Tag Archives: Larry Eagan

Big plans for ‘The Big E’

Legate injects faith into nation’s 6th largest fair, plans its expansion into gaming .. .

Priding itself as New England’s “state fair,” The Big E is the biggest annual event of the Eastern States Exposition (ESE). It’s a lot like most state fairs, but with one unique Catholic difference: Sunday Masses on the fair grounds — including one celebrated by Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell of Springfield, Mass.

Betting on The Big E


Legate Gene Cassidy (left) became president of the Eastern States Exposition in 2012

If there are no yelps from Massachusetts liberals, it helps that The Big E is not a state fair per se. Exemplifying Yankee self-reliance, the 96-year-old institution receives no taxpayer funding, and it’s led by many committed Catholics — including the ESE’s CEO, Gene Cassidy.

A member of Legatus’ Western Massachusetts Chapter, Cassidy took the helm last year after having served the previous 10 years as director of finance, vice president, and COO of the non-profit organization dedicated to promoting New England agriculture, history and culture.

“I want people to see the company I lead as a faithful organization,” said Cassidy. The public Masses, he said, are an effective means of re-evangelizing fallen-away Catholics and introducing the faith to newcomers. “I’ve had some warm discussions with people saying they had not been to Mass in 35 years and it was a great experience for them.”

This year’s fair — Sept. 13-29 — follows a record-setting 2012, which saw an unprecedented 1.3 million visitors. And Cassidy plans to make The Big E even bigger with the proposed addition of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino New England on the fairgrounds. It’s a gamble he believes the ESE needs to take.

A native of West Springfield, where the ESE’s 175-acre fairground is located, Cassidy was raised in an Irish Catholic household, “so my life has been heavily influenced by people who took going to church seriously.” He also credits his faith to the nuns who taught him to lead a life of prayer and to be mindful of others.

“I listen a lot and put other people first and foremost,” he explained. “That informs me in making decisions mindful of the greater good, both of our employees and an audience of 1.3 million. It helps me make successful decisions.”

One of those decisions has been tough for Cassidy personally: lobbying for a modest-sized gaming resort on the fairgrounds. “My father was a degenerate gambler who, when I was eight, left my mother and brother and me, so I suffered the ill effects of gambling.”

However, he said, it’s “providential that I’m here in charge of this incredibly responsible institution and that we could be the ones in charge of gaming in Western Massachusetts.”

Cassidy said he believes it’s the right move.

For the first time ever, Massachusetts will be awarding gaming licenses — two in Eastern Massachusetts and one in western, and the ESE has been working to convince the city of West Springfield to support having a casino in its city limits.

Not only would the city receive a share of the gaming revenues, but a casino would likely sustain the ESE, which attracts money-spending visitors to the region and affords incalculable cultural benefits. The city will hold a referendum on Sept. 10 to decide whether to place a bid for a gaming license. And the state’s gaming commission will decide on the lucky three next April.

Why the need to persuade West Springfield on the benefits of gaming?

The clinch is that the neighboring city of Springfield is already a primary contender for Western Massachusetts’ sole gaming license, Cassidy explained. And if it should win the bid and build a casino as well as a proposed convention center, that could lure away many of the 120 or so organizations that currently host exhibitions on the ESE fairgrounds — from trade shows to antique fairs.

“These year-round events sustain the ESE,” Cassidy said. “The Big E is a big part of what we do, but it alone can’t finance running the fairgrounds.”

Spreading the faith


Bishop Timothy McDonnell processes out of Mass at the 2012 Big E

No fan of gambling himself, Cassidy said his fellow Legates helped him realize that gambling is no vice if enjoyed rightly. It even can serve virtuous ends.

“They’ve helped me make the decision in the context of preserving my own organization,” he told Legatus magazine. “How would Christ think about gaming in an altruistic environment? I came to realize they’re not mutually exclusive because having a modest-size gaming resort with a concert venue, too, can afford us the economic capacity to help us continue our mission: to propagate agricultural education, the industry of agriculture, and the history of New England.”

And propagate the faith.

