Tag Archives: Brian Fraga

NYC chaplain shepherds Legates and hosts popes

Monsignor Robert T. Ritchie had spent almost 40 years as a pastor for poor parishes in the Bronx and Harlem when Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the late archbishop of New York, appointed him in 2006 to be the rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the renowned house of worship in Midtown Manhattan.

Monsignor Robert T. Ritchie

Monsignor Robert T. Ritchie

In his nine years as rector, Monsignor Ritchie has hosted two papal visits to the cathedral: Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 and Pope Francis on Sept. 24. Monsignor Ritchie has also overseen a four-year, $177-million restoration that has the cathedral looking as majestic as ever in its 136-year history. Monsignor Ritchie spoke to Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.

How did things go with Pope Francis’ visit?

It went as smooth as glass. It was very complicated, but everything worked together really well. We had a full cathedral. We had people in the right seats, I think. When the Pope arrived, everybody went crazy; exuberant is the way he described it. (Click here for full coverage of the Papal Visit.)

How did Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2008 prepare you for Pope Francis’ visit?

Pretty much all the prep work was almost the same in trying to figure out tickets for people to be seated, figuring out the security aspects, things like that. There were a lot of things that we had done before, so we knew how to do it, and it was easier to put together this time.

What are your duties as rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral?

The rector in a Catholic church is different from rectors in other churches. The rector of the cathedral is basically the pastor of the cathedral, but technically the cardinal is the pastor. The rector takes the cardinal’s duties as pastor and runs the cathedral for him.

How was the decision made to renovate St. Patrick’s Cathedral?

The whole project began in 2006 when we discovered that there was a problem with falling stones from the front of the cathedral on Fifth Avenue and on the sides. Immediately we put up protective scaffolding.

Then it took about three years to do an intense study of the inside and the outside to see what had to be done, what could be done to bring the place back to a safe condition, then back to a beautiful condition. The intense work really didn’t begin until 2011-2012.

How did you get most of the renovations finished in time for Pope Francis’ visit?

We had scheduled to finish the restoration work you can see by December. But when we found out he was coming in September, we asked the construction people and the architects if we could speed things up a bit — and they did. I think the cathedral looks much like it did when it first opened in 1879, maybe even more beautiful.

When did you discern that God had called you to the priesthood?

We have a family tradition that says when I was five years old, I told my mother’s cousin that I wanted to be a priest when she asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. There has never been a time when I wanted to do anything other than to be a priest.

What value do you see Legatus having for the Church?

A number of my friends have been connected with Legatus. We do religious activities like Mass, dinner, retreats at different times, for the members’ spiritual growth. Also, Legatus gives the people who are in charge of companies an understanding of the Church’s teachings about morality, about ethics, about business, important things like that.

BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

From Africa with love

Milwaukee Legate Chris Hoar’s mission of mercy aids poverty-stricken children

In an African village, Christopher Hoar asked 38 girls in a Catholic secondary school classroom why they thought families in the United States would sponsor them financially.


Milwaukee Legate Chris Hoar founded Caritas for Children in 1998

The girls told Hoar that the American families, whom they had never met, proBaBly wanted them to have a Better life and Be educated. But none of the students could say what would motivate people living tens of thousands of miles away to sponsor them

A silence fell over the girls when Hoar told them the answer.

“Because they love you,” said Hoar, president and founder of Caritas for Children, a Milwaukee-Based nonprofit that is also the only Catholic child-sponsorship organization in the United States.

New Evangelization in action

That scene captured an essential truth about the bonds that develop between Caritas’ sponsoring families and the young children in Africa, Poland and Latin America who rely on the financial support to receive an education and have their basic needs met, with the hopes of fulfilling their human potential.

“The families really do fall in love with the children,” said Hoar, 63, a member of Legatus’ Milwaukee Chapter. “They’re realizing what it means to love one another, what it means to love my neighbor, to reach out to somebody else. It really is a spiritual encounter to do this.”

Hoar founded Caritas for Children in 1998, shortly after he and his wife adopted two children from an orphanage in Częstochowa, Poland. Hoar originally established Caritas as a resource to help Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago to facilitate international adoptions from Poland.


Chris Hoar poses with ministry partners in Uganda in July 2015

But Hoar saw an opportunity to do more, so Caritas for Children expanded into a child-sponsorship program that today supports children in Poland, as well as several locations in Africa, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Caritas for Children today is engaged in several other initiatives that include outreach programs for young adults and students, mission trips to Caritas locations in countries like Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria, as well as support programs for religious congregations that partner with Caritas to assist the children in their local communities.

A connecting thread through Caritas’ activities is the New Evangelization, which Hoar says invites all to discover the joy of believing, serving and encountering Jesus Christ in one another.

“We didn’t start off thinking that way,” Hoar explained. “We discovered it as a result of the people coming to us who had sponsored children saying things like, ‘Chris, I thought this would be helpful for the child’ and ‘I just didn’t realize how good it would be for me, how much I get out of it.’

