Tag Archives: COVID-19

Heroic leadership in a time of crisis

Guided by faith and experience, Legates prioritize taking care of business and people amid a languishing pandemic.

Crises are times for heroes, and during the COVID-19 pandemic it is often requiring heroic leadership on the part of executives to keep their businesses afloat and their employees secure while continuing to serve the public good.

Manny Montanez, Dr. Rudolph “Rudy” Moise, and Tony Sarsam are three Legates who have responded with judicious courage. Montanez and Moise drew in part from their military experience, while Sarsam continued to revitalize a company that was struggling financially even before the coronavirus struck.

Here are their stories.

COMBAT READY

Manny Montanez told his story of faith and combat in the July 2015 issue of Legatus Magazine, from his devout upbringing to the serious leg injuries he suffered in the Vietnam War courtesy of a strike from a rocket-propelled grenade.

“My faith has always been a major part of my life,” said the Orange Coast Legate and former Legatus West regional director. “Sometimes I’d wander, but I was always rooted in my faith.”

His war injuries left him with grim reminders in the form of constant pain and a limp these past 51 years. But his ability to work and succeed despite difficulties no doubt empowered him to handle unanticipated obstacles to running a business — like in a pandemic. 

As CEO and president of his Irvine, California-based general contracting business, EG Montanez Construction, Inc., Montanez made some timely adjustments to keep his projects progressing while safeguarding the well-being of his employees.

There was initial disruption, as they were nearing the final stages of a project in San Bernardino and anticipating a new project in Los Angeles. The San Bernardino project continued with some tweaks to the timetable, while the Los Angeles job was delayed due to directives from the mayor’s office. “In the construction business, schedules are critical and sometimes difficult to balance,” said Montanez, “but in this instance, everyone was affected and understanding of the need to reassess.”

The key to working through the pandemic, he said, is to communicate well and to ensure that “everyone involved, directly and indirectly, is well versed and on the same page as it relates to the project, personnel, and communities where we have exposure.”

That’s where faith and war experience kick in.

“As a combat-wounded veteran, my first instinct is to stress how this pandemic is affecting everyone, and give peace of mind to all our staff and their families that we will be all right, God willing,” Montanez said.

Employees experienced the expected uncertainties — about their own health and that of their families, as well as job security. But with communication and understanding, Montanez believes everyone has risen to the occasion.

“You realize early on when you hire, work, and interact with someone their level of maturity and calmness during challenging times,” he said. “As a seasoned CEO, you always want to be prepared … [It’s] a challenging time personally, emotionally, and professionally for all, but there is no time for ‘woe be me’ attitudes.”

Instead, Montanez emphasizes that “we are all there for each other.”

The guiding principles of his company are faith, family, community, and career. The fact career comes last “doesn’t imply we don’t work hard, but it is to remind us what is most important,” he said.

And faith is at the top of the list

“I make sure early on in any business and working relationship, that I am grounded in my faith and a true believer. Every day is a gift,” Montanez said. “I call it ‘Faith Under Fire’ — stay calm, and pray earnestly.”

EASING PANDEMIC PAIN

Dr. Rudy Moise, an osteopathic physician who specializes in general practice and pain management, is president of Comprehensive Health Center, a full-service primary care practice in North Miami, Florida. With a prepandemic load of 100 patients a day, decisive steps had to be taken for the safety of both patients and staff.

“To avoid our 45 employees, and patients, from being infected, we are starting to use telemedicine, contacting our patients via video call,” said Moise, a Miami Legate. “For the walk-in patients, we screen them outside, checking their temperatures to see if they have any symptoms. If they do and they are stable, we send them home for 14 days. If unstable, we refer them to the local hospitals.”

That protocol was preceded by in-house meetings to educate staff about COVID-19 and establish safety rules including full-body protection. After Florida’s governor issued a stay-at-home order, daily patient flow dropped to the single digits, and some employees feared they might lose their jobs. “But I kept every single employee, though it was very challenging for the company,” Moise said. “With a lot of prayers, we survived, and all employees were extremely grateful.”

His experience as a U.S. Air Force flight surgeon gave Moise plenty of crisis training — including the investigation of the crash of a fighter jet, which required collecting the pilot’s remains and breaking the news to his family. He also received extensive training for dealing with mass casualties with chemical or biological warfare. “I utilized some of this knowledge for my own office as well as for giving advice to community organizations,” he said.

 As a Haitian American, he also was part of a panel of physicians and bioscientists that advised the Haitian government on how best to prepare for the pandemic before it struck their nation.

 And in a generous outreach to the local community, Moise used his professional connections to donate 12,000 N-95 respirators to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, 1,500 to Miami Dade Ambulance, and 2,000 to the Orange County Fire Department in Orlando.

 PEOPLE FIRST

 When Tony Sarsam took over as CEO in March 2018, Borden Dairy was staggering in debt, largely due to the lingering impact of aggressive acquisitions made three decades before. Already sporting an impressive track record as a C-suite executive in the food industry, he set to work rebuilding the Borden brand and business, from renegotiating with lenders to giving a face-lift to the iconic “Elsie the Cow” logo.

But with raw milk prices rising and thousands of dairy farms going out of business, the Dallas-based company filed for debt reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2020.

Then along came COVID-19 and the lockdown.

“The pandemic brought an immediate and serious threat to Borden,” said Sarsam, a Dallas Legate. “In addition to the concern for ensuring the safety of our 3,300 team members, we instantly lost most of our school and restaurant business, which is one-third of our revenue.”

