Local bishop skips Ave Maria University dedication amid complications

Bishop Frank Dewane
Bishop Frank Dewane


Ave Maria University’s dedication of its new oratory has been delayed as Ave Maria organizers continue to seek Bishop of Venice Frank Dewane’s presence to consecrate the building, the Naples Daily News reports.

Ave Maria founder Tom Monaghan and Ave Maria University president Nick Healy had invited Bishop Dewane to consecrate the oratory and to celebrate a dedicatory Mass for Sunday, January 13. 

Bishop Dewane instead celebrated an annual Mass for circus performers at a Sarasota church, honoring the history of the Ringling family.

Without Bishop Dewane’s consecration, no one can celebrate Mass in the oratory, which Ave Maria officials hope will also serve the surrounding Ave Maria town.

The diocese and the university confirmed that conversations between the two were proceeding, but had not been resolved.  Those involved in the proceedings did not address details, considering them confidential.

“We won’t make any comment about the relationship with the diocese,” Healy said last week. “We’re very hopeful that things will get resolved and it will become clear. There are issues that are not easily understood and hard to explain and we don’t want to comment on it.”
Canon law experts suggest Ave Maria’s difficulties in securing the consecration arise from canon law, the Church regulations governing authority, ownership, and control over spiritual and practical matters.

“In one sense it’s very complex; in another it’s not complex at all,” said the Rev. Phillip J. Brown, an associate professor at Catholic University’s School of Canon Law. “Nothing can be done without the authority of the bishop.”

Any pastor for the oratory at Ave Maria must be approved by the bishop.  Pastors at other Catholic colleges are often recommended by the religious orders running the schools.  However, since Ave Maria University is lay-run, it is doubtful they will be given the power to make such recommendations, called the “right of presentation.”

“A right of presentation would never be granted to a new parish today,” Brown said.

Further, Ave Maria University’s canonical status differs from many other Catholic universities.  Ave Maria does not meet the official definition of a Catholic university, but is “a private university in the Catholic tradition.”  Officially Catholic universities must agree to follow a number of church norms on education and are usually under the administration of the bishop.

According to Healy, the university community is “a private association of the faithful.” “It’s not an association that represents the church publicly,” Brown said. “It’s purely private.”

It is unclear whether this status is in fact affecting the requests for the oratory’s consecration.

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