Going forth to make next generation’s disciples
Joseph Tort and Keith Kiser are Legates deeply involved in providing young faithful a thorough, well-rounded Catholic education as well as a solid moral foundation.
Tort, 59, a member of Legatus’ Jersey Shore Chapter and a partner in PricewaterhouseCooper’s Manhattan practice, lends his longtime financial expertise to bolster his alma mater, the Christian Brothers Academy in New Jersey. Tort serves on the school’s board of trustees, and is credited with energizing the all-boys college preparatory school’s alumni and convincing them to donate to capital campaigns and scholarship funds.
Kiser, 52, a member of Legatus’ Greenville Chapter, is in his 18th year as the headmaster of St. Joseph Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina. His tenure has coincided with a steady increase in student enrollment and the continued development of the school’s Catholic culture. Each recently spoke with Legatus magazine about his background and interest in Catholic education, individual faith journey, and what motivates him to continue working hard to improve his beloved institution.
Christian leader — formed by parents, Christian Brothers
Tort makes it a point to emphasize that his moral formation began with his parents, who put both their sons into Catholic schools and worked with them at home to fortify their moral compass.
As a young teenager, Tort was enrolled at the Christian Brothers Academy, an all-boys college preparatory school in New Jersey run by the De La Salle Brothers.
“What a great order of Catholic men who dedicate themselves to teaching,” Tort said. “I was a beneficiary of this wonderful, dedicated order. You didn’t know it at the time, but they were basically strengthening your moral fiber without your being aware of it.”
Tort graduated from Christian Brothers Academy in 1976, went on to college, and got a position at PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international professional services firm that focuses on audit and assurance, tax, and consulting services. Tort said he chose a profession that “fit perfectly” with the rigorous moral training he received from the Lasallian Brothers.
“We’re accountants and auditors, and by definition what are auditors doing? We’re checking people’s work to make sure they did it right, that they did the right thing,” said Tort, who added that being taught to “do the right thing” was deeply ingrained at the Christian Brothers Academy.
“You realize later on in life, that what was standard operating procedure for you as a kid growing up, all the way through your graduation from high school, was extraordinary in many people’s view,” Tort said.
Because he had such a positive experience at the academy, Tort said he looked to give back to the school’s community shortly after he began his professional career. He joined the school’s finance committee and chaired its capital campaign, meeting with donors and stressing to them how the school’s benefactors had made it possible for him to receive a top-notch Catholic education.
Tort is currently the chairman of the academy’s board of trustees, which is comprised of 15 lay people and five Lasallian brothers. Over the years, Tort said he carefully picked the board’s lay representatives.
“People see how we really enjoy being with each other while we’re helping CBA, and they want to be part of it,” said Tort, who founded the school’s alumni association and called hundreds of alumni to get them re-engaged in the school.
Leading from the front
Under Tort’s leadership, millions of dollars have been raised for scholarships as well as $10 million for the CBA capital campaign. Asked how he energized his fellow alumni, Tort said he “leads from the front.”
“I believe positive energy is infectious,” he said. “People love being associated with a winning organization, and you convince people that they will feel very good helping this institution.”
Tort looks to keep the CBA’s recent alumni engaged with their alma mater. In their freshman year at college, Tort said the school sends them a care package containing a box of “Dolly’s Cookies,” baked by a longtime popular cafeteria worker in the school.
“It revives their positive experiences and memory of CBA,” Tort said.
The school’s traditions, academic excellence — CBA recently received a National Blue Ribbon for its students’ achievements — as well as its inclusive environment and religious formation continue to make the academy a desired place for Catholic families. Meanwhile, Tort said he plans to retire this June after being with his firm for the past 38 years. He is looking forward especially to going on pilgrimage this summer and walking the Camino de Santiago in northwest Spain.
“That formation from my parents to the Christian Brothers Academy has carried me for 38 years,” Tort said. “And as I enter retirement, I look back and say, ‘What a great life.’”
Thriving Catholic school in Bible Belt
In the 18 years that Keith Kiser has been headmaster of St. Joseph’s Catholic School, its enrollment has grown to 680 students and the school has been recognized by the Catholic High School Honor Roll since 2004. St. Joseph’s — a college preparatory school for middle and high school students — was also recently recognized by the Cardinal Newman Society for its strong Catholic identity and academic achievement.
“This school is a grassroots effort by men and women who wanted a Catholic school here in the buckle of the Bible Belt,” said Kiser, who joined St. Joseph’s about seven years after its founding in 1993. He was previously the headmaster of a small Catholic school in Pittsburgh prior to joining St. Joseph’s.
“I got to witness, in my first month of work here, the bishop at the time recognizing and formally approving the school, which happened on the Feast of the Assumption on Aug. 15, 2000,” said Kiser, adding that the school “took off,” growing from 150 to 680 students over the ensuing years.
Kiser took an interesting road to arrive at a career in Catholic education. He grew up as a Presbyterian, and as a young married man he studied for two years at a Protestant seminary to become a minister. But those plans changed shortly after he met Scott Hahn in a Bible study in Pennsylvania. Hahn, the well-known Catholic theologian, who himself is a convert from Presbyterianism, helped Kiser and his wife enter the Catholic Church.
Youth ministry background, Blessed Sacrament in foreground
With a background and interest in youth ministry, Kiser joined a group of friends in forming a new Catholic school in Pittsburgh, where he became the headmaster before joining St. Joseph’s. On forming his current school’s Catholic culture, Kiser said he “prayed a lot” and spent time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
“What was fundamentally important to me was hiring men and women who loved Christ, who had missionary zeal and wanted to see their kids fall in love with Jesus through His church,” Kiser said.
St. Joseph’s has an active campus ministry program, offers retreats, has a full-time chaplain who is available every day to celebrate Mass and hear confessions, and has Mass once a week for the entire school community.
Lifetime mentors who live the faith
“It’s crucial that we teach the truths of the faith,” Kiser said. “But I think for kids to be interested, they need to see men and women who attractively live and love the faith, so that our teachers are not only teaching faith and morals, but they are also happy and in relationship with Christ.”
As St. Joseph’s looks ahead to the 25th anniversary of its founding this year, Kiser said he takes joy in welcoming the school’s alumni and seeing his current students grow and discover their vocations in life.
“The school is here not to just prepare kids for college,” Kiser said, “but hopefully to prepare them for a life of mission, because we know that’s how they’ll find fulfillment, in walking with Christ and making a difference with him through their lives.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.