When God’s calling becomes your mainstay
DAVID R. FIELDS: SEEING CHRIST IN OTHERS
David R. Fields is a “cradle Catholic” who always had a sense of service. When he found his budding career as a schoolteacher wasn’t providing enough to support his growing household, he took a job with Xerox — more lucrative, but less satisfying.
“I had this itch while working at Xerox to help people. So what could I do?” he recalled. “I had a calling — as a Vincentian.”
While attending a Lenten soup supper at his parish, St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Altadena, CA, Fields was invited to a meeting of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, whose members seek to grow spiritually by offering personto-person service to the needy and suffering in whom they “see the face of Christ.”
He accepted, and was hooked. “My sense of giving back was satisfied by volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul,” he said. “It kept me grounded in my Catholic faith.”
As he climbed the corporate ladder to senior management positions at Xerox over 25 years and later at a construction management firm, Fields also ascended through leadership positions in the Society. In 2010, he joined St. Vincent de Paul of Los Angeles (SVdPLA) as fulltime executive director, overseeing 145 parish-based Conferences of Charity, two thrift stores, and a variety of programs assisting the poor and disadvantaged.
It was all by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he said.
“Being a Vincentian is a vocation – not a job,” said Fields. “It’s the most rewarding opportunity I’ve had in my life. My life as a cradle Catholic through a solid Catholic education prepared me to accept this calling.”
That’s not to say the transition from the private sector to a thriving nonprofit environment was easy. ”It was the biggest challenge of my life,” he admitted.
“I was prepared, given my business background and volunteering experiences,” he said. “I told my wife when I first started that things would eventually level off. That will never happen. If it does, then I’m not fulfilling my mission.”
The most difficult aspect, he noted, is to weigh between making the “business decision” on matters like budgets and personnel issues or the “Vincentian decision.” And whereas once his focus was on keeping corporate stockholders happy, “my current stockholders are the poor and disadvantaged,” he explained. “What other way is there to satisfy the will of Jesus?”
Fields has found that following the Gospel mandate to serve others enriches his own faith. “I am deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition every day. Not many lay people have this opportunity,” he said.
That strengthening of his Catholic faith through his work “definitely spills over into my personal life,” he said. “I now have a higher calling that demands increased faith, integrity, and diligence.”
He became familiar with Legatus several years ago after SVdPLA’s public relations director arranged for him to speak at a Pasadena Chapter meeting. Fields and his wife Eleanor were touched by the faith, sincerity, and inclusion of Legatus and eventually became Pasadena Chapter legates themselves.
“At Legatus, I am surrounded by an array of motivated and inspired Catholic role models,” Fields said. “It is an environment that is nurturing and faith filled. It definitely juices up the Catholic engine.”
He encourages all legates to volunteer at their local parishes.
“It’s not enough to just attend Mass on Sunday and read the Bible daily,” he said. “Our goal is to be breathing and living Catholics extending ourselves into our local parishes and communities.The need is great.”
JOHN ABBATE: SANCTIFYING WORK
It only seems natural that John Abbate is a McDonald’s franchisee: his father opened a McDonald’s in Merced, CA in 1969, and John and his brother Jim practically grew up in the store, helping out by cleaning the underside of tables and picking up cigarette butts from the parking lot.
As John matured, he initially wasn’t interested in owning a McDonald’s. While he was earning his MBA at the University of Notre Dame, however, the brothers talked and decided to partner up in the family business. They now own more than two dozen restaurants in California’s Central Valley and manage some 1,500 employees.
Raised in a solid, close-knit Catholic family, Abbate’s faith was always important to him. As an adult, however, he could not quite come to grips with how his faith related to his work. Having married his college sweetheart, Kaaren, he plunged headlong into developing and expanding the family enterprise. Meanwhile, the young couple suffered immense stress over infertility issues and attempts to adopt. They finally were able to bear a child and then adopt two more, but for Abbate that healthy work-family balance just wasn’t there.
“My problem was that my ambition just took over,” Abbate admitted on the EWTN program Force for Good earlier this year. “I had this goal, and it was driving this business. So ultimately it got to the point where it really started to affect our marriage and our relationship.”
Kaaren “was finding it very difficult to live with my work attitude, focus, and priorities,” Abbate writes in his book, Invest Yourself: Daring to be a Catholic in Today’s Business World, released this year by Beacon Publishing. Emotionally exhausted and adrift, they decided to attend a Catholic conference together. After a presentation on Medjugorje, the site of alleged Marian apparitions, John felt “an internal tug” to make a pilgrimage there. The next year, in 2006, he did just that — and returned with a whole new outlook.
“It was a week in prayer, a week in solitude. There was nothing about work there,” he said of his pilgrimage. “It really allowed me to refocus on what I wanted out of life.” He began to dedicate himself to improving his work-family balance.
That same year, he read two books that had a profound impact on his perspectives. Scott Hahn’s Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace encouraged him to “understand that work must be integrated into one’s spiritual life, as another opportunity to serve God and his kingdom. “That opened my eyes to how I could still be this really great employer, executive, and talented business person, but do it in a way that was sanctifying my work as one more extension of my faith.”
He also was inspired by Matthew Kelly’s The Dream Manager, a business parable about a service-industry employer making a difference in his employees’ lives by helping them overcome the daily problems that represent hurdles to their dreams.
“I live in a community that faces a multitude of social and economic issues that manifest themselves in the workplace,” Abbate said. “I could fundamentally relate to the storyline, people, and problems this company faces.”
He resolved to take greater interest in the lives and well-being of his employees and to focus on building relationships. He developed a business philosophy for building self-worth among his employees, affirming their talents, and allowing them to put their families first — just as he’d learned to do.
“I realized that ultimately our purpose is about being a gift to others,” he said. “It’s not just about being a gift to ourselves and maximizing our own utility. As a Catholic business leader, I feel it’s part of my responsibility to bring hope into my business and employees’ lives,” Abatte writes in his book. Introduced to Legatus a decade ago by another McDonald’s owner, Abbate became an At-Large member for a number of years before finally joining the Santa Barbara Chapter. “I am a true believer in surrounding yourself with other individuals whose life example challenges you to actively live your faith in culture,” he said of Legatus. “Their strength of character and dedication to the Catholic faith always inspires me on my own spiritual journey.”
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.