Sarsam favors a “people first” management style, so it was natural that he’d take care of his Borden family first. “Once we were satisfied that we had a plan to keep our employees as safe as possible, we were faced with adjusting our business to meet the realities of this incremental profit loss,” he explained.

 Furloughs were issued only to those who lost all their work, such as school-route delivery drivers — around 100 workers. Others were invited to volunteer for time off, and a “significant number” accepted that option.

Then came adjustments to manufacturing schedules to match reduced product demand. “When we presented the idea of adjusting factory schedules to our employees, they readily understood the need and flexed to accommodate,” Sarsam said. “I believe the work we did to communicate openly and Tony Sarsam honestly with our team went a long way toward ensuring a quick transition to this ‘new normal.’”

It was a leap of faith. The pandemic was going to force Borden Dairy to burn cash even in the midst of bankruptcy. “We simply had to have faith that the other side of ‘new normal’ would come in time to right the ship,” said Sarsam. 

On the bright side, as a food producer, Borden Dairy is considered an essential business and could remain open without interruption. But it was something more than that. 

“The Borden team, like most in the food industry, saw its work as a matter of vocation — to keep America fed,” Sarsam said. “We are proud of the fact that we never missed a beat during this difficult time.” 

The company still needed saving, however. Sarsam sought a merger with Dean Foods, a rival that also was going through bankruptcy, but Dean was bought by another interest. Then Sarsam and Borden found a lifeline: a major contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide 700 million servings of milk over 30 weeks to nonprofits throughout much of the nation. 

“When the USDA program was announced, we saw this as a great opportunity,” he said. “Our team went right to work on the extensive application process.” Borden’s contract was the largest of any dairy, he added. 

Following the sale of Borden Dairy in a June bankruptcy auction, the company enters its next phase of recovery — but you can bet Sarsam will continue to let faith be his guide.

“My faith provides critical foundational principles that inform the way I lead at work and have allowed me to ‘act on instinct’ during this two-fold crisis,” he said. “I believe it has made a big difference.”

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine editorial consultant.


A servant’s heart

Borden Dairy CEO Tony Sarsam summarizes his guiding faith principles for leading his company:

Love your neighbor as yourself.
How would I want to be treated in this crisis? My concerns and fears are not much different than those I serve. 

Jesus is the ultimate model of servant leadership.
My role as a leader is to perfect my service to the organization — and to model the “servant’s heart” I expect from others.

Speak truth.
I try to communicate directly, openly, and acknowledge my mistakes and ignorance. It is often a challenge to remain ever-charitable, but that choice has never let me down. Expressing positive expectations.

Seek to do more.
We gave instruction to our team to not only provide flawless service to our customers, but to look for more opportunities to serve in the community.

Doctor offers thoughts from the bedside amid the pandemic

As an infectious disease doctor who specializes in HIV, I never imagined that my entire medical world would be turned upside down. Due to the coincidence of being on call the last week of February, I took care of the first patient in our state with pneumonia caused by SARS-CoV-2. During the next eight weeks, standard medical care came to a halt as our entire group focused on caring for patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 pneumonia. (Note: The novel coronavirus is named SARS-CoV-2, while COVID-19 refers to the disease the novel coronavirus causes.)

For our patients, the key to good medical care depended on the extraordinary dedication of our nurses. They suffered the same shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) as the doctors, but they went in to provide care at the bedside day in and day out. The care they provided was heroic. I’ve told many of my colleagues that I thought heaven would be full of nurses, and they “might” let the occasional doctor in as well.

We’ve learned a tremendous amount in the last few months. We did make mistakes early on. Initial guidelines recommended early intubation with the use of a ventilator until clinicians observed that patients did very well with very high flow supplemental oxygen and thereby often could avoid intubation. Randomized trials now indicate that the use of the antiviral medication Remdesivir and the use of anti-inflammatory steroids can be beneficial.

The most painful aspect of this epidemic has been that patients and those that are most vulnerable are forced to be alone. Families cannot sit with their loved ones in the hospital; chaplains often have very limited access; our elderly in our nursing homes are often deprived of family visits. As Christians, we are first and foremost a people of hope because Jesus is the light that overcame the darkness, Who conquered death and never leaves us alone. But it is easy for us to forget. By calling on the name of Jesus and by praying with our patients, we can rekindle that hope. There is no contradiction inherent in being both a doctor and a deacon. Both allow us to participate in the healing power of grace.

Anxiety and outright fear is a commonality in the midst of any new epidemic, whether it’s HIV in the 1980s, Ebola in West Africa, or this global pandemic. Caution and prudence is always warranted. But above and beyond that, anxiety and fear should be acknowledged, and we need to support one another as we venture into the unknown. Finger pointing, “blame-gaming,” and politicization of this epidemic is understandable, but often it is more destructive than constructive.

Poorer communities where many families often live closely together (without back yards) are being hit much harder. Many of our churches and inner-city Catholic schools that were struggling in the best of times will not be able to stay open without our help. Instead of retreating into our “safe bubble,” we need to reach out and offer assistance. Kindness and mutual support in the midst of this challenge is what we need.

DEACON TIMOTHY FLANIGAN, M.D., Boston Chapter Legate, is professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, RI. He also is a permanent deacon in the parishes of St. Theresa and St. Christopher in Tiverton, RI.

