Even though John Hunt has stepped aside as Legatus’ executive director, he remains as busy as ever.
In his new role as Legatus’ ambassador at large, Hunt in recent weeks has crisscrossed the country visiting chapters in Oregon, Washington, New Jersey and the Midwest. He helps coach leaders of struggling chapters, visits chapters celebrating milestone anniversaries and mentors leadership teams of new and developing chapters.
Hunt’s new role calls on him to impart insights garnered from more than 20 years in Legatus.
“Legatus is made up of legates — ambassadors — and my role is to be an ambassador to ambassadors,” said Hunt, 76, who served for more than eight years as Legatus’ executive director until he stepped back from the role in July.
Stephen Henley, Legatus’ current executive director, credits his predecessor with positioning Legatus for continued success.
“John has been one of the best supervisors I’ve had in my professional career,” Henley said. “He sets the goals up for you. He’s direct, but at the same time, he’s very supportive of you as an individual and employee.”
Hunt became executive director in 2008 at a point when Legatus was struggling financially and losing members. His background as a community banker, his experience leading a vibrant Legatus chapter in Chicago, and his six years serving on Legatus’ board of governors enabled him to steer the organization through, at times, rocky transitions.
Hunt’s expertise stabilized Legatus’ financial status and positioned it to grow membership and establish new chapters across the country. Hunt said he’s pleased that the progress aligns with Legatus founder Tom Monaghan’s desire for continued growth.
“Given all that Mr. Monaghan has given and done for the Church, I’m glad Legatus’ success is corresponding with his vision,” Hunt said. “But there is still room for a lot of growth ahead of us.”
Hunt said he and Kathie, his wife of 54 years, joined Legatus 23 years ago after a member couple in the fledgling Chicago chapter invited them to a monthly event.
“From the very beginning Kathie and I have been passionate about Legatus and its impact on our faith lives. The rest,” he said, “is history.”
Hunt said he recognized early on that Legatus was more than just a good organization in service to the Church. “In the 21st century, it’s critical that Catholic lay executives not only exhibit their leadership in the way they conduct business, but also in the manner in which they interact with their parish, with their diocese and with the broader community. The idea of being lay apostles in the marketplace just kind of hit me as a good thing.”
John and Kathie helped grow the Chicago Chapter from the 10 or 12 early member couples. John became the membership chairman and founding president when the chapter chartered with 22 member couples in 1998. He was chapter president for five years.
Hunt’s “right hand” in Chicago was Trish Kelly, the chapter coordinator whom he described as his “conscience.”
She sought to make every monthly event have the feel of a quality wedding reception. Kelly said she learned a lot from Hunt.
“I used to call him Mr. Legatus,” Kelly said. “He really believes in Legatus’ mission and he lives that out very faithfully. He has a positive, upbeat attitude and a good sense of humor. No matter how tough things got sometimes, he just never got down, which is amazing.”
In early 2008, after Hunt had already been asked to return to Legatus’ board of governors, the right set of circumstances presented itself. Legatus was looking for a new executive director, and Hunt, who had recently retired from banking and was leading a Chicago nonprofit, seized the opportunity.
“My eight-and-a- half years as executive director were the most rewarding and invigorating years of my life, professionally speaking,” said Hunt, who remains as committed as ever to Legatus. “This is not a Catholic Rotary Club. This is about Catholics growing in their faith in ways that their member peers in the chapter can relate to.”
As to what makes a successful Legatus chapter, Hunt said there are an array of best practices, especially an attention to detail at monthly chapter events.
“It should all be very well done: the tone of the Mass, the quality of the homily, the dedication and commitment of the chaplain, the professionalism with which the board and president lead the chapter,” he explained. “It has to be clear to those in attendance that planning has gone into the event.”
However, a chapter’s success begins with a recognition of Legatus’ mission.
“And that is to help members study, live and spread the Catholic faith in all that they do,” said Hunt, explaining that the Catholic business executives in Legatus are called to be models and examples of ethics, morality and Christianity in the marketplace.
“The great majority of members are operating small, family-owned businesses, and many of them are not independently wealthy,” he said. “These are just good, hard-working people, dedicated to their Catholic faith, who come together once a month. And it doesn’t matter what table in the room you sit at. You can be comfortable with the fact that the conversation is going to be invigorating, uplifting and consistent with the teachings of the Church.”
Henley described Hunt as a father figure who treats everyone with respect.
“He’s easy to talk to,” Henley said. “There’s not a person I’ve met that he hasn’t been able to have a conversation with. That’s evident in the way he lives his life. He’s set the stage for me to be successful. I’m really excited that he’s still in the Legatus family.”
Hunt said he’s grateful for the confidence that Monaghan has placed in him.
“I am so enthused and gratified about the opportunity to continue to serve Legatus as an ambassador,” Hunt said. “To me, that is as gratifying, satisfying and rewarding as anything else I could do.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.