Masses at The Big E started in the late 1970s when the ESE asked the local bishop to celebrate Mass on the fair’s first Sunday. It became a tradition, eventually expanding to two Masses every Sunday of the fair — one under the big circus tent and another at a small Baptist meeting house from the 1860s, one of many historic New England structures reassembled on the fairgrounds. A Protestant service is also held on Sundays.

“We get a 100% positive response,” Cassidy said. “I receive many letters, phone calls and emails from people who are especially moved by having Bishop McDonnell here.”

Monsignor Chris Connolly, diocesan vicar general and Legatus chaplain, calls every Mass “a key moment for evangelization, whether celebrated in a basilica, cathedral, or under a tent. And the fair gives expression to some of the important aspects of our faith, including the celebration of Mass as well as having the Massachusetts Citizens for Life, who staff a pro-life display.”

The Big E will also host the local Legatus chapter’s September meeting. Monsignor Connelly will celebrate Mass for Legates on Sept. 19; Cassidy will speak and give a behind-the-scenes tour.

Legate Larry Eagan said that like Cassidy, The Big E has been a part of his life for a long time — providing amusement, business (he is president of Collins Electric Co., which has been providing services to the ESE for over 90 years), and spiritual edification.

“Sunday mornings at The Big E have become a special time for our family — a refuge of holy calmness as vendors and performers prepare for the 100,000 visitors that day,” Eagan said. “Attending Mass under the circus’ big top is a unique experience. Despite a backdrop of dangling trapeze ropes, stacks of hula hoops and the aroma of hay, the universality of the Mass has struck me every year. Ironically, the ‘circus-like’ atmosphere helps me focus more on the Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist.”

And Eagan’s family isn’t the only one in on that sanctifying act.

“One year, while walking up to receive Communion,” Eagan said, “I saw some vaguely familiar faces. Then it hit me: They were family members of a balancing act I had seen at the circus the night before!”

MATTHEW A. RAREY is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

Learn more: TheBigE.com

What Legatus means to me…

Legatus members from across the country explain how Legatus has affected their lives . . .

From the beginning of the organization, Legatus has been focused on the faith development of its members. Legatus exists to help its members learn, live and spread the faith. As we reflect on the last 25 years — and look ahead to the next 25 — we asked members from across the country to tell us what Legatus means to them.

Bob Pliska

In a word, Legatus is the best. As a member for almost the full 25 years of this great organization, I have been truly blessed in learning to “study, live and spread the faith in my business, professional and personal life.”

When I originally joined as the young president of a publicly held commercial real estate company, it was a great opportunity to sharpen my skills as a businessman, be a good family man, and be social, all the while practicing and spreading our great Catholic faith. This made the sharing of business information, networking, and the faith experiences exciting and fun with the many dedicated and quality members of Legatus.

This great experience was only heightened when, after having been a member for several years, I became widowed at a very early age. I was left with two major challenges — a family to raise and a business to run at the same time. With the help of Legatus, I truly lived and put into practice the four key elements of Legatus: faith, family, business and social. I went from a very tragic situation to a very fulfilling experience.

The camaraderie of Legatus members and the quality of its many programs — all with similar faith, family and ethical business objectives in mind — have provided a rewarding successful life experience. Thank you, Tom Monaghan. And thank you, Legatus!

Bob Pliska
Detroit Chapter
Member since 1989


Tim & Steph Busch

We joined Legatus 22 years ago during its infancy. By Divine Providence, the only chapter west of the Mississippi was in Orange County, which is where we lived.

The mentorship of Tom Monaghan and fellow member Catholic CEOs and spouses has greatly directed our faith formation. I returned to attending daily Mass and we were inspired to co-found two private Roman Catholic schools: St. Anne School and JSerra Catholic High School in South Orange County. It further inspired us to participate in the founding of 10 other chapters in the West. Through those efforts, hundreds of friends and acquaintances became members of the various west coast chapters.

Steph converted to Catholicism in 2000. Our children have witnessed our commitment to the faith, which will pay spiritual dividends for many generations to come. We are forever indebted to Tom Monaghan who, through the direction of the Holy Spirit, created such a fabulous organization.