A wake-up call to evangelize

As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have much to think and pray about. There has been a lot of talk about the long-term effects of this crisis on our economy, society, and the Church. From a spiritual perspective, the experience of going several months without the ability to attend Mass was something many of us could not have imagined in our lifetime! What will be the impact on Catholics worldwide? For some, they may not come back. On the other hand, this experience could cause faithful Catholics to realize the gift that the Mass and Eucharist are, and be a wake-up call and catalyst to set us on fire to evangelize others.

Tom Monaghan

Several years ago a Pew Research Survey reported that for every new Catholic who entered the Church, we lose six. This is a startling statistic, but let us start with the positive… those entering the Church. I believe it is safe to say that converts to the Faith are often the most on-fire Catholics in the Church. They are typically entering the Church because they are attracted to it, at least enough to know it is the true Faith and comes at a cost – such as having to change their lives and make sacrifices, such as upsetting family members. Yet the fact that they are willing to pay a price is evidence that they appreciate the Church.

I have often said that when it comes to evangelization, one on-fire Catholic is worth many lukewarm Catholics. How many nominal Catholics convince others to convert to Catholicism, if any? On the other hand, many converts who are on fire for Christ are willing to share their Faith with others and thus draw others into the Church. If each new Catholic converted six – our numbers would be the same, but how much more alive the Church would be!

Now in terms of those leaving the Church, we have to conclude that they did not understand what it meant to be Catholic. The same Pew Research Survey mentioned above stated that 13 percent of all Americans describe themselves as “former Catholics,” and that 23 percent of the total population are unaffiliated, or the so-called “nones.” These former Catholics and “nones” are unlikely to step into a Catholic Church unless we give them good reason. If our faith has no meaning, no substance, no hope, no love…why would anyone want to become Catholic? But if we as Catholics are markedly different from our secular counterparts, then we can truly be beacons, ambassadors for Christ and His Church.

As our society comes out of the pandemic, I think we have an opportunity. People do not want to be bound by the fear so prevalent today. Instead, they want to experience love and hope, which we have in the Church. And as I have said on many occasions, Legatus members have more potential than most to share our Faith because we are more visible, influential, and credible.

TOM MONAGHAN is Legatus’ founder, chairman, and CEO.

Pushing through today’s ‘red-light-green-light’ business jam

Business was great. The economy was humming. Sales were at all-time highs. Then the pandemic hit.

“Our business pretty much dropped 80 percent across the board,” said Dave Anderson, president of Brand RPM, a Charlotte-based company that produces apparel and merchandise for corporations and athletic teams. 

In late March, most of the nation’s governors issued stay-at-home orders, and mandated all businesses deemed “nonessential” to shut down in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which by early June had already killed more than 110,000 Americans.

The shutdowns and social-distancing protocols arguably saved lives and prevented numerous hospital intensive care units from being overrun with COVID-19 patients. But those measures have come at a steep cost. 

More than 21 million people in the United States were still out of work in early June. The national unemployment rose to about 13 percent by late May, a figure not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The country has been officially in recession – since February – and businesses are struggling. Some may not recover.

While weathering the economic storm, some business leaders have deftly adapted their companies to the new reality, repositioning their organizations for growth and charting new paths for a post-pandemic future. Legatus magazine spoke with two Legates who lead companies, one small and one large, to see how the pandemic has changed those businesses, both in the short-term and over the long haul.

Furloughs, pay cuts, new offerings

 Anderson, the president of Legatus’ Charlotte Chapter, said the first three months of 2020 were “the biggest months” ever for his company of 110 full-time staff employees. But as the pandemic hit the United States in earnest, Anderson knew he had to act quickly.

 “The first thing we did was furlough 10 percent of our staff,” said Anderson, who added that everyone else in the company took a 50-percent pay cut. Those moves helped to prevent layoffs.

 Anderson and his team also examined their cash flow and consulted computer models to see what they could expect with the virus-ravaged economy over the next six to nine months.

 “As a small business, if you don’t have cash, you’re out of business,” Anderson said.

 Brand RPM pivoted from its core apparel and branded merchandise business to becoming a large provider of personal protective equipment – face coverings, hand sanitizers, gloves, and disinfectant wipes – to companies such as Lowe’s, which purchased two million masks in April.

 “Funny enough, we had our largest revenue month in our company’s entire 12-year history in April,” Anderson said. “And probably 90 percent of it, I never touched; I just droppedshipped masks from the suppliers to the customers.” 

Anderson said Brand RPM is looking to be a reliable source of “PPE” for companies as they reopen across the country amid their states’ loosening restrictions. Anderson expects the demand for masks, hand sanitizers, and gloves to be steady over the next year to 18 months.

 “We think our overall numbers for the second half of the year won’t be what they were in the past, but we hope that with the pivot to PPE, it’ll help us make up some of the lost ground,” said Anderson, who has already started to bring back some of the furloughed staff employees full time.

 Working from home … works

 One lasting effect that Anderson expects the pandemic to have will be more companies such as Brand RPM encouraging their employees to work from home.

“We were already doing teleconferencing and videoconferencing,” Anderson said. “I think that will be a more common theme moving forward as more companies see that working from home really works.”

By mid-October, Anderson hopes his company will have regained its equilibrium, though he added that “everything is a moving target.”

In the meantime, he has found a valuable resource in his fellow Legates and other CEOs with whom he can bounce off ideas and ask questions. 

“We’re all in this together,” Anderson said.

