Tag Archives: Sabrina Arena Ferrisi

Genesis Rising

Legatus’ original chapter employs a strategic growth plan – and it’s paying remarkable dividends

Tom and Karen Dillon knew Legatus was right for them the first time they went to a Genesis Chapter meeting.

Tom and Karen Dillon pose for a photo shortly being inducted as Legates on July 22, 2015, at the Toldeo Club

Tom and Karen Dillon pose for a photo shortly being inducted as Legates on July 22, 2015, at the Toldeo Club

“We recognized or knew probably half the people who were there already, so it was very comfortable. We decided this would be good for us,” said Tom Dillon, Managing Partner of The Law Firm of Shumaker, Loop, & Kendrick in Toledo, Ohio.

Soon after, the Dillons became the eighth member-couple to join the chapter in 2015, making it Legatus’ third largest with 72 member-couples.

Strategic Growth

Such growth in what is considered Legatus’ oldest chapter came not by accident but through a targeted approach of identifying prospects, inviting them to meetings and maintaining contact — all in a way that gives potential members time to discern membership.

“Quite honestly, it may take two to three years, but we don’t give up on people and we don’t badger them every month,” said Richard Faist, the chapter’s 2014-2015 president and former membership chair.

Dick and Kathy Faist, members of Legatus’ Genesis Chapter, pose for a photo on Sept. 23, 2015, at Toledo Country Club

Dick and Kathy Faist, members of Legatus’ Genesis Chapter, pose for a photo on Sept. 23, 2015, at Toledo Country Club

Faist and his wife Kathy joined Legatus in 2009, several years after they were first asked to consider joining. “We’d gone to maybe two meetings over two or three years and knew a lot of the people, and we just decided then was a good time.”

To grow its membership, the Genesis Chapter employs a number of strategies — including building and maintaining a list of prospects, some of whom are referred by pastors of the four largest parishes in the Toledo diocese where the chapter is based. Small groups of Legates meet regularly with the pastors of those parishes to identify parishioners who may qualify for and have an interest in Legatus.

The chapter also sets growth targets. For example, they wanted to add nine new member couples in 2015, which would have meant 10% growth. Despite falling one couple short, Genesis is still ahead of the 58 member couples it had at the end of 2011.

Sinking Deep Roots

In the quest for new Legates, the Genesis Chapter — so named because it was formed by several members of the original Michigan Chapter — believes in involving its entire membership.

“It takes the effort of a lot of people,” Faist said. “We constantly tell all our members to think about prospects, bring them to a meeting and introduce them to Legatus.”

The chapter also encourages members to make sure their pastors attend a Legatus meeting at least once a year. “It’s very important that the pastor knows about Legatus and knows our members,” Faist said. “He’s a good person to identify potential members so we always want our pastors to be up to date on what we’re doing and our programs.”

In addition, the chapter relies on its chaplain, Monsignor Michael Billian, as a resource for finding prospective members in parts of the diocese outside the Toledo metropolitan area.

Chapter coordinator Mary Beth Schoen also plays a pivotal role, maintaining a list of prospects who have come to a meeting and who invited them. “She updates the list every month so we don’t forget about people,” Faist said.

Nancy Haskell, director of Legatus’ Great Lakes Region, said the chapter, the largest in the region, is effective in reaching out to prospective members and making sure they have a positive experience at their first meeting.

“One of the great things about the Genesis Chapter is that it’s always so alive when you go into the room,” Haskell said. “The membership includes people who are under 40 all the way to those in retirement. Everyone who comes is embraced by all those age levels and the chapter does an excellent job keeping them all engaged.”

Setting Priorities

Bob Savage, one of the chapter’s charter members, said building membership has been a priority from the beginning. With fewer than 30 couples in the initial group, he said, “we knew we needed to grow. We all decided we would make a commitment to really try to look around town and bring in people who were Catholic and qualified. We’ve continued to emphasize that.”

Savage said members know it’s important to keep their eyes and ears open for prospective members wherever they are, whether it’s the Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce.

When it comes to inviting someone and his or her spouse to be guests at a meeting, he said, “there’s never any pressure.” Savage sometimes broaches the idea of Legatus membership with someone at a breakfast meeting even before inviting the prospect to a chapter event. Once a prospect does attend a meeting, someone always follows up to see if Legatus might be a good fit for the person.

Legatus founder Tom Monaghan presents Genesis Legate James Shrader with the 2007 Officer of the Year Award on Feb. 1, 2008

Legatus founder Tom Monaghan presents Genesis Legate James Shrader with the 2007 Officer of the Year Award on Feb. 1, 2008

Besides focusing on new members, Faist added that Genesis has paid attention to renewals as a means of solidifying its membership.

“We always talk about getting new members, but to me a very important piece is making sure you get a high percentage of renewals,” he explained. “It’s hard to get a new member so you really don’t want to lose a current member.”

Schoen, he said, keeps a master list of members and their meeting attendance for the board to review each month. “We can tell very quickly if there’s a couple who has not been to a meeting for awhile. Is something wrong? Do we need to be concerned? We identify someone who knows the couple to contact them. We don’t just wait until dues billings go out and all of a sudden they hear from us.”