“I think we’re getting people to come in, listen and understand the Gospel message in a new way that binds people together in a very special way.”

Spiritual bonds

Bishop Donald Hying

Bishop Donald Hying

Bishop Donald J. Hying of Gary, Ind. — a former auxiliary bishop in Milwaukee who has known Hoar for about six years — said Caritas makes a “substantial impact” in helping Catholic organizations in developing countries provide children with food, clothing, shelter, education and hope for a better future.

Bishop Hying also said that Hoar knows the value of cultivating strong relationships and bonds of friendship between sponsors, religious communities and children.

“He’s helping people to see the overall spiritual mission of Caritas so that it’s more than simply providing material aid, but really a way of living out the faith, a way of evangelization, a way of spreading God’s life and love in the world,” Bishop Hying explained.

Father Richard J. LoBianco, Caritas’ director of Catholic Mission and the New Evangelization, said Caritas for Children focuses on connecting one child with one family at a time.

“It’s like sowing seeds that really grow into something greater in the Kingdom later,” Fr. LoBianco said. “We say our core mission is child sponsorship, but we see our mission as creating communities of Caritas where it all really connects together with Christ at the center.”

Father LoBianco describes Hoar as someone who knew early on that God had called him to do something with his life beyond making money.

On the business side, Hoar helps operate Caritas Vehicle Services, a division of Fleet Services, Inc., which maintains vehicle fleets belonging to religious communities. Caritas for Children, Fr. LoBianco said, enables Hoar “to live out his true passion, his vocation as a Christian.”

Walking with the poor

Father Richard LoBianco

Father Richard LoBianco

Hoar, who grew up Catholic, said his work with Caritas for Children and his experiences in the mission fields have deepened his own faith life. The work, he said, has brought him closer to understanding the Gospel.

“I love to go to the mission field to see the kids,” Hoar said. “It’s amazing how it truly makes a difference in people’s lives. I think that’s what we’re all called to do here, one way or another.”

Hoar’s experiences with Caritas for Children have also helped give him deeper insights into the special way in which Christ identifies with the poor.

“Walking with the poor is one way, first of all, that you encounter Christ,” Hoar said, who quoted John 13:34 as the whole basis for Caritas’ ministry. In that passage, Christ tells his apostles: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love one another.”


Chris Hoar poses with children from Uganda in July 2015

Said Hoar: “Christ commanded us to love one another. In that regard, we get to understand what that really means — and the rewards from giving are far greater than from receiving.”

A Legatus member since 1999, Hoar said he attends most of the Milwaukee Chapter’s monthly events. Several of his fellow Legates have sponsored children through Caritas, he said.

“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of fine people through Legatus. When you find yourself surrounded in community with other like-minded people, it’s a great thing,” said Hoar, who added that Caritas for Children is poised for continued growth in its apostolate.

“God loves us,” he said. “He doesn’t ask much of us. All he wants us to do is love one another. And when we do that, the world is a better place.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

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Shepherding Legatus from Texas to British Columbia

In the 40 years of his priesthood, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, 69, has held a remarkable number of important positions in the Catholic Church. He was president of the University of St. Thomas in Houston and worked in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. In 2003, Pope St. John Paul II appointed him secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education and vice president of the Pontifical Work of Priestly Vocations.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB

Archbishop Miller has written several books — including The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools. He was instrumental in founding Canada’s second Legatus chapter, which is now in development. He spoke to Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.

How did you discern a call to the priesthood?

I grew up in the 1950s. At the end of elementary school, probably around the eighth grade, I sort of sensed that this is what the Lord wanted me to do in my life. There was no sudden light. There was no great conversion. I was 19 when I entered the seminary and religious life. When I hear the testimonies of young guys today, they tend to have far more interesting stories than mine.

What are the main challenges facing the Church in Canada?

One of the major challenges that seems to come to the fore all the time is the need to foster evangelization in the sense of bringing people to a personal encounter with and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Without a personal encounter with Jesus, people get disoriented, disillusioned and ultimately look upon the Church merely as an institution and not as a place of meeting Jesus. We experienced a great decline in the last 50 years, particularly in terms of participation at Mass. Although it’s leveled off, it’s probably half of what it was 50 years ago.

We also face a culture which is, particularly on the West Coast, fairly secular. Many people seem to pursue what they regard as “the good life” without much reference to God. They don’t seem to yearn for God, at least not very evidently, and that’s a huge problem.

We also have specific problems regarding the possible legalization of assisted suicide — as well as freedom of conscience and the narrowing of religious freedom’s meaning to being simply freedom of worship. That is sort of a privatized personal understanding that would exclude religion from the public square.

How important is Catholic education to the Church’s mission to evangelize?

It’s vital and crucial. It’s never been more important as an aid, as a help to parents, who are of course the primary and first educators of their children, but they need assistance. There’s no other place that can really match Catholic schools in the public realm as a place of preparation and dialogue between faith and culture.