 From millions monthly, to zero

Pat Molyneaux grew his fourth-generation family flooring business, Molyneaux, into a thriving enterprise with 12 locations in Pennsylvania. But within a week of his state shutting down from coronavirus, Molyneaux suddenly had to lay off 95 percent of his employees.

“We went from making close to $2 million a month in revenue to zero,” said Molyneaux, a founding member of Legatus’ Pittsburgh Chapter.

“We grew this business in my 30 years here… and overnight it’s taken away,” Molyneaux said.

But that reality sparked a conversion of sorts as Molyneaux began to see that he had made the family business into an idol. Having a strong balance sheet and a successful enterprise had become the most important things in his life.

 For Molyneaux, that epiphany cast the first ten verses of 2 Corinthians 12 into sharper focus. In those verses, St. Paul speaks of being given a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble, and how God’s power is made perfect in someone’s weaknesses.

 “For a co-owner and member of the executive team, that is the verse for these times,” Molyneaux said. “Whether it’s as a pastor, a bishop, or whether it’s as a C-level executive, how can we become both strong and weak?”

 Molyneaux identifies strength as having the capacity for meaningful impact, and weakness as vulnerability.

 Grace makes business stronger

“After I repented and hit that point of deeper conversion,” Molyneaux said, “I feel like the Lord was opening my mind and giving me the grace of more creativity around what we needed to do to use this opportunity to make the business stronger. I feel like that was a grace.” 

Molyneaux said his company has started to change its primary business model from showrooms in brick-and mortar buildings to a “shop from home” approach where a design consultant visits the customer at home. 

“That’s the way the industry is going. People want that convenience. Most of our shopat-home appointments are through the roof this month,” said Molyneaux, who added that in-store appointments were already on the decline but that the pandemic accelerated that trend. 

Molyneaux said this year also provided an opportunity for his company to move into kitchen remodeling. Those changes may not have been possible before quarantines and social distancing forced him to reexamine his approach to business.

“As human beings, idol worship is a real temptation,” Molyneaux said. “I think often our businesses, what we accumulate through our businesses, can become idols. The rhythms and processes of work can become idols. This gave us a chance to expose those idols.”

 BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

COVID vaccines raise worry over life and liberty protection

As Independence Day arrives in this year of the coronavirus, we begin to taste again the basic freedom of personal interaction with friends, family, colleagues, and with our Blessed Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist. Yet as public health restrictions are cautiously eased, a question of life and liberty looms on the horizon: the COVID-19 vaccination.

We should certainly welcome rapid and widespread access to an adequately tested, safe, and effective vaccine, but it is easier said than done. Some major ethical concerns include the use of abortion-derived human fetal cell lines in development, restrictions on proper consent, and disproportionate government intervention.

Abortion-derived human fetal cell lines should not be used in the production of any vaccine. The Catholic Church affirmed this in the instruction Dignitas Personae. Only a handful of the COVID-19 vaccines in development make use of these lines, so there is a hope that a morally sound candidate will be successful. Regardless, we are called to give witness to the dignity of human life by demanding that new vaccines have no ties to abortion.

At the same time, Dignitas personae clarifies that end users are permitted to seek and receive immunizations of immoral origin when there are gravely proportionate reasons — including serious risks to personal or public health — with no better alternative available. Some may refuse vaccination to give special witness to the dignity of unborn children, while others at high risk might opt to safeguard personal and community health by pursuing vaccination.

Origins aside, vaccination decisions demand consideration of the facts to make an informed judgment. With any treatment, a person has the right to know the expected benefits and burdens. Will the vaccine have an effectiveness rate of 80 percent or 25 percent? How extensive was the testing to rule out adverse side effects? Population health benefits do not automatically create obligations for individuals. The decisions remain personal, accounting for circumstances. Risks, including possible adverse side effects, must not be obscured.

A concern with fast-tracked vaccines is the reliability of information concerning effectiveness and risks, the very facts essential to informed consent. Experimental vaccines for coronaviruses in years past have never been approved; a COVID-19 vaccine would be a first for this whole family of viruses. Efforts by health care professionals, pharmaceutical companies, government, and media to push the vaccine by ignoring or vilifying those with reasonable misgivings will weaken an already-waning public trust in vaccination practices. Integrity and transparency about the methods, quality, and conclusions of the research are crucial. This includes clear admissions of what we simply do not know, identification of expected benefits and risks, discussion of the certitude of expectations, and respect for individual judgments.

Government overreach is another major ethical issue. The principle of subsidiarity is a fundamental precept of Catholic social teaching: matters should be handled at the most local level possible, with higher levels offering supportive intervention only when truly necessary. Given the varied ways COVID-19 impacts different regions, a vaccine mandate from federal or state governments would be too blunt an instrument. This would feed a lack of public trust. In a similar vein, proposals for contact tracing or vaccination “chips” raise profound privacy concerns, further erode public trust, and can even sow mistrust within communities.

Government has a rightful interest in protecting the public from widespread and serious illness. Yet when it comes to concrete vaccination decisions, human dignity demands witness to the value of life, provision of adequate and reliable information, freedom of conscience, protection of privacy, and prioritization of more local government over higher levels. Anything less jeopardizes life and liberty.

JOHN A. DiCAMILLO, PH.D., B e.L., is a staff ethicist at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. He earned his graduate degrees at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. He lives in Lancaster County, PA, with his lovely wife Serena and their children.

