The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

The Catholic town without a Catholic parish

The people who have settled in at the Catholic town of Ave Maria in Florida are facing a curious contradiction. They don’t have, officially, a parish:

For four years, the idea of a parish in Ave Maria has been on the table for the town that is attracting Catholics from all over the country since it opened this summer, anchored by a university in the Catholic tradition.


Parishes are the most fundamental unit that connects individual Catholics to the official church hierarchy. The sacraments of baptism and marriage are performed inside churches, which are the spiritual centers of parishes.

At the physical center of Ave Maria stands a 100-foot-tall, $24 million structure planned to be a Catholic place of prayer. Ave Maria University officials requested that local Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice dedicate the building as a sacred place six weeks ago.

Decisions about the creation of parishes also fall under Dewane’s jurisdiction.

Diocese officials have said that should Ave Maria become a parish, the structure at the town’s center could become its parish church.

Negotiations between the diocese and university are continuing with both sides declining to discuss specifics. What has emerged are disagreements over a number of official matters, related or otherwise, in Catholic church law, called canon law.


University leaders presumed some canonical statuses in the church, even though the diocese said it never gave them that authority.

There also are indications that the university might no longer want the town center structure to become a parish church, and instead become an “oratory,” a place of prayer open for public worship but dedicated, in this case, only to the university community.

These delays have led some town residents to wonder about their place in the church.


“We’re looking for a parish,” said Jim Carletta, a 38-year-old living with his wife and four children in Ave Maria. “That’s the frustrating part. We have a five-year-old that’s getting ready for communion and we’re concerned. We’re kind of in a limbo period.”

“It’s a big deal with the residents right now,” Carletta added. “It’s getting to the point where people are pretty upset about it and there’s talk of it boiling over.”

It strikes me as odd that this issue wasn’t settled years ago, before the first spadeful of dirt was turned and construction begun. You can read more, though, at the link, to find out some of the background.

Photos of Ave Maria Oratory: by Michele Le, Naples Daily News

Comments read comments(5)
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posted February 24, 2008 at 10:04 pm

The former bishop was fairly loose when it came to most rules and formalities. He is now out of the country. The new bishop is very different. According to the founders of the school, the former bishop gave oral permission for the whole shebang. More information can be found at

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posted February 24, 2008 at 10:05 pm


posted February 25, 2008 at 8:36 am

The former bishop, Bishop John Nevins, is not out of the country; he resides in retirement in Venice, Florida.I do not know whether Bishop Nevins gave “oral permission for the whole shebang”, but I do know that anything of such significant importance and of such monetary proportions should have been codified in writing. Bishop Nevins opened twelve new parishes and countless other institutions and missions during his tenure as bishop, a record which was and continues to be impressive and noteworthy. He is much more of a business man and certainly more intelligent than you give him credit for by implying that he left the future of Ave Maria Parish/Oratory to oral interpretation. I doubt that was the case.

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posted February 25, 2008 at 8:49 am

Incidentally, chairmen of the board, university presidents, or chancellors of universities do not establish parishes in the Catholic Church, nor do they appoint pastors, administrators, parochial vicars, etc. for service in established parishes, mission churches, or chapels of convenience in the diocese. This is the sole authority of the diocesan bishop through Canon Law.Whether you like it or not, this is the way it is. You can argue whether or not it should be this way, but the fact remains that this is the way it is now.

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posted March 25, 2008 at 7:34 pm

All naysaying can end; the local bishop is dedicating the oratory and establishing the parish for the town on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 31, 2008. How fitting: the Annunciation just happens to be the subject of the huge traditional bas relief that will grace the large empty arch that now sits below the rose window of the facade.

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