has been incorporated into the logo for Ave Maria University.

The design was born of a vision by AMU founder Tom Monaghan, who sketched his ideas for its design on a tablecloth at a dinner with several members of the school's early management team when plans for the university were first being laid. Its distinctive appearance – particularly the exposed steel beams in the interior – was inspired by the design of Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which was conceived by renowned architect Fay Jones, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright of whom Mr. Monaghan is a long-time admirer.(above, thetablecloth on which the oratory was sketched by Mr. Monaghan, signed by him and others in attendance)

oratory350The Ave Maria church was originally planned to be 150 feet tall but rising construction costs caused its size to be scaled back to its current height of 104 feet. Even so, it wound up costing a reported $24 million. It is oriented so that it faces the exact position of the sunrise on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation.

The transaction brings clarity to a situation that was complicated and at times contentious since the summer of 2007 when the Ave Maria University campus neared completion. The AMU administration had expected to manage all aspects of the church as a chapel for the university, but also wanted it to serve the community as a parish would such as administering sacraments like baptism, confirmation and marriage.

Bishop Dewane, who was appointed to head the diocese in 2006, apparently had reservations about the AMU plans and refused to officially dedicate the oratory, meaning that Mass and other religious observances could not be held there. AMU administrators had hoped to open the oratory in time for Christmas services in 2007, but that didn't happen and the standoff continued through Easter. Masses were held in the AMU ballroom for students and town residents. (Above right, a file photo showing a procession outside the oratory)

Bishop Dewane finally dedicated the church on March 31, 2008, after an agreement was reached that created the quasi parish -- a rarely used canonical designation for a parish that is not fully established -- gave the diocese full control of all liturgical activities and spelled out how money from collections would be allocated.

The dedication attracted widespread attention, reflecting a large interest in the new town and university at the time. All 1,100 seats in the oratory were filled and an estimated 1,000 other people who couldn't be seated inside watched the ceremony on closed circuit TVs. One family even flew from England specifically to be there.

in1-275Before the formal announcement of the sale, Bishop Dewane officially installed Fr. Cory Mayer as the first pastor of the new parish. He had been named pastor of the quasi parish in November, 2015. (left)

"This is a joyful and exciting day for the people of Ave Maria," Fr. Mayer said following the ceremony.



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