Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ave Maria University

2011 05 19_9875
As well as visiting Denton I spent some time in Florida visiting friends. I stayed at Ave Maria University, and gave a paper there which was fun. 'AMU' is one of a group of recently founded Catholic universities which are trying to recapture the Catholic values which have apparently been lost in many if not all of the most famous Catholic institutions. These new foundations can be broadly characterised as 'neo-Conservative' in their approach; Fr Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press and one of the best-known spokesmen for this strand of opinion in the English-speaking world was the chaplain here for some years. The Oratory (as they call it) at AMU presents an interesting contrast to the (equally new) chapels at Denton and the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph at Valparaiso nearby.
2011 05 19_9882
The altar is placed so Mass can easily be said 'ad orientem'. [Corrected: see comments.] (The Traditional Mass is available every Sunday at 12.30pm.) The chapel is far, however, from traditional in its form; the best description might be a neoGothic rendered in steel girders. The altar has no reredos to speak of, but a series of gigantic statues stand on either side, and the interior of the church is dominated by a huge crucifix. Far bigger than life size, the nails pass through Our Lord's wrists and his body is characterised by oddly exagerated bones, muscles and veins. Here is someone else's close-up of it:
Crucifix inside the oratory
There are no side altars or shrines; there are places to light candles, but the do not correspond to any of the devotional images in the church. They sit under the first and last of the Stations of the Cross; I think the idea is that you are lighting your candle before the Tabernacle. There are, however, a large number of confessionals, and these line the church on each side.
2011 05 19_9880
While impressive the whole thing seems to me to lack the spirit of devotion and human scale. I think it is interesting that although the Oratory is daring in design and large in size the architect did not think of buying an existing altar for it. Old altars, some of great artistic merit and with accompanying reredos, baldachinos and all the rest are available in North America as in Europe, having been stripped out of demolished (or radically re-ordered) churches. What a joy it is to see some of these as the centre-pieces of new churches and chapels which are continuing the same religion, and the same artistic and devotional traditions, as the artists and donors who created these wonderful things many years ago. In Ave Maria it is certainly the same religion, but the artistic and devotional traditions have been ruptured.
2011 05 22_9604
The chapel of the Convent of Jesus Mary and Joseph near Denton, with an altar which had been in storage for many years before finding this new home.
2011 05 20_9856
The altar of the chapel of the Seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Denton, originating in a church in Quebec. Yes, it can be done!

More photos of AMU here.


  1. wait a minute12:09 pm

    As with churches through the ages, this church will take some time to be completed. Perhaps you are not immune to the desire for instant gratification.

    You have critiqued a work in progress as if it were finished. Seems that you would be a bit more careful given your stated ideas about life.

    Anyway, there is a planned reredos and the statuary is also not in its final form. Not sure how you missed that.

    I can suggest a title for this blog post of yours: "If I was king."

    Sorry, dude, but your attitude is to gripe about a good thing that in your mind is artistically not the best style. Such an attitude is dangerous. Be careful.

    You should be grateful to God that a new university is focused on the Truth. Instead your blog focuses on what you think is a blemish. Nice. Very Catholic.

  2. Joseph Shaw1:43 pm

    So Catholics aren't allowed to discuss the pros and cons of artistic styles? A fine artistic tradition we would have developed if that had been the case!
    Go and read some history, 'dude', before condemning me for my very mild comments. Have a look at what Pugin said about classical architecture, for example - it'll knock your socks off.

  3. Joseph Yarbrough1:59 pm

    Joe, your link to "more photos of AMU" is broken.

    Also, sadly, not all of the Masses are said ad orientem - in fact, I wasn't aware that any of them were, excepting, of course, the TLM.

  4. Joseph Shaw2:21 pm

    Oh! I thought I'd heard that about ad orientem worship, must have imagined it. I'll mend the link.

  5. hold on6:21 pm

    Your focus is negative.

    You failed to recognize/mention the Stations of the Cross were saved from an 100 year old closed Detroit church.

    You failed to note the tabernacle is front and center and made of the finest materials and craftsmanship.

    You failed to note the carrara marble mezzo-relief Annunciation in the grand tympanum on the facade of the church in the finest figurative Catholic art tradition.

    You did not mention the perpetual adoration chapel.

    You took digs at the corpus on the crucifix because it apparently seemed a bit too gruesome to your taste.

    Your straw man that I don't want any criticism is rich. It's your snide negative know-it-all attitude that is at issue.

  6. hold on6:30 pm

    It's amazing what you can find on the internet:


    Mass times

    Sunday: *8 am (English); 10 am (English); 12:30 pm (E.F. Latin); 5 pm Benediction *7 pm (English)

    Saturday: 9 am (English)

    Weekdays: *7:30 am (Mon, Wed, Fri in English; Tues & Thurs in E.F. Latin); 12 pm (Mon, Tue, Thu & Fri in English; Wed in N.O. Latin); *5 pm (M-F)

    *During Fall and Spring Semesters Only


    Saturday: 9:30-10:30 AM Wednesday: 2:45-3:45 PM
    Monday, Wednesday and Friday: *2:45-3:45

  7. Joseph Shaw6:36 pm

    Oh and your tone isn't snide at all. Hmm.

    I wouldn't say that the crucifix is too gruesome. In fact I don't make any judgement on it, just a couple of observations; anyone looking at it can judge for themselves.

    I could of course criticise the other things you mention but that would just get me into more trouble I suppose. Anyway this wasn't meant to be an exhaustive description. If you want to know how it struck a Catholic visitor you can read my post; if you don't, no-one is forcing you.

    And why do you feel the need to hide behind anonymity?

  8. Joseph Shaw6:38 pm

    Come to think of it if the designers did not have ad orientem worship in mind it would largely explain why they didn't buy an old altar.

    Liturgical rupture leads to artistic rupture.

  9. if we're going to compare...11:20 am

    There are more extraordinary form Masses each week (3) at the Ave Maria parish oratory than in any church or chapel in Oxford.

    In addition there 2 novus ordo Masses each week celebrated in latin and ad orientam.

    There are long lines at the regularly scheduled confessions held 4 times each week with at least 2 priests hearing confessions.

  10. Joseph Shaw11:45 am

    Oh give over, you're embarassing yourself now.

  11. Anonymous12:05 pm

    If the smart but too-young-to-be-wise Oxford LMS blogger dude makes dubious claims and barely camouflaged snipes about something, then he should not be surprised when it provokes a reaction.

    If the TLM is your thing, there is more of it in Ave Maria than at Oxford.

  12. Anonymous12:06 pm

    If the smart but too-young-to-be-wise Oxford LMS blogger dude makes dubious claims and barely camouflaged snipes about something, then he should not be surprised when it provokes a reaction.

    If the TLM is your thing, there is more of it in Ave Maria than at Oxford.