Nod to pandemic advances modern Christian persecution

On May 8, 2020, a document titled Appeal for the Church and the World: to Catholics and all people of good will was published [which this author signed]. Its initial signatories included, among others, three cardinals, nine bishops, 11 doctors, 22 journalists, and 13 lawyers. It is astonishing to see how representatives of the ecclesiastical as well as political and media establishment have, in obeisance to the prevailing uniform thinking, unanimously sought to discredit the concerns expressed in the Appeal and squelch any further discussion with the “knock-out argument” that it is mere “conspiracy theory.” I remember a similar form of reaction and language under the Soviet dictatorship, when dissenters and critics of the prevailing ideology and politics were accused of being complicit in the “conspiracy theory” disseminated by the capitalist West.

The critics of the Appeal refuse to consider the evidence, such as the official mortality rate (for the same time period) of the 2017–2018 flu season, as compared with the current COVID-19 epidemic in Germany. The mortality rate of the latter is much lower. There are countries with moderate coronavirus security and prevention measures that, due to their implementation, do not have a higher mortality rate. If the mere acknowledgment of the facts, and discussion about them, is labeled as “conspiracy theory,” then anyone who still thinks independently has good reason to be concerned about the possibility that subtle forms of dictatorship exist in our society. As is well known, eliminating or discrediting societal debate and dissenting voices is a chief characteristic of a totalitarian regime, whose main weapon against dissidents are not factual arguments, but rather demagogic and popular rhetoric. Only dictatorships fear objective debate when there are differing opinions.

The Appeal does not deny the existence of an epidemic and the need to fight it. However, some of the security and prevention measures involve imposing forms of complete surveillance over people. Under the pretext of an epidemic, such measures violate fundamental civil liberties and the democratic order of the State. Proposals regarding compulsory vaccination, with no alternative to the state-approved vaccine, and which would inevitably restrict personal liberties, are also very dangerous. Such measures and proposals are accustoming citizens to forms of technocratic and centrally directed tyranny — and civic courage, independent thinking, and, above all, any resistance, are being severely paralyzed.

One aspect of the security and prevention measures that have been similarly implemented in almost all countries is the drastic ban on public worship. Such bans have existed only in times of systematic Christian persecution. The absolute novelty, however, is that in some places, State authorities are even prescribing liturgical norms to the Church, such as the manner of distributing Holy Communion. This is a clear interference in matters that pertain to the immediate authority of the Church. History will one day lament the “regime-clerics” of our time who subserviently accepted such interference by the State. History has always lamented that, in times of great crisis, the majority remained silent, and dissenting voices were stifled. Therefore, the Appeal for the Church and the World should at least be given a fair chance to initiate an honest debate, without fear of social and moral reprisals, as befits a democratic society

May 13, 2020 + Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana, Kazakhstan This piece, written by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, appeared originally in the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost in May 2020.

The real cost of idleness

In mid-March when there was rampant talk of how a national home lockdown would protect the populace from unrestrained spread of COVID, we wondered. Then came stunning announcements that churches would close indefinitely – with no gatherings, no public Masses, no sacraments – and it gave deeper cause for alarm. Daily TV and radio public service jingles rang like grating propaganda … “stay home, wash your hands, we’re all in this together.” It seemed worse than Orwellian. But ol’ George got it right with his dystopian prophecy.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

With months of many not going to work, to school, to play sports, to socialize, to visit family, to beaches or parks, or even to church, the fuse began to burn.

Nightly TV updates on the virus ‘progress’ were further anxiety causing, with constantly escalating tabulations flickering in the screen-corner, coupled with reports of economic plunge and depression rise.

What was worse than the avalanching job losses, closed schools, empty commercial districts, and traffic-less streets was the hidden idleness of so many youth. It made no front-page news, there were no photos, video clips, or interviews.

But idleness is like a geyser. Eventually it explodes.

Then we saw it. The perfect storm gave rise to tidal waves of riots – surges incited by the Minneapolis police brutality. ‘Peaceful protestors’ – bored kids, really – everywhere morphed into violent terrorizers, together for hours each night carousing for their cause, with a new night-out agenda after usual routines were yanked.

A parallel problem with youth idleness has been the lack of a civil moral code. The godlessness of the ‘nones’ birthed a moral anarchy – they flaunted causes like creeds to be imposed on all. The dearth of Godly confidence in their lives instead got usurped with flash-mob mania. Those authorities enabling horrific criminality only made it worse.

This is why the Catholic Church needs to remain continually present to all – health scare or not – so the faithful can spiritually recharge to shine as exemplars of the order of Christ, and others can come back, or for the first time. Lonely, under-fathered, unaffirmed kids need friendship, mentoring, and help from those who can offer hope. Elderly who are isolated need companionship, reassurance of God’s will for their lives, and practical assistance. The unemployed need immediate shoring up – financially, socially and spiritually – so they won’t default to withdrawal, abuse, despair, or suicide.

Kids thrown off normal routines need new ones – exhausting ones – in their place: rigorous coursework, manual labor, and tiring jobs – with an enforced discipline code. Parents with odd jobs that need doing can commission them to bored kids, even if they must first teach them the arduous process.

Busy, productive people are typically happy, fulfilled people willing to remain accountable for their lot. It’s not rocket science, just the nature of healthy soul and psyche. Finally, when we encounter someone reeling from raw disappointment and hardship, it’s the time to reacquaint him with the fatherly surety of Christ – our enduring Friend who extends His help, protection, and calming rightorder … simply for the asking.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.