Through Legatus we met the amazing Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Legatus’ former international chaplain. With him we co-founded the Magis Institute, a great ministry focused on spiritual life, especially the relationship between faith and reason. And by attending Legatus Summits, we were inspired to found the Napa Institute. Its mission — “Equipping Catholics in the ‘Next America’” — is elaborated at the Institute’s annual conference, held each July at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa.

Tim & Steph Busch
Orange County Chapter
Members since 1990


Patrick & Andrea Molyneaux

Legatus is an incredible grace that helps us become the best version of who God wants us to be. If we could summarize Legatus in one scripture verse, it would be “iron is sharpened by iron, one person sharpens another” (Prov 27:17). The Legatus relationships we’ve established with like-minded Catholic leaders bring out the best in us. These relationships sharpen our encounter with Jesus Christ through His Church.

An example of that sharpening process happened in March 2011 when a fellow Legate invited us to put our pro-life convictions into action by praying with him in front of a Planned Parenthood operation the following Saturday. I agreed, and for the first time in my life I prayed in front of an abortion clinic. The surreal experience of watching pregnant women pass by and walk through a door to kill their babies changed me forever.

It was a wake-up call that made me realize I needed to do more to defend life. A few months later I felt inspired to leverage my network and influence and reach out to Bishop David Zubik and the Catholic Men’s Fellowship of Pittsburgh to organize a significant pro-life event in front of Planned Parenthood. Together we organized Pittsburgh’s first “Mass and Prayer Walk for Life,” scheduled for April 28, 2012.

This is the first pro-life initiative of its kind in Pittsburgh history. Our prayer is that it will become an annual event. The seed was planted by a Legatus member whose faith and convictions sharpened the faith and convictions of fellow Legates. Faith is indeed contagious, and Legatus helps it spread.

Patrick & Andrea Molyneaux
Pittsburgh Chapter
Members since 2009


Larry & Mary Anne Eagan

We’ve received just so many gifts and blessings from being members over the past five years. But one of the greatest and most personal of all these gifts, I’d have to say, is having the sacrament of Reconciliation made available at our monthly meetings. It’s a sacrament we long for.

And our chaplain, Monsignor Chris Connelly, gives voice to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the gifts of good counsel, wisdom, knowledge and understanding. He gives voice to them through both the confessional and Mass.

For us, Legatus has brought that Biblical verse about “the way of love” in 1 Corinthians 13 truly alive. This is especially true in relation to the sacrament of Marriage. Through Legatus, we have come to share more deeply in our search for God’s peace. We witness the faithful love of our fellow Legatus couples, and this helps strengthen our own commitments to love — love for the Holy Trinity and Our Mother Mary, for each other, for our family, our community and the world.

The sharing and enrichment of our faith at the monthly meetings and the Summits have inspired us to work diligently to develop ourselves further spiritually. Legatus magazine gives us a blueprint to explore our faith further through books, media and stories of inspiration.

Larry & Mary Anne Eagan
Western Massachusetts Chapter
Members since 2006


John & Jennifer Feltl

I first heard about Legatus from a business contact, but it was a few years before I actually made a meeting. When I did, an historian-theologian priest gave a talk on the history of Catholic education in the United States. I came alone, but the next time I brought my wife. A date night with rosary, Mass and a speaker is the best date night on the face of the earth.

Before I joined, I was a cradle Catholic who took the faith for granted. The more we can learn and be trained in our faith, the better. The world today is so confused and in such need of evangelization.

Legatus is a real gift that is easy to make time for, including attending Summits. It’s a great way to help us all become better Catholics, better people, better husbands, fathers, owners, better everything. As a business person, I never had the tools or the forum to talk comfortably with other business people about our faith until Legatus. Now I’m not sheepish or ashamed at all to ask, “Do you know about Legatus?”

Legatus is also helping us do a better job of passing on the faith to our kids. Legatus gives us clarity through solid catechesis, especially through our monthly speakers and the two priests who serve as our co-chaplains: Fr. William Baer and Fr. Michael Keating. The spiritual direction they give is another reason why Legatus is so important to us.

John & Jennifer Feltl
Twin Cities Chapter
Members since 2009