The most important factor affecting renewals, Faist said, is if members have a good experience at monthly chapter events.

Dillon, one of the chapter’s newest members, said he and his wife appreciate that meetings begin with Mass.

“You’re running around all day and you just get there and you can breathe and relax, so starting off with Mass is a great idea.”The Dillons’ decision to join Legatus, he added, was made in a large part because they saw it as something that would foster their spiritual lives.

Faist said for him and his wife Kathy, “Legatus has brought us closer together, closer in our faith. It’s been very positive and reassuring that, despite all the things you read in the paper and all the bad things going on in the world, there are still a lot of things to be thankful for and to feel positive about — especially when you know your fellow members are here in your own community and share your concerns and beliefs and support the Catholic Church.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Taking America by storm

Pope Francis’ historic first visit to the United States transcends politics

Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States was historic on many fronts: the first pope to address congress, the first world meeting of families in America, and the first canonization on U.S. soil.

cover-nov15The Sept. 22-27 visit was also the first time that secular cable news networks aired non-stop live Catholic content for six days straight – which, in our day and age, is nothing short of miraculous.

In New York, Philadelphia and Washington, people lined up patiently for hours just to see Pope Francis pass by.

“There is still something unique about the papacy and the church,” said Matthew Pinto, president of Ascension Press and a member of Legatus’ Philadelphia Chapter. “I actually think humanity is hard-wired for the church, whether they know it or not. What other religious figure would draw the kind of crowds we saw, waiting in some cases for six or seven hours?”


For many observers, the Pope’s Sept. 24 address to Congress stands out as the most important speech of his visit.

Pope Francis discussed the sacredness of human life and the need to respect immigrants. In unison with his predecessors — Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI — he called for the abolition of the death penalty and the arms trade.

And Legatus members worldwide were happy to hear the Holy Father laud business and the free market.


Pope Francis at Ground Zero

“Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world,” he told members of Congress. “It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.”

In the speech, Pope Francis recalled four Americans who stood out for their contributions to the nation: Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Merton — two Catholics and two non-Catholics.

The Pope also alluded to the redefinition of marriage as a major challenge.

“Fundamental relationships are being called into question — as is the very basis of marriage and the family,” he said. “I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”

United Nations

Pope Francis addressed the 193-member United Nations in a wideranging 48-minute speech in Spanish on Sept. 25. His talk touched on the environment, the sanctity of human life, the unborn, human trafficking, slave labor, the drug trade and nuclear proliferation.

With regard to the environment, the pontiff carefully connected the reasons for safeguarding the earth’s natural resources to safeguarding human dignity.

“First, it must be stated that a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist, for two reasons,” he explained. “First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value — in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures.”

Pope Francis also spoke about the difference between men and women, and parents’ primary right to their children.


John Garvey

John Garvey

Another historic first was Pope Francis’ canonization of Junípero Serra — the first Hispanic saint for the U.S. and the first canonization on American soil. Serra evangelized Native Americans over 200 years ago, founding the first nine missions in California. The Sept. 23 canonization Mass took place at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

While there had been some controversy, with certain Native American groups claiming that Serra had mistreated Indians, Pope Francis set the record straight.

“Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it,” he said.

Pope Francis used his homily to explain what the nature of mission is — not just for missionaries and priests, but for all baptized Catholics. “Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.”

Matthew Pinto

Matthew Pinto

For John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America and a member of Legatus’ Washington, D.C., Chapter, the canonization was a high point.

“It was a beautiful day,” Garvey told Legatus magazine. “I agreed with the Holy Father that he thinks of Serra as one of the ‘founding fathers’ of America. The Catholic part of America in the West and South is much older than most people realize.”

World meeting of families

The World Meeting of Families brought tens of thousands to Philadelphia for an Adult Congress, a Youth Congress and a family film festival from Sept. 22-25.

The Adult Congress, which featured renowned speakers like Bishop Robert Barron, Helen Alvaré and Pastor Rick Warren, consisted of 20 speakers and 12 panel discussions. Many of these speeches were standing room only.

The Youth Congress featured 17 talks and 10 musical performances, organized by Legate Matthew Pinto’s Ascension Press.

Curtis Martin

Curtis Martin

“It was like a mini-World Youth Day,” said Pinto, who presented a talk on balancing family life at the Adult Congress. “It was an extraordinary event, probably life-changing for my family. We brought five of our six kids. I was deeply moved by Pope Francis’ love for broken humanity, which at the end of the day, is all of us.”

Curtis Martin — founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, member of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization and a member of Legatus’ Denver Chapter — spoke to a crowd about the New Evangelization.

“Pope Francis is a remarkably engaging person,” Martin explained. “Everyone sees his radiance and his hunger to see the world transformed from consumerism to being Christ-centered.”

Toward the end of the World Meeting of Families on Saturday evening, Pope Francis put down his notes and spoke from his heart about the family.

“This was the high point for me, when the Pope spoke extemporaneously,” Martin said. “My wife turned to me and said, ‘This is spectacular!’ When you put down your notes, you get a sense of the man. He shared his heart — which is the heart of a father — when speaking to us.”

