10 years with Tom Monaghan
Jim Berlucchi served as Legatus’ executive director under Monaghan for 10 years . . .
I had the happy opportunity to report to Tom Monaghan for 10 years as Legatus’ executive director. For the prior 15 years I had directed faith-based educational and evangelization programs. Now I found myself enrolled in the Monaghan Graduate School of Entrepreneurial Studies for the Kingdom of God.
I learned a great deal from Tom and admire his many good qualities: creativity, vision, discipline, generosity, tenacity, focus. But the first that stands out in my mind isn’t particularly popular. In the modern mind it’s dismissed as kind of quaint, simple-minded and unsophisticated: The fear of the Lord.
It may be old fashioned, but you don’t want to leave home without it. One of seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, it’s essential for knowing two realities — who God is and who we are. That’s why it’s called the beginning of wisdom, for without it we are consigned to a dark and nagging stupidity and unrealism.
Tom suffers from neither of these conditions. The foundation of his wisdom, vision and lifestyle is a profound knowing of the truth about God — “the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect who made all things and keeps them all in existence” (Baltimore Catechism, 1.1). Tom never doubted that. He has grounded his being in the fear of the Lord — not the servile fear of a hired hand, but the filial reverence of a son for his father.
This reverence and sense of indebtedness is reflected in Tom’s very deliberate lifestyle. The practices of prayer and spiritual reading, daily Mass, rosaries, fasts, abstinences, and even a rich man’s vow of poverty bespeak a friendship. “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him” (Ps 25:14).
I found it to be the case that when Tom learned of a practice recommended by the Church, he embraced it with gusto. The praying of the Liturgy of the Hours is one example. It’s a complicated sequence but Tom jumped in with both feet, instituting the practice with his office staff. Never mind that they prayed both morning and evening prayer in one fell swoop. The right adjustments would come later. The important thing was to begin, for “the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life” (Prov 14:27).
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence” (Prov 14:26). What could impart more confidence than knowing that one is a child of an infinitely powerful God? I’ve noticed that Tom weathers storms with remarkable equanimity. His public pro-life initiatives brooked him no favor with the pro-abortion National Organization of Women back in 1989.
It had a domino effect indeed. With the boycott hammering sales, angry franchisees besieged Tom to back off his pro-life stance. Under duress, he was struck by a deeply reassuring insight. If Domino’s were to go down, at least it would be “for a damn good reason.” In that instant he was filled with peace, a major benefit of the fear of the Lord. “Great peace have those who love your law” (Ps 119:165).
Tom didn’t compromise his pro-life conviction, and he and Domino’s (plus one other major party) conquered the NOW boycott. Fear of the Lord overcame fear of failure. “Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient for in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation” (Sir 2:4-5).
The fear of the Lord tends to fuel zeal for righteousness. Tom has always made every effort to make Confession available at Legatus meetings. I remember an early Legatus event at Domino’s Farms. Many priests were to attend, so Tom seized the opportunity. He had a bunch of temporary confessionals built. The brisk and happy sacramental activity that night was a sight to behold.
That brings me to a second unmistakable quality about Tom. Humility is closely connected to the fear of the Lord — as the more one appreciates the grandeur of His majesty, the more he realizes his own lowliness. Pride has the opposite effect. “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you” (C.S. Lewis).
For all his accomplishments, Tom is unmistakably humble. In demeanor he is soft spoken and polite. In leading meetings he’s Socratic, asking more questions than giving direction. He is humble in self-disclosure, often quite spontaneously. I was initially surprised at this. He had a habit of citing a personal shortcoming or failure, sometimes very nonchalantly. I preferred to keep my shortcomings to myself.
We once brought a group of young chapter coordinators to our headquarters for training. Fresh out of college, they had no money and the barest of business attire. Tom gave a fine little talk about the importance of dress, from a quality suit to a first rate watch. But you could observe some disconnect as he spoke. This group couldn’t collectively afford a Hermes tie.
The next day Tom said to me: “I gave the wrong talk. It didn’t make sense for that group.” He was right and forthright.
I’m reminded of another incident that happened during my first year working with him. One night at a Legatus chapter meeting he made an off-handed comment/joke that inadvertently reflected badly on someone present. Minutes before the next meeting I handed him a note, suggesting that he might want to retract the comment. I was hesitant to do so, fearing he might take offense. At the end of the evening Tom stood up and apologized to the person and the group. They heartily applauded and I was impressed. My billionaire boss was also meek.
“My son, conduct your affairs with humility and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find mercy in the sight of God (Sir 3:17-18).
May the humble and God-fearing founder of Legatus enjoy considerable divine favor. Let’s face it. Tom is a wise investor. May he enjoy great dividends, for scripture as says: “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life” (Prov 22:4).
Jim Berlucchi is the president of the Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership. He served as Legatus’ executive director from 1992-2001.