Confusion and unanswered questions continue to swirl around South Florida and the Church throughout the U.S. today as many wonder at the sudden firing of one of the nation’s best known Catholic figures. Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J. was fired yesterday from his position as Provost of Ave Maria University, the promising new Catholic college, which has been finding its feet near Naples, Florida.
Catholic and non-Catholic news sources have been left wondering at the Jesuit’s sudden departure from the young Catholic university founded by Dominoes Pizza mogul, Tom Monahan.
In a short interview given to Florida’s “The News-Press,” Fr. Fessio said he had no indication before Wednesday that he would be asked to step down as Ave Maria’s Provost.
“Obviously, I think it was a mistake, but I am not in charge,” the priest told “The News-Press.”
Fessio said he was asked to a private meeting yesterday morning with chancellor Tom Monaghan. At the meeting, he was asked to resign his position with the school, clear his office and leave campus by the end of the day.
“I asked for a reason but was not given one,” Fessio said.
While the university released a short statement, on the firing, it did not serve to answer many questions, saying only that the priest was “asked to step down as Provost of the University as a result of irreconcilable differences over administrative policies and practices.”
The university statement continues by emphasizing that the school and Fr. Fessio never differed in their commitment to “our mission or the Magisterium of the Church.”
Fessio is a well known scholar and voice of orthodoxy in the U.S. Church. The priest studied under the current Pope Benedict XVI, having written his thesis under Benedict’s direction when the Holy Father was still a Cardinal. The two are said to maintain a close friendship to this day.
Fr. Fessio is also well known in his role as founder of Ignatius Press, one of the world’s top Catholic publishing houses, and as publisher of the Catholic World Report.
The Jesuit priest is also thought to be one of the driving forces in Ave Maria’s successful recruitment of topnotch Catholic professors and students. At the same time Ave Maria, which was the first new Catholic university to open in 40 years, has not grown with the speed that many hoped it would.
Rumors of disagreement between Monahan, Fr. Fessio, and university president, Nick Healy, on the direction of the upstart school have swirled for months. However, Fr. Fessio told the Naples News this morning that the only administrative choice he disagrees with is his sudden firing, “I think it was a mistake to fire me,” he said. "I thought we were working well together.”
“I love the students and faculty. I think it’s a wonderful place that is going to continue to grow,” Fessio said of Ave Maria.
The priest said he’s not sure where he will go from here, but that, “a great burden has been lifted off my shoulders. Now I can pray and work for the Lord’s vineyards in other ways.”
“The Lord has a plan. It will be revealed,” Fessio said.