The genesis of the world’s most influential Catholic business leaders’ organization . . .
In 1984, two important, successful and influential American business leaders, each at the pinnacle of his accomplishments, had a conversation that changed their lives. That encounter has now changed the lives of untold thousands, its repercussions felt as far away as the Vatican.
Bowie Kent Kuhn was in the final year of his tumultuous 15-year term as the fifth commissioner of Major League Baseball in the United States. The 58-year-old was preparing to leave the cauldron of the administrative side of the sporting world and return to the practice of law in New York. Kuhn, a devout Catholic, decided to attend a spiritual retreat in New York. Perhaps the quiet contemplation the retreat provided would chart the next chapters in his life.
Kuhn invited a good friend to come along with him on the retreat. Thomas Stephen Monaghan, founder and CEO of the phenomenally successful Domino’s Pizza, was also quickly approaching a turning point in his life. He had accumulated an impressive array of life’s trophies, the result of his hard work ethic and shrewd successes in the international pizza arena. One of the 47-year-old Monaghan’s prized trophies was his beloved Detroit Tigers, who wound up at the top of the baseball world in 1984, proud stewards of the title “World Series Champions.” Like Kuhn, Monaghan was also a devout Catholic and found the invitation for several days of spiritual nourishment to be well timed.
The retreat was attended by a good number of chief executive officers. That fact impressed Monaghan and its impact stayed with him long after the retreat was over. The New York retreat led to more retreats for Monaghan, slowly opening up and defining a dimension in his life that he had not paid rigorous attention to in the years preceding. Following the seemingly unremarkable retreat, Kuhn moved on to his law practice and the two men remained close personal and professional friends.
But Monaghan had a number of mountains still to climb. Active in the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Monaghan valued the camaraderie of heads of businesses sharing educational growth experiences in a forum of peers. YPO provided non-confrontational information sharing where business issues could be discussed, solutions to problems offered and answers to leadership issues provided in a confidential environment.
In 1987, Monaghan was a respected member of YPO and was invited to be a guest speaker at a YPO “University” convocation to be held in Venice, Italy. Monaghan had recently celebrated his 50th birthday, the point at which YPO members “graduate” out of the organization, and he looked upon the event with some regret given his appreciation for the YPO.
The first Legatus Mass, summer 1987
Over the years, primarily through his philanthropic endeavors, Monaghan had become friends with Archbishop Edmund Szoka of Detroit. When Szoka heard that Monaghan was on his way to Italy, he asked Monaghan if he would like to attend Mass in Pope John Paul II’s private chapel at the Vatican.
“Pope John Paul II was my Number One hero and I jumped at the chance!” Monaghan wrote later, describing the event that so changed his life and the lives of others in 1987. Monaghan says that during the Mass with the Pope and continuing afterwards, an idea popped into his head.
“It occurred to me that there ought to be an organization like YPO for Catholics but without an age limit,” he wrote. The self-help and sharing nature of YPO would bring benefits to CEOs of corporations and organizations regardless of age. But there was a bigger, more encompassing component that Monaghan saw as a potential draw. The members of this new organization would find the spiritual nourishment of a kind and quality that Monaghan had experienced in his New York retreat with Kuhn three years before.
“I knew that it was right and I had to do it,” Monaghan says with obvious enthusiasm. “It was all that I thought about for the next month or so.” During his visit to Venice, where he addressed YPO, Monaghan was busy making notes and developing a model for this new, as-yet unnamed organization for Catholic CEOs. He proposed a structure whereby members would meet monthly with an agenda that included Mass. The speakers would be of sufficient quality to attract CEOs and the topics would be of interest to a Catholic audience.
It was imaginative. Catholic CEOs often complain about lack of time to attend to spiritual matters and the dedicated practice of strengthening their faith. This new organization would afford them the opportunity to partake of the Eucharist together.
In another moment of genius, Monaghan also added the proviso that the meetings — and membership in the proposed organization — would include spouses who were encouraged to attend and take an active role in a partnership that would see a sacred reinforcement of traditional values in an atmosphere of spirituality. It seemed to be a winner from the starting gate.
Also appealing to Monaghan, as a segment of YPO he felt would be especially valuable to his Catholic members, was the idea of an annual conference. Ongoing workshops, retreats and seminars would round out the information-sharing components.
There was yet more in the imaginative mix. Regular pilgrimages would also be part of the new organization, featuring traditional religious shrine destinations, including Fatima and Lourdes.
Monaghan also shrewdly realized that the people he was targeting were already successful men and women at the top of their fields and their own business organizations, so their time commitment and personal energy would be limited. As a result, he made it clear from the outset that Legatus was not to be a fundraising organization with gala events geared to raise money for special projects.
Legatus would be a Catholic organization for CEOs in which they would share pertinent information while engaging in spiritual formation and camaraderie with men and women who shared the same values and faith traditions.
“When he came back from Rome, he called me and told me that he had a special visitation from the Holy Spirit,” says Tom Angott, a Michigan friend of Monaghan. “He said he wanted to do something big for the Church.” Angott would subsequently become one of the founding members of the organization Monaghan wanted to establish.
The matrix for the organization was clear, defined and obvious. But the true struggle in making it a reality was in bringing like-minded individuals along to share in the dream and build the passion for accomplishing what was admittedly a significant goal. If Tom Monaghan did not convince enough leaders of the organization’s value, it would have remained a wonderfully imaginative idea and nothing more. History is littered with brilliant ideas that were stillborn. Legatus was to be something more. Much more.
This article is an abridged version of the beginning of “Legatus 1987-2012: Twenty-Five Years of Fidelity to the Catholic Church.” Order your copy by clicking here.