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The Gods of Retail: Domino's

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Behold the power and the glory of pizza.

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Ave Maria, Florida, is a little piece of Eden on earth. An Eden built entirely on pizza.

The entirely planned community -- the first city (with the possible exception of the Vatican) to be designed in accordance with strict Catholic principles -- sits at the edge of the Florida Everglades, 90 miles northwest of Miami.

Former governor Jeb Bush, a devout Catholic himself, made Ave Maria a special tax district (much like Walt Disney World) and exempted it from a number of pesky state and local laws: Both the town and its eponymous university strictly ban condoms, birth control, and pornography.

But if those restrictions effectively eliminate all of your hobbies, don't worry: You can always feast your eyes on the colossal glass, steel, and travertine marble shrine -- crowned by a 12-foot crucifix -- which dominates the city center.

The man behind Ave Maria is Thomas Monaghan, founder and former CEO of Domino's Pizza (DPZ). Monaghan might be regarded as an unlikely candidate for such devotion to the church: When he was only 6 years old, his mother deposited him at a Catholic orphanage, where he was regularly beaten with a leather strap, forbidden to earn money, and fed a steady diet of turnips (really).

While this might have made a lesser man flee from the church and all its works at top speed, Monaghan's faith never wavered, even after he had made his fortune. In 1960, Monaghan bought a single pizzeria in Ypsilanti, Michigan, for $500. The store, called Domino's, would eventually become a global franchise, selling for just under $1 billion in 1998.

With 8500 stores in all 50 states and 55 countries worldwide, it is second only to Pizza Hut (YUM) in size - and this despite persistent boycotts throughout the 1980s. (Monaghan's habit of making massive contributions to pro-life groups was the cause).

After selling Domino's in 1998, Monaghan -- who once said, "If I didn't have my faith, I'd make Hugh Hefner look like a piker" -- has devoted his post-Cheesy Bread existence (and much of his fortune) to furthering the aims of the Catholic Church. Ave Maria is but one of those projects, which also include Legatus and the Ave Maria Mutual Funds (AVEDX).

Founded by Monaghan in 1987, Legatus -- Latin for "ambassador," and the title bestowed on generals in the Roman army -- is a global fraternity "designed exclusively for top-ranking Catholic business leaders." Legatus calls itself "the conduit connecting 2 powerful realities: the challenge of top-tier business leadership and a religious tradition second to none."

Monaghan holds the title of Chairman for Life, and "cannot be removed from his position on the Board of Governors for any reason except his own resignation." According to the Catholic blog Avewatch, Legatus's former employees and members described the organization as nothing more than "a salve to soothe the consciences of Catholic businessmen who screwed their way to the top."

Once safely there, such businessmen can preserve their immortal souls (and their capital) via the AVEDX, which is "designed specifically for morally responsible investors who are looking for financially sound investments in companies that do not violate the core teachings of the Catholic Church." Banned companies include those that distribute pornography (think Playboy), those that contribute to pro-choice causes, and those that provide employees with -- gasp! -- domestic-partner benefits to subsidize their hellbound homosexual ways.

Along with Monaghan, AVEDX's advisory board includes Phyllis Schlafly, Michael Novak, and Larry Kudlow, who famously declared that the recession "[wasn't] gonna happen... The Bush boom is alive and well. It's finishing up its sixth splendid year, with many more years to come."

When investing with AVEDX, prayer clearly couldn't hurt.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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