Politics and the church

Timothy O'Donnell

Timothy O’Donnell

The vast majority of people who encountered Pope Francis either in person — or simply by watching on TV — felt elated and energized by his visit.

Still, there were naysayers on the political Left and Right.

Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College and presenter of two talks at the World Meeting of Families, noted the tension for Pope Francis’ critics.

“You have people on the Left who were really upset that he didn’t say ‘yes’ to same-sex unions,” explained O’Donnell, a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter. “One theologian from Fordham University was incensed by the comment Pope Francis made about mothers-in-law. Then you have traditional Catholics who don’t trust the media. He did speak about abortion to the U.S. bishops. Some wanted him to speak about it more.”

Ultimately, O’Donnell said, those who learned something from the papal visit were those who truly listened and read the Holy Father’s speeches thoughtfully and with an open heart.

“Some conservatives feel that Pope Francis should have said specific things, but this is arrogant,” said O’Donnell. “Every time he spoke about the family, he was speaking about the normal understanding of men, women and their children.”

Michael Warsaw

Michael Warsaw

O’Donnell underscored the fact that while the secular media tends to paint the Catholic Church as always saying “no,” Pope Francis underscored that Catholicism is a “yes” to Jesus. Michael Warsaw, president of EWTN, concurs.

“The problem in America is that we tend to impose political constructs of the Left and Right on the Church and the Pope,” said Warsaw, a member of Legatus’ Washington, D.C., Chapter. “It doesn’t work and leads to incorrect conclusions.

“Pope Francis is a Pope of gestures more than words. He has a different style than the past two popes, but that doesn’t mean he is less Catholic or less committed to the Gospel.”

In fact, people will remember Pope Francis’ gestures on this trip more often than his words — blessing handicapped children, visiting the homeless and prisoners, visiting the Little Sisters of the Poor and meeting with Kim Davis.

“As someone on the front-lines of the HHS battle,” Warsaw continued, “these gestures were very meaningful to me and encouraging. He told journalists on the plane back to Rome that conscientious objection is a human right — and we have a right to live out our faith in the public square.”

Living out the Catholic faith in the public square during this papal visit became a “super reality.” The Catholic pride that came through was, perhaps, the biggest miracle of all.

“Our young students at Catholic University are taken by Pope Francis,” said Garvey. “He is an unlikely media celebrity. He wears clunky shoes, speaks bad English and uses a small Fiat. But he speaks volumes through his gestures. And our young people are just drawn to him.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

Legatus writer’s joy-Filled papal experience

I had a surreal moment on Sept. 27 at New York’s LaGuardia Airport on my way home from covering the papal visit.

First, the TV screen at my gate was showing the World Meeting of Families closing Mass, uninterrupted by commercials. At one point, my daughter was thirsty and I walked around the airport to find her a bottle of juice. At every restaurant, there were multiple TV screens on — all airing the Holy Father’s homily. At every newsstand, every newspaper and magazine cover featured Pope Francis.

pope-2Everyone at the airport was listening intently to the Holy Father.

“They can’t all be Catholic,” I thought. “What’s going on?”

Something was going on because I saw Pope Francis capture people’s hearts on this trip.

I saw it everywhere: When I had to catch a cab and tell the driver I was going to cover a papal event, the driver would wish me well. When I had to pass through police barricades to get to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one policeman gushed about how lucky I was. The doormen at my parents’ apartment could not wait to hear what it was like for me to have seen the Pope. My friends waited six hours in Central Park to see the Pope drive by for five seconds.

Everyone said it was worth it.

Security had us journalists go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral seven hours ahead of time. We waited patiently for the Pope to arrive. The hours flew by and nobody complained. Not even me!

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi

When Pope Francis finally did walk into the Cathedral, it was as though an electric force had suddenly permeated the atmosphere. Something was different and everyone could feel it in the air.

Some of the journalists near me were practicing Catholics. But not everyone. One woman in particular who wrote for a business magazine started weeping openly when the Holy Father walked in. When I looked at her, she said, “I’m supposed to be a jaded journalist, so why am I crying?”

Perhaps it was the way Pope Francis sweetly waved at everyone — or the way he went to bless every person bound in a wheelchair. Perhaps it was the simple words he spoke during the vespers service, telling us the importance of counting our blessings.

“There is something unique about the papacy,” Matthew Pinto, president of Ascension Press, told me. “There is something going on beneath the surface when people encounter the Pope. It’s a movement of theSpirit and a deep resonance, whether people know it or not.”

That’s why even jaded journalists, tired policemen and Indian taxi drivers felt something when Pope Francis came to town. New York City became an extremely difficult place to get around — and people could not have been more pleased.


Learn more:

USCCB: Papal Visit

Taking down the giant

Legatus’ pro-life leaders discuss the undercover videos that could very well mean the end of Planned Parenthood

When a little-known pro-life group began releasing videos about Planned Parenthood in mid-July, public outrage was immediate and ferocious.

pparenthood-1The shocking undercover videos — 10 so far — show cavalier conversations among high-level officials at Planned Parenthood and various biotech companies deliberating over the sale of baby body parts as though they were dealing used cars. The videos displayed gruesome images of dismembered babies, ready to be sold for scientific research. Federal law explicitly prohibits the sale of aborted children and their parts.