You were a chaplain of Legatus’ Houston Chapter, correct?

Yes. My predecessor was the founding chaplain of the chapter. He saw it as crucial to helping the business community in their lives as Catholic professionals. I had come from Rome at that point and was not familiar with Legatus, but I quickly saw its value, and became the associate chaplain almost immediately. I liked the Houston Chapter very much.

What value do you see Legatus having in the life of the Church?

It seems to me that business leaders have a key role in the social, economic and political life of any community. Legatus helps them live out being Catholic precisely in their commitments as business leaders.

One can live a very pious life, but sometimes connecting it all can be difficult. Legatus provides a forum to help people tie these things together. It’s not always easy to be a Catholic professional. All kinds of difficult questions come up, and I have found Legatus to be a forum in which those issues are raised, discussed, reflected and prayed upon.

BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

Canada’s Pro-life Warrior

Legate Jim Hughes’ 40-year fight for human life shows no signs of slowing down

cover-oct15In the late 1970s, before he became the dean of Canda’s pro-life movement, Jim Hughes was a successful businessman who was almost skeptical when his wife told him that Canadian law allowed unborn children to be killed at anytime in the womb.

At the urging of his wife, Virginia, a registered nurse, Hughes attended a slideshow presentation put on by the local right to life association. What he learned shocked him.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” Hughes said. “I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me that they can kill babies right up until birth.'”

Uphill battles

That eye-opening introduction to the stark reality of abortion would lead Hughes in his early 40s to leave his business career and join the pro-life movement full-time. Almost 40 years later, Hughes, now 72, is now the president of the Campaign Life Coalition, Canada’s oldest and largest national pro-life organization.

Born and raised in Toronto, Hughes is a member of Legatus’ Toronto Chapter and vice president of International Right to Life Federation. To generations of young people, Hughes is the father of the country’s pro-life community.

John Henry Westen

John Henry Westen

“In Canada, he is the face of the pro-life movement. Jim Hughes is like the Joe Scheidler and John C. Willke of Canada all wrapped into one,” said John-Henry Westen, co-founder and editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews.com, an online pro-life news service initiated by Hughes’ Campaign Life Coalition.

Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, an Ohio-based pro-life organization, said she admires Hughes for his work ethic and dedication to the pro-life movement — especially given the uphill battles he has fought for decades north of the U.S. border.

“Many people think that Canada is just like the United States, but we have much more support than the pro-life movement has in Canada,” Hartshorn said. “Canada is much further down the path of secularism, relativism and the loss of religious liberty.”

Under Hughes’ leadership, the Canadian pro-life movement has been successful at spreading awareness of the sanctity of life, but the pro-abortion politics of the nation’s leading political parties and secularized culture have presented major obstacles.

In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada effectively struck down all restrictions on abortion when it threw out a 1969 law that first liberalized abortion laws in the country. The court said the law was not being applied equally. Canada became one of a small number of countries without a law restricting abortion, treating it like any other medical procedure and is still governed by provincial and medical regulations.

“That’s the situation we’re in today,” Hughes said.

There have been other recent setbacks. In February, Canada’s Supreme Court struck down the nation’s ban on assisted suicide. Five months later, Canadian health authorities approved the abortion drug RU-486, which will be sold under the name Mifegymiso.

The drug, developed in France, works by preventing the child just after conception from attaching itself to the wall of the womb for sustenance. It is supposed to starve to death within hours. A second drug induces labor to expel the remains. Numerous deaths and injuries have been attributed to the drug’s use.

If not for Hughes’ leadership, however, Canada would arguably be much further down the path of death-dealing policies. His Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) fought passage of the abortion pill for more than 20 years, organizing protests outside the French consulate in Toronto and threatening boycotts of all French products.

“We managed to keep them at bay for a long time,” Hughes said. “If it weren’t for the pro-life movement in Canada, our situation would have gone downhill so fast 25 or 30 years ago.”

Small victories


Jim Hughes protests abortion in the early 1980s

Despite setbacks, Hughes and the staff and volunteers at Campaign Life Coalition continue to rally Canadians around the life issues. In 1997, the organization helped start a March for Life in Ottawa that annually draws more than 25,000 people. CLC also has non-governmental organization status at the United Nations. It has sent representatives to U.N. conferences around the world to fight ongoing efforts to declare abortion to be an international human right.

In the late 1980s, Hughes helped establish the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus to invite pro-life parliamentarians from Canada’s three main political parties to come together and discuss pro-life legislation. Hughes and pro-life leaders have also worked hard to elect members of parliament who will advocate justice for the unborn.

“In fact, it was our pro-life members of parliament who went to the prime minister two years ago and demanded that abortion not be included in Canada’s program to assist in maternal health programs in Third World Countries,” Hughes said. “So abortion was not included in that.”

The respect for life battle, he said, is worth every moment of sweat and anguish because, in the end, it furthers the Lord’s plan for humanity.

