Ave Maria University in Naples is the first new school of its kind to open in 40 years.
NAPLES - Ave Maria University, the country's first new Catholic university in four decades, opened Tuesday with a Mass attended by the 101 students at its temporary campus.
The university was begun by Domino's Pizza founder Thomas S. Monaghan, who also is chairman of Ave Maria College, the new school's sister institution in Ypsilanti, Mich.
"It's an extraordinarily exciting day because it's a culmination of a yearlong effort to prepare this campus, to obtain state licensing, to recruit faculty and staff and recruit the students," university president Nicholas J. Healy said. The license was approved in July by the Commission on Independent Education of the state Department of Education.
The interim campus is in a converted senior citizens center. It includes a library, a computer lab, a student center, a chapel, student and faculty housing, faculty and administrative buildings and athletic fields.
The $220-million permanent campus, scheduled to be ready in the fall of 2006, will cover about 750 acres east of Naples. The project will include a town, also named Ave Maria, and a golf course, built on an additional 5,000 acres.
It will be developed through a partnership between Ave Maria and Barron Collier Cos., an agricultural, real estate and landholdings firm.
Healy said that by the time they move into the new campus, he hopes to have 650 undergraduate and 350 graduate students. Officials hope for an eventual enrollment of 5,000.
The current students are taking the core liberal arts classes required of freshmen and sophomores: theology, philosophy, history, natural science, literature, language and math. Within a year, nine majors and two graduate degrees will be available.
"We've been working very hard day in and day out to get everything ready," said Father Joseph Fessio, the university's chancellor.
During Mass on Tuesday, the students committed themselves to the university's code of honor. Faculty members will take an oath of fidelity to the Catholic Church when the local bishop is able to attend, Fessio said.
Monaghan didn't attend opening day ceremonies because of recent ear surgery, school spokesman Rob Falls said.
Bob Klatt, a 19-year-old sophomore who transferred from the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., said he first heard of Ave Maria University after it was profiled on the cover of a Catholic magazine.
"I thought, "Wow, this is everything I wanted,' " he said. "I planned on living in Florida after I finished college. I thought why not just go ahead and start college there."