Denver Legates Pete and Marilyn Coors have made philanthropy a way of life . . . .
Pete and Marilyn Coors are as close to royalty as one can get in their beloved Rocky Mountain State. The storied family rose to prominence after Pete’s great-grandfather Adolph Coors founded the Coors Brewing Co. in 1873.
In addition to having a hand in running the seventh largest brewing company in the world — Molson Coors — the Colorado power-couple are known for backing conservative values, the free market and the Republican Party. Pete ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, losing by a slim margin of 47% to 51%.
What most people don’t realize, however, is that Pete and Marilyn — members of Legatus’ Denver Chapter — are serious Catholics. Marilyn is a lifelong Catholic and Pete is a convert. They give of their time and resources to a host of Catholic endeavors within the Archdiocese of Denver. But for the Coors, philanthropy is not just about writing a check.
“They really get involved, personally,” said Monsignor Michael Glenn, rector of St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. “They’ve been willing to take their Catholic convictions to the public square.”
Although Pete is heavily involved in the Adolph Coors Foundation, he and Marilyn engage in their own philanthropy as a couple through a separate, private foundation.
“We have decided that the bulk of our philanthropy is going to Catholic institutions or activities with a special focus on education,” Pete told Legatus magazine.
“For secular institutions, we give to those that espouse the values of Christ and the Catholic Church,” Marilyn added.
Pete comes from a family that has made philanthropy a way of life. His great-grandfather Adolph aided victims of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake by starting a private relief fund.
“The company [Coors Brewing Co.], for as long as I can remember, has been active in the local community,” said Pete, who serves as its chairman. “It was important to us to be good citizens. The Adolph Coors Foundation, which was formed after our first IPO in 1975, was really due to the generosity of my father and one of my uncles. They turned a great part of the wealth into a foundation.”
Education and evangelization
While Pete spends the bulk of his time in the family business, Marilyn has developed a full-blown career as a bioethicist with a focus on genetics. She earned a doctorate in bioethics from the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine. Besides her job as an associate professor there, Marilyn has lectured locally, nationally and internationally on bioethics. She has published scores of papers and is due to publish a book on bioethics next spring. Marilyn has been a board member of the National Catholic Bioethics Center for over a decade.
Since the Coors live in one of the most dynamic archdioceses in the nation, they are involved with a host of homegrown Catholic endeavors — groups like the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, St. John Vianney Seminary, ENDOW and Regis University.
They attribute the dynamism of their archdiocese to Pope John Paul II’s 1993 World Youth Day visit. Pete was so moved by the event that he ended up converting to the Catholic faith soon thereafter.
“We are still experiencing the incredible fruits of that visit,” said Marilyn.
Pete grew up in the Episcopal Church, but his father was not religious. “None of my forebears took religion seriously — though they lived the principles of religion,” he explained.
After the couple married in 1969, Pete began to attend Mass with Marilyn. As their family grew to six children, he continued going to Mass because he thought it was important for the children’s character development. Then one day, a friend asked why he wasn’t Catholic.
“Nobody had ever asked me,” said Pete. He soon entered RCIA.
Besides her work as a bioethicist, Marilyn is a board member of Denver’s St. John Vianney Seminary, founded in 1999.
“We contribute to them and their wonderful work involving our future priests,” she said. “They are doing an amazing job. Their enrollment continues to increase — and the men they are turning out are outstanding.”
Marilyn says one of her proudest accomplishments has been to help found ENDOW — Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women — with two other women in 2003. ENDOW is an international apostolate that reaches thousands of women who seek to transform the culture through their “feminine genius,” inspired by the writings of Pope John Paul II on the dignity of women.
“That has been a major focus of our philanthropy, time and prayers,” she said.
The couple has also been involved in Regis University — a Denver-based Jesuit school — for decades. Pete was chairman of the board for 15 years. After that, Marilyn was on the board for nine years.
One of the Coors’ future projects is an outreach to non-practicing Catholic millennials — men and women aged 18 to 32. “This outreach will be via social networking,” said Marilyn. “The aim is to reintroduce them and others to Christ and the Catholic Church.”
Marilyn and Pete joined Legatus in 2006. Although Pete often travels for work and cannot make all the monthly meetings, Marilyn attends most of them.
“Through Legatus, we have met a circuit of individuals who inspire us,” Pete said. “The speakers always have a message that has some relevant impact on our lives. We think it’s a valuable organization to participate in.”
Marilyn concurs. “The members and the speakers have really contributed to our spiritual lives,” she added.
A personal touch
Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila first met the Coors during World Youth Day 1993. The couple was on the organizing committee and had contributed financially to the global gathering.
“What impresses me about Pete and Marilyn Coors is their deep concern for others within our community,” said Archbishop Aquila. “As Catholics they exemplify what Christ asks us to do in caring for others and placing them before ourselves.”
He is quick to add that both Pete and Marilyn have achieved every level of success — he in the business world and she in academia. “But within that success they are truly servants of God who cherish their faith, their marriage, their family and their community,” the archbishop said. “They truly care about everyone and it shows.”
Monsignor Glenn recalled how, while studying for his doctorate in Rome, the Coors would always look him up when visiting the Eternal City with their children.
“They were personally supportive of me when my parents died,” he said. “They always call me for the holidays and invite me over at Christmas and Thanksgiving. I have brothers, so I always end up going to my family. But the Coors always call to make sure that I’m taken care of.”
Despite all their professional and charitable obligations, the Coors make sure that family comes first. Every Sunday, the couple invites all of their Denver-based children and grandchildren over for dinner.
“Family takes up a great deal of our time — joyfully,” said Marilyn.
According to Archbishop Aquila, the couple recently helped build a Habitat for Humanity home in Mexico with their grandson Peter — one of their 10 grandchildren.
“As we work on our estate-planning for the kids, one of our conditions is that 10% of revenues generated from those trusts must go to charity,” said Pete.
“Philanthropy for us as Catholic Christians is really an obligation, to the end that Christ said we should share what we have,” Marilyn said. “I think it is a privilege for us to be able to do this.”
SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.