“You know you’re doing God’s work and you continue to do it, although you don’t see the victories that you would have hoped for,” Hughes added. “The victory is really the changes in all the people who get involved.”

When feeling discouraged or frustrated — or finding himself critical of some Church leaders for their apparent lack of support, Hughes says he spends time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

“I ask Him to fill me back up again, and then off I go,” Hughes said. “I put everything into God’s hands every day and then I try to do my best.”

Moving forward


Jim Hughes poses with protesters at Canada’s annual March for Life

Despite Hughes’ tough-guy persona, Westen says at heart he’s a deeply spiritual individual.

“He sort of presents as a gruff kind of guy, but underneath that exterior is a very caring man who has amazing spiritual insights,” Westen said. “Which to me, it makes a lot of sense because, honestly, how else do you survive with what we’ve been living with these last 40 years?”

Hughes said the pro-life movement has turned him into a daily Mass-attending Catholic. He also credits Legatus with giving him invaluable support. In 2006, Legatus honored him with its Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award. The award carries special significance for Hughes, who knew the late Cardinal O’Connor well.

“He was very helpful to us here, so it was a great honor to be a recipient of that award,” said Hughes, who has served for many years on Legatus’ Pro-Life Awards Committee. Despite his busy schedule, he never misses a committee meeting.

Hartshorn, a member of Legatus’ Columbus Chapter who used to chair that committee, lauds Hughes’ work.

“He’s still very active in researching candidates and doing the actual work involved in nominating someone,” she said. “Jim never shies away from the hours that it takes to really be an active member of that committee.”

Despite the accolades, Hughes credits the “little giants” of the pro-life movement for making a real difference.

“They’re the fishermen, the farmers, the lumberjacks in the villages and small towns across the country,” he said. “All those people, their steadfastness and their faithfulness, form the backbone of the pro-life movement.”

Recounting an anecdote of a 14-year-old boy who formed a local Campaign Life group, Hughes says he’s hopeful for the future of Canada’s pro-life movement.

“The reality is that young people have taken this issue on and are working toward the goal of obliterating abortion in this country,” Hughes said. “And, God willing, they’ll live to see it happen!”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Learn more: campaignlifecoalition.com

John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award

Kathy DiFiore
Dr. Angela Lanfranchi
Wesley Smith

Jim Hughes, with his wife Virginia, receive the Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award from Tom Monaghan on Feb. 3, 2007

Jim Hughes, with his wife Virginia, receive the Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award from Tom Monaghan on Feb. 3, 2007

David Bereit
Reggie Littlejohn
Rita Marker
John Smeaton

Richard Doerflinger
Chuck Donovan
Michael Schwartz

Raymond L. Burke
Steve & Vivian Koob
Thomas S. Monaghan
Dan Zeidler

Alveda King
Sam & Gloria Lee
Monsignor Philip Reilly

George W. Bush
Kathleen Eaton
Cardinal Francis George
Johnny Hunter
Dinah Monahan

John Haas
Molly Kelly
Janet Morana

Chris & Joan Bell
Denise Cocciolone
Sisters of Life
Sr. Paula Vandegaer

Joan Byrum
Peggy Hartshorn
Thomas W. Hilgers
Jerry Horn
Bernard Nathanson

James Bopp Jr.
Fr. Tom Euteneuer
Karen Garnett
Magaly Llaguno
Barbara Lyons
Germaine Wensley

Theresa Burke
Mark Crutcher
Nellie Gray
Fr. Frank Pavone
Austin Ruse

Sal Bando
Bishop Victor Galeone
Sen. Rick Santorum
Joseph Scheidler
Phyllis Schlafly
John & Barbara Willke

Judie Brown
Sam Brownback
Greg Cunningham
Fr. Paul Marx
Colleen Parro
Deby Schlapprizzi

Rep. Henry Hyde

Turning a new page

Joseph Pearce is the director of the Aquinas Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn. An accomplished Catholic writer, Pearce has written several books, including biographies on J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton. A native of England who was involved in extremist politics as a young man, Pearce credits Chesterton’s writings for his conversion to the Catholic faith. Pearce is currently writing a biography on Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, Ave Maria University and Legatus. Pearce spoke with Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.

Joseph Pearce

Joseph Pearce

How is your biography on Tom Monaghan coming?

I’m halfway through the writing. I expect to have it finished by the end of this year and hopefully published by sometime next year. I’ve known Tom on one level for many years, but now I’m working on a much deeper level. I have been spending an awful lot of time with him, not just interviewing him personally, but looking at old newspaper copies, unpublished manuscripts, all sorts of things about Tom’s life from the beginning until today.

What have you been learning about him?

People know the facts of Tom’s life, but in many ways the truth is something that puts flesh on those bones. What I want to do is bring out the humanity of Tom — from his childhood, where he loses his father at a young age, and the years in the orphanage, the struggles, the poverty he suffered as a young man, the betrayal of trust with people when he was young, and how he never allowed that to harden his heart. Basically what we see is a journey of a soul, a soul that is growing in wisdom and understanding and love. And of course we have this conversion experience. Tom was a lifelong Catholic, but he read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity in the late 1980s, and that had a profound impact on his life.

