Michael Waldstein of Austria is one of the most distinguished theologians in the world, who under Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna in the 1990s established the International Theology Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family. He now lives, teaches, and writes at Ave Maria (praise be to God). He is also a warm, pleasant, light-hearted, learned man, with a very keen and clear mind. Professor Waldstein wrote recently that he, too, has found the Catholic environment at Ave Maria the most impressive he has ever known, including even that of the ITI, which he himself had founded:
Profoundly fruitful contemplation, characteristic of a genuinely Catholic intellectual life, is taking place [at Ave Maria University] among the theology professors and graduate students. I know of no better program for forming future theologians. I include in this judgment the program of ITI, which I helped to build up. The impression I have of the undergraduates in my classes and of faculty and students in other departments is similar. The University, as I have experienced it first hand, is genuinely Catholic. A particular love for John Paul II and Benedict XVI is a hallmark of its life.
So I must report that I have come to love Ave Maria deeply, and feel a very strong pull to live out my final years in such a place. The Board of Trustees (of whom I am one) do not wish Ave Maria to be a small Christian enclave, a hothouse, but a large, cosmopolitan university, ultimately the size of Princeton. Already the University’s students have a proportion from overseas that, at 13 percent, may be among the highest in the land. They already include three or four Muslim students.
The university does not yet have a large body of alumni, but it does effectively own a thousand acres of great Florida land, on which one major new golf course is being planned. The university will also benefit from a half interest in another 9,000 acres surrounding the campus and forming the town of Ave Maria, which already boasts a very fine golf course, retail shops, and extensive parks and recreation areas. Ground has been broken for the Golisano Gymnasium, which should be up by next October, and a Fine Arts Center is on the drawing boards. Last year, our development office brought in $12 million, and in the first seven months of this fiscal year $16 million. More is on its way to being pledged or given outright, and bequests from people we have not even met keep arriving. The Oratory is drawing some 50,000 visitors per year. A great new Carrara marble sculpture of the Annunciation will be lifted up on its façade within the next year. It is being patiently but boldly carved on the green in front of the Oratory by the great Hungarian sculptor Márton Váró.
It was great to have our local ordinary, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., and his teacher Adam Cardinal Maida of Detroit join our Board at this February’s meeting.
As I read Catholic history, every time there is a great work of God in the making, the Prince of Lies sows a cloud of mischief trying to disrupt it. By that sign, Our Lady really wants this University. The Lord has, as is His wont, given it obstacle after obstacle to surmount. Just as He set before Our Lady in her own life.
This has been for me these past weeks, right on site, a good place to magnify the Lord.
– Michael Novak’s latest book is No One Sees God. His website is www.michaelnovak.net.