Ave Maria University to build one of largest Catholic churches in U.S.


Ave Maria University announced plans yesterday to build one of the largest Catholic churches in the United States – the Oratory of Ave Maria. The church will become the spiritual and physical centerpiece for the first new major Catholic university in the U.S. in 40 years. It will also serve as a church for the Town of Ave Maria.

The designs show that the glass, steel and aluminum structure will rise 150 feet above Ave Maria University campus.

Designed by Cannon Design, the 60,000-square-foot oratory uses 3,000 tons of structural steel to form delicate arches, similar to European Gothic cathedrals, that appear to spring from the building's stone foundation. Its aluminum and glass exterior will filter and suffuse natural daylight into the main sanctuary and nave.

The church, measuring 300 feet long and 150 feet wide, will seat more than 3,300 people, giving it the largest seating capacity of any Catholic church in the U.S. The exterior wall at the entrance will feature a 60-foot red-tinted glass cross, with a 40-foot corpus. Inside, the sanctuary features another large crucifix.

The lower level of the oratory will house the Perpetual Adoration Chapel, containing 14 confessionals, one for each station of the cross. Also located beneath the sanctuary will be burial crypts and columbaria, or small crypts, designed to hold ashes.

The university campus and oratory are to be completed in 2006 on a 1,000-acre site, located between Immokalee and Naples.

Plans for Ave Maria University were first announced in November 2002.

The university’s 122 students, who are in their second semester, are currently using a 12-acre interim campus near the Vineyards area of Naples.

Seed money for the university has been provided by Thomas S. Monaghan, Domino's Pizza Founder and former owner of the Detroit Tigers, who is also the university’s chairman.

"It is only fitting that at a Catholic institution, where Faith is at the core of all we do, the dominant building be a church," Monaghan said. "This Oratory will be a center for the campus and the town, a constant reminder of why we are there."

The church will also have an oval-shaped plaza on its grounds, which will connect the university campus to the Town of Ave Maria.

The detailed plans were unveiled yesterday as part of a two-day celebration for the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Incarnate God.

As part of the celebrations, Ave Maria University hosted the Vatican Choir of the Basilica of St. Peter in a special performance of sacred and classical choral music yesterday evening at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts.

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