The Hand of the Master Builder

By Tom Monaghan

Lent is truly one of the great gifts of the Church. It comes upon us just as we’re looking forward to spring, the season of new plantings and fresh productiveness. At the very moment when upcoming challenges call for self-assurance, Lent asks us to examine our weaknesses and failings.  It reminds us how insufficient our own talents and resources really are — and how much our efforts depend on God.

The lesson of this year’s Lent has been especially pointed for me, coming as it has when we’re deep into the planning of Ave Maria’s Florida campus and urban development.  Response to our project has been so positive, and our plans have moved forward so swiftly, that one could easily be led astray by enthusiasm and overconfidence.

Throughout this Lenten season I have often had to sit back, take a deep breath, and remind myself to listen for the promptings of the Spirit.  In the words of the psalm: “If the Lord does not build the house, then in vain do the builders labor.”  Fortunately, the Lord is such a clever builder that He can create marvelous things out of any materials.

There is one aspect of our Florida project that illustrates this truth clearly.  Those who know my lifelong fascination with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright won’t be surprised at how much the ideas of this great architectural visionary are influencing our plans.  The “Prairie” style for which Wright is known will be so prominently displayed that we expect it to attract major interest from around the world.  In fact, Wright’s design inspiration will likely make our campus as visually distinctive as it will be spiritually unique.

Yet, Frank Lloyd Wright himself was not a man of faith, and there were many ways in which his life and family relationships were less than exemplary.  Though he designed several houses of worship, he had little personal interest in organized religion, and he held to a radically individualistic philosophy that was far from the Catholic worldview.

Still, he was an undisputed genius, arguably the greatest artist our country has produced.  As architecture writer Robert Campbell has observed, “America’s other great artists — our painters, sculptors, composers — don’t really rank with the tops of all time. They’re not Rembrandt or Michelangelo or Beethoven.  Wright alone has that standing.”

It may seem ironic that a great center of Catholic life and learning is being developed according to the design precepts of a very worldly Frank Lloyd Wright.  But I can assure you, the conceptual drawings we’ve seen so far suggest that the Ave Maria campus will be a place of true inspiration.  It could very well become an important pilgrimage site in the years ahead.

Surely, this is the Hand of the Master Builder at work.  It demonstrates the old adage that “God draws straight with crooked lines.”  And it should restore our confidence, as Lenten reflection gives way to Easter joy.  If God has such a purpose for Frank Lloyd Wright, who knows how He might use any of us?

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Commentary Article

Early ’00s

Essay on how flawed human nature can be turned to higher purposes developed in consultation with Tom Monaghan, Chairman of The Ave Maria Foundation — published in the monthly magazine of Legatus, an international fraternal organization for Catholic business leaders

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