Cultural influence

The videos’ impact has been massive.

“These videos have allowed the truth to break through for millions of Americans,” said Jason Scott Jones, a human rights activist, filmmaker and author.

Jason Scott Jones

Jason Scott Jones

“The challenge we have as Catholics is communicating two truths — through the ideological filter of the Culture of Death — to people in a way they can understand,” said Jones, an At Large member of Legatus.

“First is the truth of abortion — what it really is. Most people refuse to accept the truth about abortion because if they did, they could no longer tolerate abortion,” he explained. “The other truth we’re challenged to communicate is the truth of the human person — that we have an inherent beauty, dignity and worth. That dignity demands protection from violence.”

Jones lauds the work of David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), who worked for years on the covert video project. “He has communicated to millions of Americans both of those truths,” Jones said.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, said the videos brought to mind other horrors that have been committed against human beings throughout history. “I think it was the sheer brutality and lack of humanity of the clinicians which shocked me the most,” she said.

Marjorie Dannenfelser

Marjorie Dannenfelser

The videos have re-energized the U.S. pro-life movement like nothing else in the past few decades.

“There is a renewed resolve and focus now,” said Dannenfelser, a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter. “But there is a caveat: We do not have a president who will defund Planned Parenthood. This gives us more energy to try to elect a pro-life president that will.”

Legislative action

Prior to the videos’ release, pro-life legislators introduced the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion of children after 20 weeks’ gestation. On May 13, the House passed the bill 242-184. The Senate has yet to vote on the measure.

“The timing of these videos has been miraculous,” said Dannenfelser. “They have been very helpful to legislative strategy on the Hill. I believe it has been the Holy Spirit at work.”

The videos’ release prompted an immediate Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood of the more than $528 million it receives from the federal government every year. The Aug. 4 vote —53 to 46 to defund — fell just short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a presidential veto. Still, pro-lifers claim victory.

Lila Rose

Lila Rose

“Defunding Planned Parenthood is within reach,” said Lila Rose, president of the pro-life organization Live Action. “The last vote we had in the Senate to defund Planned Parenthood was in 2011. Two Democrats stood up in the Senate this time and voted against Planned Parenthood.”

In a 241-187 vote on Sept. 18, the House of Representatives voted to freeze funding for Planned Parenthood for one year. The Senate is expected to take up the bill soon.

Another immediate result of the undercover videos has been state and federal investigations throughout the country. Four congressional committees have launched investigations into Planned Parenthood, as have 12 states. Five states revoked the abortion giant’s funding.

The CMP videos also seem to have loosened any fears that Republican presidential candidates may have had about speaking on abortion. During the first two GOP debates, Republican candidates spoke forcefully about Planned Parenthood and the evil of abortion.

“It’s not embarrassing anymore to be pro-life,” said Kathleen Eaton Bravo, president of Obria Medical Clinics and a member of Legatus’ Orange Coast Chapter. “We have the most pro-life generation ever now.”

In the 1990s, it was rare for mainstream journalists to cover abortion stories without an overtly pro-abortion bias. Today, Bravo said, the media is forced to cover the issue more fairly considering that half the country consistently identifies as pro-life.

Opening the debate

Kathleen Eaton Bravo

Kathleen Eaton Bravo

The CMP videos also proved that social media has given the pro-life movement an edge over mainstream news outlets who opt not to cover stories that damage the abortion industry.

“YouTube and social media have changed everything when it comes to getting the truth out,” said Rose. “Before this, abortion-friendly reporters at NBC, CBS or ABC could block news stories. This doesn’t matter anymore.”

In other words, pro-life news reaches the public more often than not through social media or pro-life news sources. Rose’s group Live Action — which has also recorded undercover videos at Planned Parenthood — has over 1 million Facebook followers. Some of Live Action’s videos have been viewed by over 1 million people and have prompted congressional investigations.

The CMP videos, Bravo said, are giving abortion-minded women something to think about.

pparenthood-2“These videos have shown us the dark side of abortion,” said Bravo. “They give us an understanding of what that ‘choice’ means. Women are now saying, ‘If choice means what is happening in these videos, well that is horrific.’”

Pro-life activists hope these videos will wake up a sleeping giant — those who are pro-life but not involved. Involvement can mean prayer, letter writing or sharing information. It can also mean donating funds to groups like Obria Medical Clinics, which help women choose life, or to groups like the Susan B. Anthony List, which help elect pro-life candidates.

The pro-life community also hopes these videos will ultimately bring down Planned Parenthood. But, Dannenfelser said, “When you work in Washington, you can never be sure that anything is inevitable.”

But the CMP videos have reached millions who had never given abortion a second thought, she said. “And it has reached the pro-life ‘choir’ — those whose hearts needed to be renewed.”

Bravo said she believes the tide is turning in the right direction.

“I think these videos are the beginning of the end of the dark days of abortion,” said Bravo. “People are finally seeing the profound evil and arrogance that Planned Parenthood has become.”

Jones concurs.

