It was a little over two years ago when Legatus central regional director Ken Darnell reached out to Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, North Dakota, to gauge the bishop’s interest in starting a Legatus chapter there. Some 13 years earlier, Bishop Kagan had been a Legatus chapter chaplain for the Rockford, Illinois Chapter, and it left a lasting impression on him.
“He was well familiar with Legatus and was extremely supportive of having a chapter in his diocese,” said Darnell, who added that the bishop then promptly sent letters to several prospective Legatus members.
“It makes a huge difference to receive a letter like that from your bishop,” Darnell said.
Steady two-year growth towards charter
Since those early days in the summer of 2017, Legatus’ Bismarck Chapter has seen steady, incremental growth.
On October 22, the Chapter held its official chartering event at the University of Mary, beginning with Confession, rosary, and Mass in Our Lady of Che Word Chapel, followed with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, a hearty five-course dinner, and Mr. Monaghan’s traditional ‘fireside chat’ – nestled by a Great Plains crackling fire – in the Harold Schafer Leadership Center. Afterward, new members enjoyed an after-glow event at University of Mary president Monsignor James Shea’s residence. Monsignor Shea, an in-demand speaker at many Legatus chapters, was also a concelebrant at the chartering Mass.
“Legatus is one of the best-kept secrets in the Catholic Church,” said Dr. John Warford, president of the new Bismarck Chapter. Warford, an orthodontist, former mayor of Bismarck, and former Dean of the University of Mary Business School, said the invitation he received two years ago from Bishop Kagan “piqued his interest.”
“I didn’t know much about Legatus, but upon further investigation into it, I thought it would be a perfect fit for me and my wife Jennifer,” said Warford, who decided to join after attending the Chapter’s second meeting.
“Legatus is a vehicle for attendees to increase their faith,” Warford said.
Dr. Raymond Gruby and his wife of 50 years, Joyce Gruby, are the co-chairs of the Bismarck Chapter’s Program Committee. They were among the first couples to become members.
“Everything about Legatus seemed to be excellent,” said Dr. Gruby, an orthopedic surgeon who led a practice. He and Joyce said they have made several friendships with the other couples who attend the Chapter’s monthly meetings.
Bond of faith fortifies friendships
“I think people look forward to seeing one another after a month has gone by, and then catching up on each other’s lives,” Joyce said. “There is a real intimacy in our group, a real caring for others. And of course, we have that great bond of our Catholic faith, and it’s very beautiful.”
The Diocese of Bismarck encompasses the western half of North Dakota. Despite its large territorial area, the diocese represents a modest demographic for prospective Legatus members.
“The people who have joined are terrific. And it’s been a blessing for me to get to know them, not only as Legatus members but as friends,” said Darnell, who spoke of the strong Catholic community in Bismarck.
“They’re just good people,” Darnell said. “They don’t wear their success on their sleeves. They’re strong in their faith and have great values.”
Keeping standards high, content solid
Warford said the key to building the new chapter in Bismarck requires one-on-one relationship building. He spoke of the importance of keeping standards high and not watering down membership requirements or content of the monthly meetings.
“Rather, we want to strive to create a Legatus chapter that is extraordinary. Sustainability is important, and I hope for incrementally large growth as time goes on,” Warford said.
Drawing compelling national speakers to Bismarck can be a challenge given traveling logistics. Still, the Chapter has been able to land nationally known Catholic speakers such as pro-life leader Abby Johnson and lay evangelist Ralph Martin, the president of Renewal Ministries.
“We want to continue to pursue the best speakers,” Warford said. “We also have an extraordinary local pool of speakers.”
“Our focus is on developing relationships and exhibiting Legatus to people who could be potential partners in this,” said Gruby, who added that the monthly opportunity to attend Mass together, pray the rosary, enjoy a meal, and hear a talented speaker has invigorated his own faith.
“It’s been an excellent experience in that regard,” he said.
Joyce Gruby said spending an evening with other Catholic couples whom she and her husband can relate to professionally and who share a desire to grow in the faith has been an edifying and enriching experience.
“It’s just inspiring to all of us, to strengthen and grow in our faith,” she said. “And the speakers, of course, are instrumental in that as well.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.