Staying ahead of the [flattened] curve

The nation emerges slowly from crisis mode, but it won’t yet be business-as-usual.

As society gradually reopens following the lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, things simply won’t be the same for a while. Even as states and municipalities progress through the phases of loosening social restrictions, the possibility of a second infection wave calls for caution. There has been talk of a “new normal” affecting businesses, schools, institutions, and even how we interact with one another.

Two Legates — one a health care executive, the other recently retired from the restaurant business — recently shared their perspectives on the pandemic. Here’s what they had to say about their experiences, their reliance on faith, and how this crisis could change the industries they know best and even society itself.

PRESIDENT AND PATIENT

Michael Maron, a Legate of the Newark Chapter, is president and CEO of Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, NJ, a suburb of the New York metropolitan area. As the novel coronavirus pandemic escalated in the region, he became one of its patients. Infected with the SARS-CoV2 virus, he was diagnosed with COVID-19, the now-familiar disease it causes.

Maron initially dismissed his fatigue as the effects of stress and overwork in the midst of the crisis. Even as his family entered self-quarantine, he planned to work from home through videoconferencing and other technology, figuring he’d be back in a couple of days. “I was wrong,” he said.

Soon his condition worsened, and his wife’s health deteriorated as well.

“I never presented with the early dominant symptoms, fever and respiratory distress,” Maron recalled. “Fatigue, loss of taste, chills, gastrointestinal issues were my main symptoms.” Still, he came to appreciate just how serious the virus was. “My confidence in my Superman DNA gave way to concern and worry that both my wife and I were now that much closer to the possibility of being hospitalized and intubated in an ICU,” he confessed.

Perhaps worst of all, his initial denial gave way to remorse, sadness, worry, and guilt at having brought the virus home with him.

Not surprisingly, he turned to his Catholic faith.

“I prayed often for strength, for the ability to overcome the virus,” he said. “I prayed for wisdom and humility, because I knew my own arrogance caused harm to my family.” He was guided by the words of the prophet Micah: This is what God asks of you: to act justly, to love tenderly, to walk humbly with your God.

Less than two weeks later — after a regimen of hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and hydration — he was back at work, shepherding the Holy Name health system through the continuing pandemic.

Maron underlined the seriousness of COVID-19 by pointing out some of the unprecedented ways hospitals have responded to the influx of critically ill patients: rapid construction of new intensive-care units (ICUs), tapping into strategic stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE), and renting refrigerator trucks to expand morgue capacity. Holy Name itself expanded its ICU from 20 to 120 beds, converting an auditorium for ICU use in just seven days.

“There is a long litany of 100-year ‘firsts’ in health care delivery this crisis created,” he said.

THREAT REQUIRES SACRIFICE

Having firsthand experience both as a patient and as a health care executive in the hardest-hit region of the United States, Maron stresses the seriousness of the pandemic.

“This virus is highly contagious, and this virus is very deadly,” he warned. “Any statistical manipulation to minimize these facts is grossly irresponsible and will lead to more casualties in the years to come. Any public messaging that suggests otherwise and leads to careless behavior is equally irresponsible.”

The only intervention presently available to us to mitigate the spread of this virus is social distancing and isolation, he pointed out.

“We do not know for certain what the contagious period of the virus is, its incubation period, how it is transmitted, what symptoms are most identifying of the presence of the virus,” he explained. “Knowing only that it is transmitted person to person leaves physically separating of people as the only means to slow the spread of the virus.”

We’ve succeeded in “flattening the curve” to take the stress off our health care systems, and “tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved,” Maron said. That’s all due to sacrifice, he added — of leaders making the unpopular decisions to shut down society, of the economy itself, and of individuals who comply with public health recommendations.

SOCIETAL LESSONS

While the scientific data will eventually enable us to understand COVID-19 more thoroughly, “the unprecedented circumstances we’re living through might also teach us some profound lessons about ourselves,” Maron said.

“The health care industry will be learning from this crisis for decades to come. Improving our surveillance systems, our response capabilities and our moral and ethical obligation,” he said. “We have demonstrated that we are far more effective when we cooperate rather than compete, when we innovate and accept responsibility to respond and execute in creative ways.”

For humanity in general, the pandemic — which knows no borders and attacks across all races, religion, ethnicities, economic classes, and other lines of division — reminds us of our commonality.

“The irony is that the enforced social distancing keeping us apart has also made us more keenly aware of how inextricably linked we are as a human family,” Maron said. “The process of containing the virus has hopefully opened our eyes to the precious bonds that exist between us and the care and nurturing these relationships need along life’s journey.”

“We are all in this together,” he said.

HEALTHY IN BODY AND FAITH

Longtime restaurateur Joe Micatrotto Sr. resides far from the pandemic’s hotbed states of New York and New Jersey. The Las Vegas Legate said his extended family has not been affected, and he personally knows only one person who has contracted COVID-19.

“We have very few health concerns provided we keep some simple precautions,” he said, adding that “the health professionals ‘on the ground’ have been magnificent.” He praised President Trump’s handling of the crisis but had harsh words for the mainstream media and their priorities. “I wish the media cared for the killing of millions of babies in the womb as much as they do reporting deaths from a virus, which grotesquely pales in comparison,” said Micatrotto.