“These videos built on the work begun by Mark Crutcher [pro-life activist and founder of Life Dynamics] and Lila Rose,” who both did undercover video work against the abortion industry, Jones said.

“The videos delivered what I believe is the mortal wound to Planned Parenthood. How long it will stagger to the grave is anyone’s guess, but when Planned Parenthood falls, the autopsy will reveal that these videos are the wound that did it in.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

Great books in the great outdoors

cover-sept15Wyoming Catholic College marks 10 years of forming extraordinary leaders

To say there’s something unique about Wyoming Catholic College may be a bit of an understatement.

Founded 10 years ago, this faithful Catholic college is turning hearts and minds to Lander, Wyo. — literally the middle of “God’s Country” — on the southeast edge of the majestic Wind River Mountain Range.

“There has been a lot of excitement about Wyoming Catholic College,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society. “It’s an absolutely wonderful institution which has focused on the classical approach to higher education.”

Learning leadership

Wyoming Catholic College’s objective is to offer a world-class, traditional liberal arts education in a holistic way: mind, body and spirit. The college’s approach is truly unique. All freshmen begin their studies by going on a three-week leadership camping trip.

Anthony Vercio

Anthony Vercio

“Learning leadership in the outdoors is ideal,” said Anthony Vercio, a WCC senior from Virginia. “In the back country, the consequences of your decisions can be seen so much more clearly. You really get to know yourself — your strengths and weaknesses.”

While some colleges offer voluntary three-to eight-day camping trips, no other U.S. college has a mandatory 21-day camping trip for freshmen, which incorporates leadership training as well as Catholic spirituality.

In August, the college welcomed its largest-ever freshman class of 58 students, bringing its student body to 150 students. Each of those freshmen will complete four camping trips in their first year. Upper-class students are required to go on at least two weeklong camping trips per year. The spiritual aspect of these trips sets WCC apart.

“We get to know ourselves as sons and daughters of God in relationship with other people,” Vercio explained. “It transformed the way I looked at the world.”

Every WCC freshman is also required to take a one-year course in horsemanship — learning to ride and care for horses.

Vercio said working with horses is a great lesson in humility. “It’s sometimes difficult to work with a horse,” he said. “You learn how to lead others to do what you would like. You have to learn to work with them with understanding.”

Unmistakably Catholic

Legate Kevin Roberts poses with his wife Michelle and their four children (Kristy Cardinal)

Legate Kevin Roberts poses with his wife Michelle and their four children (Kristy Cardinal)

WCC’s curriculum builds on itself over four years. The classes are chronologically organized as well as integrated among themselves. All students read the Great Books of Western Civilization. They take classes in history, imaginative literature, writing, reasoning, oratory, Latin, art history, music, mathematics, natural science, philosophy, theology, spirituality, outdoor leadership, and horsemanship.

“We integrate everything we do,” said Dr. Kevin Roberts, a member of Legatus’ Denver Chapter who has served as WCC president since 2013. “Every student takes the same set of classes, so they can have the same foundation for great conversations. This is what we call the ‘cultivation of wonderment.’”

Judy Barrett, a WCC board member and a member of Legatus’ Napa Valley Chapter, sees real value in this kind of education.

“Many people don’t understand the value of a liberal arts program,” said Barrett. “Somewhere along the way we became results-oriented as a country. But many employers don’t want someone who comes from a specific background. They want someone who has the capacity to think. A liberal arts program prepares students for everything.”

wyomingcollege-featureReilly, from the Cardinal Newman Society, has been following WCC’s growth for years.

“The reality is that a student who gets a strong liberal arts degree tends to do better as their career progresses,” he said. “They have thinking and communication skills, which aren’t common. It usually pays off.”

WCC is unmistakably Catholic with a predominance of Benedictine and Carmelite spirituality. There are daily opportunities for Mass, Confession and Eucharistic adoration. Non-Catholic students are invited to take part in the spiritual formation available on campus.

“We take theology classes all four years here,” said Laura Kaiser, a senior from California. “So you see a development within yourself each year. Each year that passes, you move on to another level of the spiritual life.”

All WCC faculty make a public profession of the faith and oath of fidelity at the beginning of each academic year. Non-Catholic faculty make a pledge of respect to the Catholic Church and her teaching authority.

National reputation

Judy Barrett

Judy Barrett

Established in 2005, WCC opened its doors to 34 freshmen in 2007. The school is on a roll with its largest class ever this fall and, despite its relatively small size, WCC is drawing interest from across the country.

“One of the things that excites me is that WCC is developing a national reputation,” Barrett explained. “Students come from everywhere — and it has been this way since the beginning.”

The college’s graduates have taken diverse career paths. The most common has been teaching in Catholic or charter schools. Some have gone on to work in Catholic/Christian ministries, enrolled in graduate school or entered the religious life. Others have started businesses.

“We have one student who is getting a Masters in engineering,” said Roberts. “One is going to law school. One graduate is the press secretary for the lone member of Congress from Wyoming.”

WCC’s campus is in downtown Lander, a west-central Wyoming city of 7,500. Although its campus isn’t considered permanent, Roberts says the college will stay in Lander instead of moving (as originally planned) outside the city to Broken Anvil Ranch, a 600-acre property owned by the college.