What role did Chesterton’s writing play in your conversion?

One thing I do have in common with Tom is that our lives have been changed radically by reading these great Christian evangelists. With me, reading Chesterton initially opened my eyes to a sense of wonder, to a sense of gratitude to the sheer impossibility and beauty of the material cosmos in which we find ourselves.

How can literature play a role in the conversion of individuals and culture?

The power of story really can change lives, and change hearts and change minds, and that’s what literature does. Literature is using the power of story to open our eyes to the truths of the Gospel — at least that’s what it should do. The great works of Western civilization, certainly right up until the 20th century for the most part, were expressions of the goodness, truth and beauty of God.

How did you discover your talent for writing?

I’m reminded of the Gospel parable by Christ of the talents. There are many things I’m very bad at, but thanks be to God, He gave me the talent of writing. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, going back to my childhood. Even when I was in my bad place, I was editing magazines. I was using my writing — those talents God gave me — for evil and pernicious uses. But I think part of my own personal mission in life now is to undo the damage I did in my early life with the good that hopefully I’ve been doing now to evangelize the culture.


From fighter pilot to faith fighter

Fr. Scott Traynor

Fr. Scott Traynor

Growing up in Minnesota, Fr. Scott Traynor dreamed of becoming a Navy fighter pilot. He attended Iowa State University on a Navy ROTC scholarship and seemed destined for a military career until one summer, while volunteering at a Bible camp, he realized he had never asked God what His plan was for his life. Father Traynor, 43, went on to be ordained a priest of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., in 2000. Today, he serves as rector of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. He’s an author, retreat master, and spiritual director for priests, seminarians and lay people. He spoke to Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.

How did your love for Jesus Christ and His Church begin?

In my sophomore year in college, I started dating a very devout Catholic girl. I also met other Christians who were involved in their faith. I was really drawn to their joy. I started reading scripture and taking a little time each day to pray, to take time to talk to God about my day.

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I ended up volunteering at a Young Life Bible Camp in Detroit Lakes, Minn. I woke up on one morning and I had three things on my mind. The first was: God has a plan for my life. The second was: That plan is how I’m going to be the happiest in my life. And the third was: I’ve never bothered to ask God what His plan was for my life. I was very convinced of these truths.

How did you discern a call to the priesthood?

I spent a year doing missionary work with National Evangelization Team Ministries. I stayed with many amazing Catholic host families as we were traveling. I found myself one day asking God to raise up outstanding priests for these wonderful families — and I clearly heard in my heart the Lord say, “I want you to be my priest.”

My first reaction was: “That’s not something I want to do.” I had an aversion to it, but I just told God, “If you want me to be a priest, give me the desire, and I’m there.” I just kept praying that way and God changed my heart. He gave me a very strong desire to pursue the priesthood.

How did you come to be affiliated with Legatus?

My first personal encounter was when I was invited to speak to the Twin Cities Chapter. I really enjoyed doing that and learning more about the organization. Then when I came to Denver to be the rector of the seminary, my predecessor had been the chaplain of the Denver Chapter, and the archdiocese thought it would be best to have me take over as chaplain and continue that great relationship between the seminary and Legatus.

What value do you think Legatus has in the life of the Church?

Legatus members are very successful businesspeople who desire within their vocations and their business lives to live out their Catholic faith seriously. What I love about Legatus is that gives its members an opportunity to be together and be formed — and to help each other live out their faith more deeply. As I get to know the members more, and hear their stories, it’s very inspiring to see how God has worked in their lives.

What is something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

I was born to an unwed college student. My birth mom placed me for adoption at birth. My mom and dad adopted me and two other children. Because of that, I have a great love for Catholic Charities and the great work they do in adoptions.

BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

Success in the city

Milwaukee Legate Zeus Rodriguez expands educational opportunities for Hispanic children

Zeus Rodriguez

Zeus Rodriguez

Zeus Rodriguez may have taken the most unconventional path ever into education.

The former certified surgical assistant ran a staffing agency that supplied temporary registered nurses to hospitals in Wisconsin. He then helped form a non-profit — Hispanics for School Choice — to advocate on behalf of Latino families who wanted more educational options for their children.

Inner-city success

In 2011, Rodriguez accepted an offer to become president of St. Anthony School in Milwaukee, the largest K-12 Catholic school in the nation, despite not having previously worked in education.

“I had a lot of doubt in the beginning. My wife kept telling me, ‘You should do it,’ and I was laughing at her,” said Rodriguez, 40, a member of Legatus’ Milwaukee Chapter.

He had been working with the parish priest at St. Anthony Church to find a new school president when the priest and Rodriguez decided that he would assume the position.

He never looked back.