It’s been a trial from a faith standpoint, accustomed as he is to attending daily Mass, he said. Watching daily Masses online and assisting at his own parish’s livestreamed liturgies has been helpful. On the more positive side, he and his wife, Constance, have “really kicked up” their daily shared prayer in the absence of parish life. “We stay in regular communication with our priests, and spiritual communion is more than once a day!” said Micatrotto. “Prayer life has never required a building. Truly, we are ‘temples of the Holy Spirit.’”

His family’s Micatrotto Restaurant Group sold its portfolio of 40 Raising Canes restaurants back to the chain’s founder months before the COVID-19 crisis erupted, which “may have seemed providential,” he said. But he believes the chain will survive the pandemic.

“While sales are obviously impacted, [customers] have been stacked in line for the drive thru, and not one employee was let go because of the virus,” he said. “Surely, while revenues are down, the goodwill and character of the Raising Canes team has never been greater.”

ADAPT TO SURVIVE

The COVID-19 crisis will change the restaurant business, he explained, but the key lesson — gleaned also from his own long tenure in the restaurant industry — is adaptability.

“Anyone who says they were or are prepared for this pandemic needs to hope the confessional opens fast,” said Micatrotto. Even now, “Everything you write and believe needs ‘whiteout’ because it may change in coming months. Change happens at speeds like the rotation of the earth: we do not see or feel the rapidity of change, so accept it with a mind to adapt.”

Micatrotto, founder of the Buca di Beppo restaurants, offered the example of how he moved his family business from full-service restaurants to the “fast casual” establishments. “Americans wanted great food, but wanted the flexibility to dine with it as they wished,” he said. “Adaptability does not mean you lose your heart or character; rather, you take that which you make or love and put it into a format that allows for many and varied applications.”

To restaurant industry executives and workers struggling through the present crisis, he proposes two general bits of advice: Treat the guest as if he is always right, and focus on service.

“If you do not like being a servant,” he suggested, “get out now, since being in service is who and what we are in this business.”

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine editorial consultant.


LOVE IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC

John D. Rockefeller Jr. wrote as part of the Rockefeller Creed:

“I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.”

I have no doubt the power of the human soul has been set free from the fires of sacrifice that have burned so large and so bright over the last several months. It is one of my hopes coming out of this crisis that the prevalence of selfish, egocentric, and narcissistic behavior that has become the norm in our modern world will start to yield to the love of neighbor, humility, and altruistic character that better defines who God intended us to be.

If there’s an unearned blessing in this tragedy, it is the opportunity to better understand not only our physical similarities but our true heritage as living souls. We are spiritual beings — equally valued by a loving Creator — and here to fulfill a sacred purpose on earth.

— Michael Maron

When summer vacation begins in March

For Legate Kevin Kelly, Ohio’s recent coronavirus stay-at-home orders were less of an imposition and more of a joy.

Two of his eight children came home from college, joining two of their younger siblings, and overall, Kelly said, everyone liked having extra “hang-out” time. They watched movies, prayed the rosary together and on Sundays, gathered in one spot for a live-streamed Mass, something Kelly seized as an opportunity to talk about the Mass and its meaning in their lives.

Although state-enforced sheltering-in orders have been stressful for many households, for families whose lives are informed by the Catholic faith, increased togetherness has often been more blessing than blight.

Some enjoy, others not so much. “It feels a little awkward saying it, but we’ve actually enjoyed it,” said Dr. Christopher Stroud, a Legate whose household includes his mother and mother-in-law plus five children between 11 and 22. “It’s been like an extended spring break or extended Christmas vacation.” During the shutdown, they selected movies for everyone to view, played board games, and had long discussions, discovering a greater sense of closeness, interdependency, and solidarity.

Still, not everyone shares that experience. Higher rates of some kinds of domestic violence, child abuse, and suicide were reported amid the sheltering-in restrictions, according to Dr. Susan Hatters Friedman, a professor of forensic psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University, writing in the New York Daily News. In addition, a FoxBusiness report said attorneys were seeing an increase in divorce inquiries with one lawyer predicting the quarantines could hasten divorces for marriages on the brink.

Greg Schlueter, who leads a family-focused ministry known as Mass Impact, said even among Catholic parents, social media postings indicated that not all took delight in having more time with their children. For him, that revealed a crisis at the heart of the crisis. “Too many of us ‘good Catholic parents’ have delegated our unsurpassed, irreplaceable appointing and anointing. Too many of us are languishing without knowing and embracing God’s vision for our marriages, families, and homes.”

Reorienting responsibility. Schlueter, a father of six, has tried looking upon the coronavirus restrictions as an occasion for families to more fully recognize and rely upon Christ, and for parents to reclaim responsibilty often consigned to churches and schools. “It’s almost as if God reached into our activity-addicted, spaz-fest culture of delegated parenthood and said, ‘Stop!’ Or rather, with regard to rediscovering and living in our God-designed nature: ‘Start!’”

Through its “I Love My Family” program, Schlueter’s ministry encourages families to dedicate weekly time to meaningful conversation and prayer, making their homes places of ever-deepening encounter with Christ.

The ministry provides a “Live IT Gathering Guide,” available free online, and can be used to discuss and pray over the Sunday Mass readings. The guide includes an outline with prayers and questions for strengthening family relationships. It is coordinated with a “Family Road Trip” radio broadcast on which several families discuss their own experiences with weekly “Live IT” meetings. “I Love My Family” also offers in-person meetings for groups of couples and families, but with those suspended during the coronavirus restrictions, some groups have met on Zoom and the ministry has aired an interactive Parental Pow-Wow on Facebook and YouTube.