Laura Keiser

Laura Keiser

The school is moving toward full accreditation. One year ago, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) granted WCC “candidacy” status, which means the college’s credits are now accepted at other colleges and graduate school programs.

Candidacy status also qualified WCC to receive federal grants and student loans. However, because of the political climate, WCC’s board decided unanimously to forego all federal funds.

“Even student loans carry some strings for participating colleges, and there is real concern that regulators have been trying to push policies regarding sexual activity and transgender students that conflict with Catholic teaching,” Reilly explained. “So if a Catholic college can do well without federal aid, it’s a great way to safeguard Catholic identity.”

Roberts said WCC will never compromise its Catholic identity.

“One thing is for sure, we will never sign anything that will cause us to go against our beliefs,” he said.

In its 10th year of operation, Wyoming Catholic College continues to form students as bold and joyful witnesses in the public square.

“If you’re looking to be pushed to grow in mind, body and spirit, this is the place to be,” Kaiser said. “WCC pushes you outside your comfort zone. You are allowed to grow more than you ever thought possible — and this growth is towards God.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

Learn more:


Building families of character

Legate STEVE MARKEL’s ministry helps deepen the faith through the virtues . . .

by Sabrina Arena Ferrisi

Steve Markel and his wife Nancy did everything they could to raise their five kids as faithful Catholics, sending them to good Catholic schools, summer camps and even colleges.

Then one day about 15 years ago, Steve and Nancy – members of Legatus’ Denver Chapter – realized that four out of five of their grown-up children had stopped going to mass.

Birth of a ministry

Steve Markel

Steve Markel

“I went to my spiritual director and told him what was happening,” Steve explained. “He said to me, ‘Your kids know the faith. You developed their intellect, but you never developed their will. You didn’t develop their virtues.”

The Markels moved quickly to create a program that would teach parents about the virtues and how to instill them in their children. What resulted was a program called Families of Character.

Steve had worked a high-stress job for 21 years as a senior vice president for American Funds. During his children’s formative years, he was traveling from Mondays to Thursdays, leaving Nancy to raise the five children essentially alone.

“When the father is around, especially for sons, there is a different dynamic,” Nancy said. “They can relate to dad more than mom. You could tell my boys were missing that. And when working on the virtues, it’s harder to impart them if dad is not there.”

Providentially, Steve decided to sell his company in 2007 at the age of 50. It was right around this time that the Markels noticed their children had strayed from the faith. Through prayer and spiritual direction, Steve discerned that God wanted him to use his time in retirement to build the Families of Character program. Their program was tested for a few years and is now available nationally.

Virtue-based formation

Steve and Nancy Markel and family gather with their daughter Christie and her new husband Tim McCormack who were married in August 2014

Steve and Nancy Markel and family gather with
their daughter Christie and her new husband Tim
McCormack who were married in August 2014

When Steve looked back on the early years of his marriage, he recalled that he and his wife had actually read several books on the virtues. Unfortunately, this never translated into teaching his own children how to live them. What Steve learned from his spiritual director was that God broadcasts enough grace for all of us. But we can only receive grace if we are living out the cardinal virtues.

“Grace builds on nature,” Steve explained. “It’s impossible to grow in grace if you don’t live the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and courage.”

But Catholic psychologist Dr. Ray Guarendi says there are no shortcuts to the virtues. “The virtues must be lived at home and the anti-virtues must be stopped. There’s no magic. Teaching virtues is a 20-year process. If you live the faith, discipline well, and love your kids unconditionally — even then, you may have kids who take detours with regards to the faith. That detour may be part of the journey.”

What the Markels witnessed was that within one year of working on the Families of Character program, three of their children came back to the faith. They don’t know if it was the Families of Character program that brought them back, but it did effect a great change in their marriage and in their children’s lives.

“Our eldest daughter came home one day and asked, ‘What are you guys doing? I’ve never seen your marriage this good,’” Steve said.

Working on the program meant that the Markels started talking about the virtues between themselves — which unified them — and to their grown-up kids. They also began to work on improving themselves, and their children took note.

“One of my kids said they had noticed such a difference in Dad — that he was more patient,” Nancy explained. “When he speaks to them, he does so in a more loving and diligent way. When you work on being more virtuous, problems are approached in a different way.”

Concrete change

Sergio and Mercy Gutierrez and their four children have been working with the Families of Character program for seven years.

Sergio and Mercy Gutierrez and their four children have been working with the
Families of Character program for seven years.

The program works by having a couple focus on one virtue per month. Couples can work alone or in a small group. They watch a video which explains what the virtue is. Everyone is given a workbook to assess how their family is doing with that virtue and its two opposing vices. Participants then set goals to be worked on for the next 30 days.

“In the first chapter, you have to create a family mission statement, which allows you to communicate future goals and what you want your family to be like,” said Mercy Gutierrez, who lives in Denver. She and her husband Sergio have been taking Families of Character courses for seven years.

“You realize that you can have a ‘fixed’ mindset or a ‘growth’ mindset. A fixed mindset would be, ‘I’m a yeller because my mom was a yeller.’ A growth mindset would be, ‘I’m messy, but this month I will work on hanging up my clothes right away,’” she explained. “What you realize is that you can change because you put these goals at the forefront of your mind. You see tons of progress in 30 days. It’s very concrete.”