During Rodriguez’s four years as president, St. Anthony School’s enrollment grew by more than 33% to over 2,000 students. Many low- and middle-income families took advantage of Milwaukee’s voucher program to send their children to the school.

Situated in a heavily Hispanic area of the city, St. Anthony School expanded to include a full high school, a multilingual program, preschool and daycare services, and a new school governing board, among other improvements.

Rodriguez and his wife Dana also founded the Padre Pio Clinic, an onsite pediatric clinic at the school. Dana Rodriguez serves as the director of the clinic, which was Wisconsin’s first independent school/faith-based health care center.

In many ways, St. Anthony School became a true “community school.”

“I am in no way suggesting that someone else couldn’t have done as good a job or even better than I did,” said Rodriguez, who resigned from St. Anthony School on April 1 to focus on expanding Hispanics for School Choice. “Looking back, we are very proud of our work, and I am sure I was the right person at the right time.”

Rodriguez said he plans on expanding Hispanics for School Choice to other parts of the country, including Texas where there continues to be a struggle for a school choice program. The Texas legislature recently considered legislation to create an educational tax credit system to provide scholarships for mostly low-income students to attend private and parochial schools, but it failed to pass. “We plan on helping Latino families in Texas obtain more educational options,” Rodriguez said.

Advocating for school-choice programs, whether in the form of vouchers or educational tax credits, is among Rodriguez’s key goals to help provide a quality education to disadvantaged children — especially young Latino Catholics who are increasingly becoming the face of the nation and the Catholic Church in the United States.

“The vast majority of Hispanics are traditionally and culturally Catholic,” Rodriguez said. “So I would say that education in the Catholic tradition is very important for the future success and cultural preservation of the Hispanic community as a whole. Not to mention, it’s absolutely critical to the future of the American Catholic Church.”

Expanding opportunity

Rachel Campos-Duffy

Rachel Campos-Duffy

Rodriguez said he is also planning to establish a network of faith-based schools rooted in Catholic tradition. People who know Rodriguez and his entrepreneurial spirit believe he will be successful in his endeavors to expand educational opportunities for children and their families.

“I think he understands that education is a human right, and that access to it is a fundamental right,” said Rachel Campos-Duffy, national spokesperson for The LIBRE Initiative, a nonprofit that educates and advocates for the economic empowerment of Hispanics through limited government, entrepreneurship and self-reliance.

Campos-Duffy, wife of Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), worked with Rodriguez to create more economic and educational opportunities for Latinos in their home state. She toured St. Anthony School three times while Rodriguez was its president, and she walked away impressed.

“What Zeus has done there is truly remarkable and should be commended,” Campos-Duffy said. “That’s how good the school is. That’s how awesome, faithful and authentic it is. Zeus and I believe that our Catholic schools are a gem. They’re the jewel we have as a Church.”

Campos-Duffy added: “We also have to understand that a Catholic education is one of the greatest evangelistic tools the Church has.”

Rodriguez, who is also the Milwaukee chapter president of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL), has the energy, passion and vision to accomplish his goals in education, said Diana Richardson Vela, CALL’s president and CEO.

“He shares his views in a very compelling way,” Vela said. “He doesn’t push people away. On the contrary, he makes them fall in love with his vision.”

Vela applauds Rodriguez’s efforts to make it easier for disadvantaged youths, especially Latinos, to attend quality Catholic schools.

“We believe that Catholic education is the best gift that any student and family can have,” Vela said.

Spiritual journey

Rodriguez, who grew up in Arizona, said he can relate to many of the kids he’s trying to help attend better schools.

“I grew up in a single-parent household with a single mom for most of the time — growing up in a bad part of town, around drugs and gangs” Rodriguez said. “For me, it’s not that I’m trying to give back to the community. It’s that I identify with a lot of the struggles that are going on.”

Rodriguez also grew up nominally Christian until he joined the Family Pentecostal Church in Wisconsin at age 17. Rodriguez described himself as a “fervent reader” of scripture who debated anyone who would listen — especially Catholics.

“At that point in my life, I sincerely thought all Catholics were going to hell,” Rodriguez said.

But after meeting his best friend and future Godfather, Mike Bubon, a numerary of Opus Dei and the director of the Layton Study Center in Milwaukee, Rodriguez would embark on a spiritual journey, studying the Church Fathers and the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II, which ultimately led Rodriguez to enter the Catholic Church in 2007.

“I was touched by God’s grace and He opened up my eyes to the truth I’d been fighting for many years,” said Rodriguez, who joined Legatus’ Milwaukee Chapter last year.

Rodriguez said he and his wife of 10 years, Dana, a nurse practitioner with a PhD, enjoy joining their fellow Legates for edification and fun.

“Being in Legatus helps people who are busy to have that work-life balance,” Rodriguez said. “You need to take time to stop and breathe, edify yourself in the faith with others who believe the same.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Mission of faith

…Providence Legates experience supernatural spiritual growth in Dominican Republic

“Habemus Papam!” a woman yelled excitedly as she ran down a dirt road in a village outside Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

Father Marcel Taillon and his friends gathered around a television set like billions around the world who watched live on March 13, 2013, as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio emerged for the first time as Pope Francis on a St. Peter’s Basilica balcony.