Schlueter said many families who start “Live IT” gatherings in their homes previously had some practice of formal family prayer, such as the rosary, but not a way to engage in meaningful, relational encounters with each other. When they overcome the initial awkwardness, he said families often experience transformation.

Kelly noted that although his family has not incorporated “Live IT” into their prayer times, he has seen its fruit in other families and in one of his own sons, who went through a period of not relating to his faith. Through participation in a “Live IT” youth gathering, “He became really alive in his faith and learned it.”

Boosting communication. Steve Findley, whose family used “Live IT” for about six years, said their communication improved to such a degree that he can’t imagine what sheltering-in with six children from 6 to 20 would have been like without it.

His wife, Lorna, noticed very few challenges during the stay-at-home restrictions. “I think our ability to handle this and be happy in it is largely due to the amount of communication we have in our prayer life and faith. Having that focus makes all the difference.”

Their family has learned to open up and discuss their struggles through the weekly “Live IT” gatherings, which provide opportunities to affirm, seek forgiveness, and to pray with and ask for prayer from each other. Sharing and discussing a problem with the family, she said, lightens the burden for those who are struggling. “Being a bigger family, it’s always a noisy challenge because everyone wants to talk at the same time, but it’s great to be able to communicate and respect each other.” Because of the gatherings, Lorna said, “Without a doubt, our faith, our marriage, and everything across the board has grown.”

Even though she initially was uncertain about the effect that sheltering-in would have, she found the result has been something of an answer to prayer. “The way God can do good through hard things is so evident . . . Really, very quickly, the good fruit of it was abundantly obvious from the get-go.”

Schlueter said “Live IT” participants like the Findleys have embraced the coronavirus circumstances as a way to spend meaningful time together, recalibrate who they are, and go deeper into their souls, marriages, and families.

Purifying priorities. Liz Erickson, whose family is part of the “Live IT” ministry, said sheltering-in has given her and her husband, Walt, more quality time. They have been praying together more as a couple, and with their six children. This has extended to her parents, siblings, and their families, who have begun praying the rosary together on Zoom every Sunday. “That was not happening before,” she said.

Stroud, an obstetrician/gynecologist, said he has heard many stories like his own of families who are seeing the benefit of slowing down and being at home during the coronavirus restrictions. At his Legatus men’s forum recently, he said one of the questions the members considered was “what will you do differently post-pandemic?” “A lot said they were going to try to be less busy and savor going to Mass more. It was kind of a universal response and I would certainly echo that. Why did we need an international pandemic to tell people to slow down and be less scheduled?”

He sees the stay-at-home orders as a good time to learn to love people for what makes them unique. “Sometimes the things that make a family member unique can get under your skin. It’s a good time to thank God for their uniqueness, and a good time to reflect on how we have to love each other, and that it’s not always rainbows and daffodils.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer

Returning to normal – can we get there from here?

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented levels of government action to slow its spread and to mitigate its effects.

The new coronavirus appears to cause death in one to two percent of cases compared to about one death in 1,000 cases for influenza. But unlike influenza, there is currently no preventive vaccine or proven antiviral treatment. The new coronavirus overwhelmed hospital capacity in parts of Italy and threatened to do so in New York City.

With a vaccine still a mere wish and a year away at best, might we hope for “herd immunity”? With COVID-19, that would require 50 percent to 80 percent of the population to be immune by infection or vaccination. Based on current data, we are less than one percent of the way there.

Extreme social distancing in spring has prevented hospitals from being overwhelmed, so we did flatten the curve. Let’s hear it for solidarity!

But when can we “reopen” society? When the disease does not threaten to overwhelm hospitals, and case counts are low enough to be identified and isolated, and their contacts are identified.

How will reopening progress? Per the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, decisions for reopening areas are made at the state level, perhaps at local levels in states that delegate this authority. Some have already begun gradual reopening using the three phase scheme recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a guide.

As reopening progresses, governors will be looking for

  • Decreasing numbers of cases
  • Sufficient hospital bed and intensive-care bed capacity
  • Availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly masks and gowns
  • Readily available testing
  • Sufficient public health investigative capacity

Expect incremental changes based on weighing risk of disease transmission against economic necessity. Activities might be allowed to recommence sequentially along these lines:

  • Medical procedures, starting with the most urgent
  • Businesses with minimal face-to-face customer interaction
  • Other businesses
  • Gatherings with moderate numbers of persons or face-to-face contact
  • Larger gatherings and restaurants

COVID-19 may have catalyzed some permanent changes, speeding the adoption of telecommuting in businesses and distance learning for more college courses. Sick-leave policies and social mores may get more people to stay home while suffering from respiratory infections, and people may more consistently observe cough etiquette. Perhaps a greeting that transmits fewer viruses than handshaking will be adopted. And maybe we’ll wash our hands more frequently and stop touching our faces unthinkingly.

We could get lucky: the virus might be seasonal, so that it fades away during the summer without human effort; or researchers might demonstrate the effectiveness of an antiviral drug that reduces morbidity and mortality without extraordinary social-distancing edicts.

Fondly should we hope, fervently should we pray…

PAUL R. CIESLAK, M.D., is a member of the Catholic Medical Association and a public health official for the state of Oregon. He lives with his wife and family in northeast Portland.