The program also forces couples to analyze their own natural virtues and defects and to find the balance between them.

“With the virtue of generosity, you may have someone who is really frugal, and the opposite would be someone who spends too much money,” Gutierrez said. “With the virtue of order, you could have someone who is totally messy or someone who cleans too much. The balance between the two is where the virtue lies.”

Steve Markel recounts how one of his sons was having a hard time holding a job. When they talked about it, Steve realized that the main problem was his son’s lack of order. During the following week, he proposed that his son get up at 6:30 a.m. and call him every day. The plan worked. His son soon formed the habit up getting up early, which helped him in his job.

“I asked him how he felt once he was able to get up early consistently, and he said ‘great!’ This is because virtues build confidence and direction,” Steve said.

When the Markels talk to couples and ask them where children learn virtues, the answer is always: from the example of the parents. If parents are not modeling the virtues, the kids don’t learn them.

“Unfortunately, the culture today is pushing kids to be selfish, to be searching for constant entertainment, and to be morally relativistic,” said Steve.

Families of Character helps people discover and work on their greatest character flaws. By working on virtues, family members grow in happiness and unity with those around them. Children learn that parents are working on overcoming their vices as well.

“This is about becoming the best version of yourself,” Steve said. “The importance of developing virtue is, ultimately, it brings you closer to Christ.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

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Staring down the devil

Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley took on a diabolical satanic group and won . . .

Christians have always recognized the presence of evil in the world, but nothing mocks our faith more profoundly than the satanic black mass.

So when Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City discovered that his city’s civic center had decided to allow a satanic group to hold a black mass last September, he went into action. For three months, he did everything in his power to get the city to cancel the event. His courageous stand has become an example of what bishops must do when faced with this kind of evil.

Legal strategy

Mike Caspino

Michael Caspino

“When I first learned about this, honestly, I was astonished,” Archbishop Coakley told Legatus magazine. “I thought it was a theatrical production. I’d never heard of a black mass taking place in a public venue. When I realized it was really happening, I was angry.”

Archbishop Coakley immediately contacted city officials and asked for a meeting to express his concern. Especially distressing was that the satanic group was in possession of a consecrated Host, which was to be desecrated during the black mass. Archbishop Coakley told city officials that this was dangerous and offensive to Catholics. City officials listened but didn’t attempt to stop the event because, in their words, they were “afraid of lawsuits.”

The archbishop then met with Legates Michael Caspino and Tim Busch at the Napa Institute to discuss a legal strategy. Caspino, a Legatus member of the Orange Canyons Chapter and shareholder with Buchalter Nemer law firm, immediately set to work pro bono to get the Host back. With the help of Fr. Joseph Fox, a professor of canon law, Caspino studied the situation and came up with a simple argument.

“We argued that the Catholic Church had ownership and dominion over the Host,” Caspino said. “For instance, a host must be stored in a tabernacle and must be placed in a proper vessel. We set forth the complaint that they had stolen our property and needed to turn it over.

Three thousand gather at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oklahoma City to pray on Sept. 21, 2014, while a black mass took place three miles away

Three thousand gather at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oklahoma City to pray on Sept. 21, 2014, while a black mass took place three miles away

When a priest consecrates a host, it is for the purpose of being received in Holy Communion.”

This argument was presented in a lawsuit before an Oklahoma County District Court judge who agreed, ordering the satanic group to return the Host immediately.

“I got a written statement by the court that they had to hand it over,” Caspino explained. “Their lawyer at first said they could give the Host back to us within a week and that we had to pay them $2,500. I told him, ‘We don’t make deals with the devil. You will hand it to us today and we will not pay you a dime.’”

The defendants finally agreed, and Archbishop Coakley sent a priest and off-duty sheriff to their attorneys’ offices with a vessel for the Eucharist.

“The interesting thing was that the lawyer gave back the Host and then asked if his office could be blessed,” Caspino said. “He was very spooked and regretted taking on this assignment.”

Public hate crime

What shocked many people was that the city government allowed the group to use public space and sell tickets for the event to the public.

Legatus founder Tom Monaghan presents Archbishop Paul Coakley with the 2014 Defender of the Faith Award

Legatus founder Tom Monaghan presents Archbishop Paul Coakley with the 2014 Defender of the Faith Award

“Black masses have gone on since the Middle Ages, but not in public venues,” said Fr. William Novak, vicar general for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. “As far as we know, this was the first time a city government allowed this kind of a thing in a public space.”

Boston had seen a similar attempt to hold a black mass on May 12, 2014, at Harvard University, a private university. The event was cancelled due to significant protest against the event.

“Many Oklahoma City leaders said they weren’t in favor of this event, but felt that they could not say ‘no’ because it would bring on a lawsuit,” Fr. Novak explained. “Our thought was that this was a hate crime. It’s taking something which is sacred to us and that’s not OK.”

Archbishop Coakley even asked city officials if they would use the same reasoning to allow other distasteful events at the civic center, such as an anti-Semitic rally or a Koran-burning. City officials did not respond.