However, Fr. Taillon, chaplain of Legatus’ Providence Chapter, was far from his comfortable home parish in Rhode Island. He and a group of parishioners who had traveled to the Dominican Republic for mission work sat alongside several local people, most of them poor, in a makeshift home with an open roof as they watched the new pope on a television with a simple wire antenna. Together, they prayed for the new pontiff.

“It was very moving,” said Fr. Taillon. “I’ll never forget that. It was such a great grace for us. We all felt so bonded to the people and to each other.”

Seeing Jesus

Fr. Marcel Taillon holds a newly baptized baby during a mission trip to the Dominican Republic

Fr. Marcel Taillon holds a newly baptized baby during a mission trip to the Dominican Republic

For the sixth consecutive year, Fr. Taillon, pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Narragansett, led a team of more than 20 teen and adult missionaries to the Dominican Republic in April to work for a week at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage for severely disabled children. Many Legates have also taken part in the annual mission.

“If you look into the eyes of these kids, you see Jesus Christ,” said Dr. Richard K. Ohnmacht, a member of Legatus’ Providence Chapter who is also a pediatrician and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University in Providence.

Ohnmacht, the only pediatrician that many of the orphans will ever see, has coordinated free medical clinics in the village’s Catholic parish. Last year, he helped a young father who lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident to obtain a prosthetic and return to work to support his family.

“I’m moved by the goodness of people and how they are willing to help,” Ohnmacht said. “The kids are literally angels. They are without sin. Even though they may not be communicating with us, each of them has something very special.”

The orphanage is part of Mustard Seed Communities, a Catholic non-profit organization that operates facilities in Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Zimbabwe for children with serious physical and mental disabilities such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. The apostolate seeks to create loving and caring environments to aid the children’s physical, mental and spiritual development.

“Mustard Seed treats the kids so well,” Fr. Taillon said. “A lot of the kids have a tough history that would make people really sad if they knew some of their stories. But they’re treated with great love and care. It’s really a profound experience of the Christian life.”

Father Taillon said he became involved in mission work after being challenged by a fellow diocesan priest who was involved with a different missionary organization. Hesitant at first, Fr. Taillon assembled a team and discovered that missionary work in the Dominican Republic, while demanding, is personally and spiritually rewarding for everyone involved.

“We’ve really adopted this orphanage and the surrounding Catholic community as well in the village when we go,” said Fr. Taillon, whose parish has donated the Stations of the Cross, a crucifix and other supplies to the local church.

“Fr. Taillon is a very generous person and his parish is very generous,” Ohnmacht said.

Father Taillon has also baptized 33 of the disabled orphans since the village lacks a priest. During this year’s trip, he baptized 13 new orphans. The teens and adults of St. Thomas More Church served as Godparents.

Said Fr. Taillon: “It’s great because we’re able to bring the sacraments to them. One of the big things for our parish is the sacramental bond with the kids.”

Spiritual wealth

Dr. Richard K. Ohnmacht, a member of Legatus’ Providence Chapter, holds a boy at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage

Dr. Richard K. Ohnmacht, a member of Legatus’ Providence Chapter, holds a boy at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage

Inside the local parish, Immaculate Conception Church, the missionary team also sets up a medical clinic for Ohnmacht (who has made the trip several times) and other physicians to examine villagers. The medical team has provided medicine, vitamins, nebulizers, orthopedic equipment and other medical supplies.

“The first year I went, I basically saw all of the kids,” Ohnmacht said. “They had some health care available to them, so we tried to supplement that with whatever we could — either some medicines or offering orthopedic devices and things like that.

“Virtually every child in the orphanage has some degree of cerebral palsy,” Ohnmacht added. “The vast majority of them are non-ambulatory. A few are able to get around, but without much speed and with a lot of help. All the kids have some mental and developmental issues.”

Ohnmacht and the missionaries have also operated medical clinics in a local school adjacent to a garbage dump. The school — part of the Christ in the Garbage Ministries — educates many of the poor

Haitian and Dominican children who scavenge through the trash. Many of them live in small houses next to the dump.

“On a personal level, you see the goodness in these people. They don’t have a lot of material wealth, but they do have a lot in terms of just their faith,” said Ohnmacht, who also praised the orphanage’s staff for their care, compassion and willingness to improve conditions for the children.

“They work all hours. They don’t complain. They work very hard,” Ohnmacht said. “They certainly don’t have the surgery and the hospitals that we have here, but these kids are extremely well cared for, and that’s such a tribute to the people who work there.”

Dr. Richard Ohnmacht, holds a child at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage in the Dominican Republic

Dr. Richard Ohnmacht, holds a child at the Hogar Immanuel Orphanage in the Dominican Republic

Ohnmacht added that about six or seven former and current members of the Providence Chapter have participated in the mission trip over the years. “Legatus really inspires us to work to better other people’s lives, and I think we’ve really grown spiritually together.”

