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Pizza magnate seeks to erect 250-foot crucifix in Mich. Town. (People & Events).

Pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan's plan to erect a 250-foot tall crucifix -- complete with a 40-foot Jesus -- has sparked controversy in Ann Arbor Township, Mich.

Monaghan, who founded the Domino's Pizza chain but later sold it, has been busy converting this suburb of Ann Arbor into a type of Roman Catholic mini-theocracy, critics say. The New York Times reported in February that Monaghan has built a church, a Catholic school, a Catholic day-care center, two convents as well as offices for two Catholic radio stations, a mission and a Catholic newspaper.

Monaghan's latest proposal is to move Ave Maria College, another institution he founded, from its current site in Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor Township. Monaghan wants to greatly expand the school, turning it into a university and adding the giant crucifix as a visible symbol of the enterprise.

Some township residents who live near the proposed site say the structure would be too big. Resident David Swain told The Times that traffic is already bad enough at Christmastime when Monaghan erects a large holiday lights display.

The town's planning commission has recommended against the complex and large crucifix, saying it would place burdens on public services like firefighting and water and sewage resources. Monaghan, however, is not giving up. He is already sponsoring three lawsuits against the town over other matters and is considering new litigation over the crucifix. In addition, Monaghan has moved to influence local politics, even though he does not live in the community.

In 2000, Monaghan backed a slate of four candidates who challenged incumbents on the township board who had voted against Monaghan's project. The Times reported that the four received tens of thousands of dollars from PACs formed by Monaghan or his associates. The sums were staggering, given that most board candidates rarely spend more than $1,000 on a race.

The heavy-handed politicking backfired, however, and all members of the Monaghan slate lost. Some township residents were not pleased by the effort. Jeff Basch attended a recent meeting of the planning commission to complain that Ann Arbor Township was turning into "a theocracy."

Monaghan declined to speak to The Times. But he has said in previous interviews that he intends to dedicate the rest of his life to spreading Catholicism. Monaghan, 64, was raised by nuns who took him in after his father died. Monaghan was only 4 at the time and according to one associate gained "a very vivid sense of Catholic identity" from his upbringing.
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Publication:Church & State
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Words:413
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