A quarter-century old, Legatus is poised to substantially impact the culture . . .
Men and women who join Legatus to grow in their Catholic faith may not think they are enlisting in an army, but those at the forefront of today’s culture wars see them that way.
The two most recent recipients of Legatus’ Defender of the Faith Award — Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Catholic League president Bill Donohue — have both described Legates as an army on the front lines, adding that they couldn’t function without such a force behind them.
Upon receiving his award in late 2010, Cardinal Dolan told Legatus members that he and his brother priests rely on prominent lay leaders who are unafraid to give public witness to their faith. “It’s your prayers and support that keep us strong,” he said. “If I’m able to defend the faith, it’s because there’s a great army like you with me.”
Indeed, when Thomas S. Monaghan got the idea to start Legatus within hours of meeting Blessed John Paul II in 1987, he knew he was about to harness a force for great good. By gathering what he calls the most proven leaders in the Church — Catholic CEOs — and helping them to be better Catholics, he believed he could multiply their influence.
“The impact these people have on other people and their ability to get things done and get things organized would have a tremendous benefit to the Church — and that’s the way it’s worked.”
As Legatus grew, the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who served as Legatus’ ecclesiastical advisor for more than 20 years, called the group the most effective association in the Church. “There’s just no organization out there like this,” Monaghan said. “They’re action-oriented. They’re doers, not just talkers. I’ve often said there might be classes of people more articulate or intelligent — like lawyers or professors — but as far as getting things done, they’re in a class by themselves.”
Although in founding Legatus, Monaghan wasn’t directly envisioning it as a player in the culture wars, he said the organization may well be the most effective way to deal with the battles Catholics are facing in the 21st century.
By building business leaders into better Catholics, he said, they make a difference because as faith becomes a bigger part of their lives they automatically see what needs to be done. “These are people who see a need and they fill it, and there are lots of needs in the Church.”
Those who have followed Legatus’ progress over the last quarter century agree the organization has matured to the point where it is having an impact on the culture.
“Legatus is no longer a club — it’s a movement,” said the Catholic League’s Donohue. “I have seen Legatus grow from a small group of CEO Catholics dedicated to bringing Catholic values to the workplace to a large group of distinguished Catholics committed to engaging the culture. That’s quite a transformation.”
Donohue added that in speaking to many Legatus chapters, he has been impressed by the growing commitment on the part of members to take sides in the culture wars. “Catholics have been called by the Holy Father to participate in the public square and Legatus has certainly made good on this request.”
When he was at the Legatus Summit in February, Donohue said, many members asked him how they could become more active in the Catholic League. “They want their voices to be heard on national issues even beyond what Legatus is doing.”
Deal Hudson, chairman of Catholic Advocate in Washington, D.C., said he believes Legatus reached a point of critical mass about seven years ago, readying the organization for the current situation in the United States, which includes such challenges as a federally imposed contraception mandate for all health insurance plans. Most believe it to be unconstitutional.
In his 2008 book Onward Christian Soldiers, Hudson told how Monaghan’s desire to create a national network of orthodox Catholic businesspeople and their spouses brought together Catholics of influence in places like New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Phoenix in a significant way.
“The relationships that were created both within chapters and then between individuals in different parts of the country and at national meetings really helped to contribute to the strength of the Church in our country and has really encouraged a lot of the bishops in ways that were not there prior to the founding of Legatus.”
Not only do bishops appreciate hearing the concerns Legatus members raise, Hudson added, but they know they can rely on the body of knowledge and skills Legates offer. “Business covers a broad spectrum from management to law to education to accounting and fundraising. Really, when the bishops want expertise, they know where to look.”
Monaghan agreed, adding that many bishops and cardinals have said they turn to Legatus members when they need help. “I’m not just talking financial, I’m talking organizational,” Monaghan explained. “It goes on quietly and there’s a lot of it going on.”
Engaging the culture
John Hunt, Legatus’ executive director, said part of Monaghan’s original vision for Legatus was that, as people of influence, members would live out the Second Vatican Council’s call for laypeople to be the Church in the world.
As the organization marks its 25th anniversary this month, Hunt said, it’s clear that Legates are continually being honed for this calling through studying the faith and interacting with other Catholic executives and their spouses who take their faith seriously. “They’re well grounded and they are armed with the tools to go forth.”
Hunt, who joined Legatus 19 years ago and was the charter president of the Chicago Chapter, added, “From the beginning I have been very convicted of Legatus’ value and its ability to be of service to the Church both at the parish and diocesan levels, but also on a broader scale.”
But how this service takes shape depends on each member.
Because Legatus’ mission is to help members study, live and learn the faith, Hunt said, it doesn’t lobby politicians or endorse candidates. Rather, it urges members to support their local bishops and communicate with elected representatives in their own way.
For example, after the recent contraception mandate was announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Legatus sent e-mails to members encouraging them to become aware and involved, providing them with contact information for their bishops and legislators, details about pending legislation, and information about litigation by Catholic institutions and business people.
“It’s not Legatus stipulating what to do, but encouraging them to become engaged,” Hunt said.
Catholic Advocate’s Hudson said he thinks the most effective action Legatus members can take in this particular case is to encourage and support their bishops to be as strong as possible, even to the point of civil disobedience, if necessary, in opposing the mandate.
George Weigel, senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, added: “The best thing individual Legatus members can do is to convince their friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and fellow business people of the immensity of the challenge before us — which is to defend all of civil society, including the Church. As an organization, Legatus can continue to provide its members with the kind of adult formation that makes their evangelical work in the marketplace, family and neighborhood possible and effective.”
Given that this is a time of great urgency, Hunt said, it may be time for Legatus members and all people of good will to step forward and potentially be “martyred.”
“Certainly, it can be in the form of the world seeking to attack an individual and a business he or she is responsible for because of the faith they exhibit,” Hunt explained. “The fact of the matter is we are probably in about the second inning of a nine-inning ballgame. Pressure is coming from people who want permission to do whatever crosses their minds, and the Catholic Church is standing in the doorway proposing a better way. That’s something we’re going to be under attack for. We should allow ourselves to be a buffer in defense of our faith.”
Judy Roberts is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.