HAIL, AVE MARIA
I made a brief visit at the new Ave Maria University near Naples, FL a few weeks ago. They are still on a temporary campus, while the plans go ahead for the new campus that is being funded by philanthropist, former pizza-man, Tom Monaghan. Having been to several of the "real" Catholic, higher-ed schools, clearly Ave Maria's temporary campus is pretty much nicer than the other schools permanent sites. I'm sure part of the impression came from the lovely, bright Florida sunshine and omni-present flowers, but the place seemed like a lovely place to get liberally educated to me.
More impressive was the climate on campus. The students seemed normal and happy -- not at all like they were in training to be future 1950's misfits on the fringes of 21st Century American culture. They looked college-y in jeans and flip-flops, and when I mentioned cultural icons like The Matrix and the show about nothing, they were right there with me. They were open-eyed,laughed in all the right places, and breathed out a kind of happy confidence. I thought to myself, "Now THIS, the 'New Evangelization' can work with."
I was glad to see that, even though it is optional, there were many students packing the noon Mass, which was also a normal 21st Century looking Catholic liturgy.
My sense is at AMU, they are fitting up their grads to be players in this current culture and Church...not more of the cave-dwelling anawim. Thank God.
I did over-hear one slightly distressing conversation in the student lounge, in which one young guy - cocky with all the insecurity of twenty-something guessing at manhood-ness - was making a case to several other students that women could never be president of the U.S. because they are crippled by emotions. A couple of the female students would have none of it, but they weren't exactly making a slam dunk response. When I mentioned it to the female faculty member I was with, she said, "I have two words for that kid: Margaret Thatcher." I laughed, okay, more than a bit relieved.
One other anecdote from my visit that has been hovering in my brain...The Mass the day I was at AMU was in honor of one of the Roman martyrs - St. Calistus maybe? Anyway, the priest celebrating the Mass noted in his homily, "Now, probably, none of us will be asked to give our lives for our faith...."
I immediately thought, "And what planet do you go home to at night, Father?" It struck me as somewhat irresponsible assurance to a large group of prayerful, orthodox, committed young Catholics, living in the middle of a society that more and more scapegoats them as 'what's wrong with the world.' In my research on the Spanish Civil War, I have found the same kind of willful refusal to note the signs of the times on the part of the clergy back in 1930's Spain. Deafened for decades to an ever-rising tide of hate rhetoric against the Church, these shepherds were holding parish festivals, liturgical processions, youth fieldtrips and catechism classes, right up to the moments when the anarchists stormed the church steps, and swept tens of thousands of priests, religious and laity into mass graves.
There is something so very un-creative in religious leaders refusing to see just a few feet past the obvious. The current horizon (of intra-parish warfare between the Hispanic music ministry fund and the Filipino dinner dance and "who is organizing the next seniors' trip to Vegas anyway?") obscures the future, instead of revealing it. Not that clueless, surprised martyrs are any worse than grim, prepared ones.
But, anyway, if I was a 17 year old again, looking for a college to go to, I would choose AMU over all the others out there. They're doing a good job now, and it is only going to get better. God willing....