Four pairs of bright blue eyes gaze at Mike O’Shea as he talks in the family’s spacious formal living room.
Though they get a bit antsy, the young redheads, with ivory faces and blushing cheeks, show daddy the utmost respect, remaining silent as he speaks about the decisions he has made for his family.
The four young girls, ranging from 3 to 7 years old, don’t know it yet, but their futures will be molded by a town with a present that is just beginning to take shape. The girls and their city will grow up together while their parents pray that both turn out as planned.
The O’Sheas were the first residents to move into the developing town of Ave Maria in May. They just couldn’t wait to make their dreams come true.
“We made the decision pretty early that this is something we wanted to pursue,” said Mike O’Shea, 40. “This is exactly the kind of lifestyle we want to live.”
Bunched together on a small white couch, smiling and on their best behavior, the five O’Sheas are the perfect portrait of a traditional Catholic family. They represent the town and Ave Maria University that founder Tom Monaghan envisioned.
So far, so good.
Mike O’Shea works for Legatus, an organization of Catholic chief executive officers, which will open an office in Ave Maria in November. He commuted to the Naples office from the family’s home in Tampa for a year before moving into Ave Maria on May 30.
His wife, 40-year-old Cecilia, is a stay-at-home mom whose summer schedule includes twice weekly trips to the library and matinees with the girls at the movie theater.
Seven-year-old twins Caitlin and Erin, 5-year-old Maggie and 3-year-old Maureen will attend Ave Maria’s private school in August. Each is a picture of politeness, never talking out of turn.
And if they do, the nuns who live next door, who will work as school teachers, will keep them in line.
“We wanted to send our children to a Catholic school with the highest standards in academics and discipline,” Mike O’Shea said. “We want a more traditional approach, rather than the modern view many Catholic schools teach now.
“It’ll be comparable to the kind of Catholic education our parents had.”
Their two-story home in Pulte Homes’ Hampton Village community was a perfect fit for the O’Sheas.
Five bedrooms and four bathrooms, along with a spacious backyard and two living rooms, ensure the family will have plenty of room as it grows over the years.
“We’re preparing for when the girls are teenagers,” Cecilia O’Shea said. “We plan on staying here a long time.”
Ave Maria’s town center, La Piazza, can be seen from their driveway, which features a two-car garage and covered parking.
“I can see my office from here,” Mike O’Shea said, marveling.
Most important to the family, the town’s focal feature, a 100-foot-tall steel-framed oratory, is within walking distance.
“In Tampa, we were about 10 miles from the nearest parish. We felt a little cut off from the parish community, because we were so far away,” he said. “This will benefit us, because we’ll be closer to volunteer our time and efforts to the school and church.”
Despite the heavy Catholic influence Monaghan and Ave Maria University likely will have on the town, Mike O’Shea hesitates to call Ave Maria a Catholic town.
Still, the O’Sheas look forward to a hometown with limited access to secular temptations that go against Catholic doctrine.
“Sometimes people ask us, ‘Why do you want to shelter yourself from the real world?’ But I don’t think we’re sheltering,” he explained. “Naples is as ‘real world’ as anywhere else, and it’s right down the street.
“It’s important that children are not exposed to things out there that can really harm them. When they get older and grow up, I think they’ll have the same positive experiences as any other child.”
Life in the incipient town isn’t all roses just yet. Being the first residents presents unique challenges, which result in a lot of advanced thinking for the family.
With no grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants or convenience stores scheduled to open this summer, the family must drive into Naples frequently for supplies.
“It’s a little bit of an inconvenience, but you take the good with the bad,” he said. “It would be nice to have everything here on day one, but that’s not the reality of things.”
“It takes a little bit of planning,” Cecilia O’Shea chimed in. “But it’s not terrible.”
The O’Sheas already have two neighbors in Hampton Village, where homes range in price from the mid-$300,000s to high-$400,000s. More are expected to join them throughout the summer to occupy the planned 255-home neighborhood.
But the real rush is scheduled to begin in the fall, when residents begin moving into the adjacent Del Webb, Emerson Park and Bellerawalk communities, geared toward retirees and families.
A handful of businesses opening in La Piazza will help ease life for those like the O’Sheas as well.
“It’ll be nice when some more families with children start moving in,” he said. “Look at how much has changed here in the past year. I think in the coming year, we’ll see changes of that magnitude, and it’ll be completely different.
“We’re really looking forward to it.”