Hearts aflame with selfless service
“God loves a cheerful giver,” writes St. Paul, and so “you will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor 9:8, 11).
Legates often are known for their generous spirits, expressing gratitude for God’s providence through philanthropy and volunteer service. The two Legate families profiled here certainly exemplify this virtue.
The O’Reillys: Lessons from Father
Frank O’Reilly is a builder – one might say a builder of big things. Through his commercial and residential construction firm, the Northern Virginia Legate has built magnificent churches and other Catholic structures throughout the Shenandoah Valley. With his wife of 35 years, Angélique, Frank has built an impressive family of 14 children. And through his spirit of generosity, he has built a striking reputation for philanthropic service to the Catholic Church.
One of seven children, Frank learned the virtue of generosity – and a whole lot more — from his father and mother, Sean and Anne O’Reilly, who emigrated from Ireland in the 1950s.
“My father really was the most profound influence on my life and in most ways is my touchstone for an authentic Christian life,” Frank said. “He taught me that my first vocation is to holiness; secondly, that I have a vocation to a state in life, to marriage, priesthood, religious life or the single life; and finally, that I have an ‘avocation,’ a way to make a living. That order is pretty important, and it puts my business at the service of the other two.”
Frank said he strives to maintain those priorities even though work demands sometimes invert the order.
His father, a medical doctor who did neurological research, “taught us the importance of giving,” he added. His philosophy was inspired by the Parable of the Widow’s Mite: To give from your surplus is justice, but to give from your own need is charity. “My mother says he often borrowed money in order to give it away,” said Frank.
Sean O’Reilly also was a co-founder of Christendom College in Front Royal, VA, and it was as a student there that Frank met Angélique, a fellow history major. After graduation, they married and settled near the college in a house that Frank, who was already dabbling in building homes, owned. Building and real estate was his avocation, he decided, and despite early struggles they persevered.
Children began arriving, and over the years Angélique homeschooled each of them. Among their eight sons and six daughters are eight college graduates, scholar athletes, Irish dance competitors at the national and world levels, and a cancer survivor. Five are Christendom graduates; three study there now. Four are wed, and a seventh grandchild is on the way.
‘Builders of Christendom’
Several Catholic structures O’Reilly built are in Front Royal. They include the headquarters of Human Life International and Seton Home School as well as his own parish church, St. John the Baptist. “Every Mass currently said inside the [Warren] county limits is in a building my company built,” he said.
Then there’s Christendom College, where O’Reilly’s firm, Petrine Construction, has headed building projects for 32 years.
“I began doing Christendom’s buildings in 1987 and have done all major construction projects on a ‘design build team approach’ since then,” Frank said.
Although he is “immensely proud” of his work for Christendom, Frank said he derives the most satisfaction from his many years of unpaid labor in planning the new chapel of Christ the King – which, ironically, will replace the chapel Petrine built for the campus in 1995. “The nave with its Gothic arch bay spacing, length, and wide side aisles has echoes of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney,” where his father was baptized in Ireland, he said.
Beyond building, the O’Reillys participated in Operation Rescue in the 1980s and co-founded the Front Royal Pregnancy Center, where each has served as board chair. “My company donated the original offices,” he recalled. “We would frequently stop to pray if we heard someone was coming in for counseling.”
The O’Reillys were honored when Dr. Warren Carroll, Christendom’s key founder, published his book The Building of Christendom and presented them a copy inscribed “To Frank and Angelique, the real builders of Christendom.”
“It was humbling, a very sweet play on words,” said Frank, “but over the years it really has become clear that is exactly what we are all called to be!”
The Murphys: Our Son, the Missionary
When their son Thomas announced that after graduating college he would commit to a couple years of volunteer campus ministry with Saint Paul’s Outreach, Jupiter (FL) Legates Terry and Mary Murphy were caught a little off guard.
“We were both surprised and a bit conflicted as to whether or not he should have sought his graduate degree first, but it’s hard to argue with someone who wants to spend their time saving souls,” said Mary. “And certainly, there is no shortage of college students who are in need of a supportive community that meets their spiritual needs and provides ample social fellowship.”
In fact, she added, it was their son’s own involvement with the Catholic Student Union at Florida State University that “really put him on the right track.”
Thomas readily admits that despite his solid Catholic upbringing he “left my faith back at home” when he entered FSU. He stopped going to Mass and indulged in drinking, playing video games, and binge-watching Netflix. “Toward the end of my freshman year, I wasn’t in a great place mentally, physically or spiritually, and I wasn’t happy,” he said. Wanting to make some changes, he joined FSU’s Catholic Student Union, a chapter of Saint Paul’s Outreach.
“Over time, this community absolutely changed my life,” Thomas said. “For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who strove to live lives of holiness, all while balancing the normal life and schedule of a college student. Throughout the process, my faith was reinvigorated.”
Deciding to give back, he took on leadership roles in the community that eventually led to his discernment to become a missionary with Saint Paul’s Outreach in order to help students on other campuses renew their own Catholic faith.
Raised to share blessings
In retrospect, the Murphys must take satisfaction in seeing the seeds they had planted bearing fruit.
“Through much hard work and many, many blessings we were fortunate to build a successful business,” said Terry Murphy, who along with Mary runs three companies they established in the marketing and communications arena, “and we wanted to make sure that our children developed a spirit of helping those less fortunate, knowing that hard work and earning money makes it possible to help other people in a significant way.”
They saw this message take root early when their young daughter, Kathryn, asked her friends for donations to a local animal rescue organization in lieu of birthday gifts, which started a recurring tradition of both children turning their annual parties into fundraisers. In eighth grade, Thomas took it upon himself to raise money for a scholarship to honor a beloved history teacher who had died unexpectedly; later, as one who played several instruments, he secured donated music books and partnered with a local nonprofit organization to offer free music lessons to children of families in crisis.
Thomas began his service with St. Paul’s Outreach this fall at Rutgers University, living in a household with another missionary and six male students. “My role in the house is simply to live a life of holiness, to foster a unified sense of brotherhood, and promote the students’ formation to Christian maturity,” he explained He also interacts with other men on campus, forming friendships that may lead them to increase in faith. “The individual men I meet and invest in motivate me to get out of bed in the morning,” Thomas said. “Their souls are worth fighting for!”
Thomas sees himself remaining a missionary “for a while,” but if he discerns a call away from this work he would likely return to school to pursue a graduate degree and a career in his major field of sports management. The Murphys support both his present mission and his future options.
“It has been both interesting and fulfilling to witness Thomas’ evolution into adulthood,” his father said. “We do hope that he returns to school to earn his MBA at some point within the next few years, but for now it is reassuring to know that he is living the Gospel as he prays about his future.”
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.