Father Taillon added that being a Legatus chaplain inspires humility and gratitude for all that he has. “In America, we strive to be independent, and in a place like [the Dominican Republic], you strive to experience a Christian common life — both in prayer and in the way we share our lives together. They have a very spiritual Catholic Christian culture, and we try to bring that back with us.”

The youth who participate in the parish mission often return home with lasting impressions. Many become active in the parish and in college campus ministries.

“It’s a life-changer,” Fr. Taillon said. “First of all, they’re unplugged technologically. They’re not allowed to bring technology. It’s really a retreat as well as a mission trip. We do a lot of prayer and sharing together while we’re there. The Eucharist is the center of our day. We have daily Mass. We introduce the Liturgy of the Hours to them. The effect is really enormous.”

BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

Learn more:


Junipero Serra (1713-1784 AD)

Junipero Serra

Junipero Serra

Feast Day: July 1
Beatified: September 25, 1988
Canonized: September 23, 2015

Born Miguel Jose Serra on the Spanish island of Majorca, this future saint attended a Franciscan school where his intellectual abilities caught the attention of his teachers. In 1730, he entered the Franciscan order and took the name Junipero. Ordained in 1737, Serra taught philosophy and theology until he decided in 1749 to travel to the Americas and join his fellow

Franciscans at the missionary College of San Fernando in Mexico. Upon arriving at Vera Cruz, he walked more than 200 miles to Mexico City. On the journey, he suffered a mosquito bite that left one leg swollen. He suffered difficulty walking for the rest of his life. Beginning in 1769, Serra founded 21 missions in California from San Diego to San Francisco. He baptized and confirmed thousands of Native Americans and taught them European methods of agriculture, cattle, husbandry and crafts. He died at Monterey, Calif., at the age of 70.

Serra is the patron of Serra International, a group dedicated to promoting vocations. Serra’s statue, representing the state of California, is in the U.S. Capitol Building’s National Statuary Hall. Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988 and canonized by Pope Francis in 2015 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

Legatus is essential to the New Evangelization

Archsbishop Jose Gomez

Archbishop Jose Gomez, Ecclesiastical Advisor

In 2012, Archbishop Jose Gómez of Los Angeles became Legatus’ second ecclesiastical advisor, succeeding Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. Archbishop Gómez, a priest of Opus Dei, became LA’s fifth archbishop in 2011 and is the city’s first Hispanic archbishop. In September, he will be one of four delegates representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the Vatican’s Synod on the Family. The former auxiliary bishop in Denver and archbishop of San Antonio is a longtime Legatus supporter who has helped foster the growth of local chapters. He spoke with editorial assistant Brian Fraga on Legatus’ role in the New Evangelization and his hopes for the synod.

How has your experience been as Legatus’ ecclesiastical advisor?

It’s been wonderful for me because I have met many members of Legatus across the country, and it’s wonderful to see so many good committed Catholics who try to learn more about their faith and share the message of joy.

When did you first become acquainted with Legatus?

Probably since the beginning. I first met some members of Legatus when I was still in Houston, Texas, probably in the late 1990s. When I was appointed an auxiliary bishop in Denver, I was very happy to have met Legatus members. They welcomed me in and I participated in meetings.

We have many chapters here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. I am very happy to participate in their meetings. We just started a new chapter in Santa Barbara.

What is it about Legatus that drew your interest?

Sometimes it’s a challenge to put together your faith and work in your life as a businessperson. I think Legatus provides people with that connection between faith and business.

For me I think it’s important because I understand the importance of the sanctification of work, looking for God in your daily life. We occupy most of our time at work, so I think that Legatus is a good support for people in the business world.

What are your hopes for the synod? What will you say in your address to the synod?

It’s a blessing that Pope Francis decided to have a family focus as the theme of the synod because there are a lot of good things happening in marriage and the family. But the truth is also that marriage is in some kind of a crisis, just looking at the statistics and also the challenges young couples have — and everybody has — as they live in a society that’s becoming more and more secular.

My hope is that the synod will be an instrument to provide leadership for the Church and for society on the importance of marriage. From there, I hope we can find what it is that can strengthen the institution of marriage. I don’t know what I’m going to say, but I’m working on it.

When you became the ecclesiastical advisor, you said Legatus had a role in the New Evangelization by reframing the ethics of business. Do you still believe that?

I think Pope Francis is asking us all to recognize the reality that the global economy needs to be evangelized because it’s not just about finances. It’s about life, family, ecology and work — basic issues that belong to the human person — and the Catholic faith can illuminate those issues and kind of humanize and give them supernatural meaning.

Legatus is essential to the New Evangelization as we bring the teachings of Christ to the business world and to leadership in our society. Through Legatus the Church is making a big contribution to the life of our country through the witness of so many people in the business world and in every area of society.

BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.