When it was clear that Oklahoma City would not cancel the event, Archbishop Coakley asked all parishes to pray to St. Michael the Archangel at the end of every Mass as well as to hold holy hours. He asked people to pray and fast specifically in reparation and for the black mass to be stopped. Not only did locals respond, but Catholics across the nation and around the world did as well. He received letters and emails in support from all over the globe.

The satanic event ended up taking place on Sept. 21 without a consecrated Host. Christians stood outside in prayer and protest. Over 3,000 people joined Archbishop Coakley at an event three miles away from the civic center at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. He led a prayer service of Eucharistic adoration for one hour, followed by an outdoor Eucharistic procession and final benediction.

“It was a beautiful, prayerful witness,” said Fr. Novak, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi. “My parish only has seating for 550 people. We had to seat people in our gym and on the grounds around the parish, as well as on the street. Even more people joined when we did the Eucharistic procession. It was unbelievable.”

Ultimately, people from the Oklahoma City archdiocese saw the event as a teaching moment for the Church on many levels.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about our faith when everyone was listening,” said Archbishop Coakley. “Even our legal briefs talked about transubstantiation. It galvanized our Catholic community and gave us something to rally around.”

Though the city refused to cancel the event, they ironically had no problems allowing Archbishop Coakley to come into the civic center the next morning and perform an exorcism.

Legatus awarded Archbishop Coakley with its Defender of the Faith award at the annual summit in January.

“He defended the most precious body of our Lord Jesus Christ,” said John Hunt, Legatus’ executive director. “He made it clear that even though to others this was a small piece of bread, what their opponents attempted was an enormously evil act.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus’ senior staff writer.

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Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

Bringing Washington to Rome

Legatus magazine’s exclusive with U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Kenneth Hackett . . .

Ken Hackett is not a career diplomat, but he is a career humanitarian. The West Roxbury, Mass., native worked for Catholic Relief Services for 40 years — including 19 years as president — before being named U.S. ambassador to the Holy See in 2013.

Hackett attended Boston College, graduating in 1968. He then joined the Peace Corps and served in Ghana. Afterwards, he joined CRS, serving in Africa and Asia. He retired from CRS in 2011.

You really traveled the world with CRS. Talk about your experiences.

Then CRS-president Ken Hackett chats with St. John Paul II during the Holy Father’s visit to CRS headquarters in Baltimore on Oct. 8, 1995.

Then CRS-president Ken Hackett chats with St. John Paul II during the Holy Father’s visit to CRS headquarters in Baltimore on Oct. 8, 1995.

I lived a good chunk of my life in Africa and in Manhattan covering Africa. I was on the road a lot in sub-Saharan Africa. My wife also lived in Africa, in Ghana, Mauritania and Cameroon. After we were married, we moved to the Philippines where we spent five years and had our first child. Then we transferred back to Kenya where we had our second child. Before going back to the headquarters in Baltimore, we had covered a good chunk of the world.

I can go back to the latest traumatic episode, the Haitian earthquake, which was really all-consuming on people in Catholic Relief Services because we had such a large role to play. When we can bring, as we did, U.S. government resources and private resources — and put it through that powerful resource of Catholic hospitals and health care centers where nuns are doing heroic and saintly work to reach the poorest of the poor — that made a big difference.

Human trafficking is an important issue for the Embassy.

Yes. Combating trafficking in persons has been an important policy goal of our Embassy for years. As you know, human trafficking is an issue that Pope Francis has raised frequently as well. Our Embassy holds regular meetings with Vatican officials, NGOs, and men and women religious to discuss collaboration. We have also organized several events over the last year on the issue of trafficking.

Most recently, we supported the visit of [high-ranking U.S. officials] in Rome to participate in a Vatican interfaith conference on human trafficking. We support Church organizations doing the important work of combating trafficking on the ground. Secretary of State John Kerry has also announced the State Department’s plans to work with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to map and coordinate the church’s efforts on a global basis. Last July, we partnered with the Vatican’s newly launched interfaith anti-trafficking initiative, the Global Freedom Network, to host a video conference.

How does the U.S. work with the Catholic Church on the plight of Christians living in the Middle East, specifically in Iraq and Syria?

Ken Hackett speaks to the media in 2011 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Ken Hackett speaks to the media in 2011 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The safety and rights of members of religious minority groups and other vulnerable people in Iraq and Syria are issues of longstanding concern to the U.S. government. The United States and the Holy See share the goal of peace in the region, and we have shared information with the Vatican on our efforts to combat [ISIS]. These terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities.

We often meet with Vatican officials who are in touch with the Christian communities in the region and with Church leaders from Iraq or Syria when they visit Rome. The humanitarian emergency created from this violence is devastating. The U.S. is the largest contributor of humanitarian assistance, providing more than $3 billion in critical aid since the start of the crisis.

How can the U.S. work with the Church to stop religiously motivated violence — like what we’ve seen from militant Islamists?

The U.S. and the Holy See have been outspoken in condemning the use of religion by terrorist groups to justify their horrific actions. Pope Francis said most recently during his trip to Turkey, “Any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation.”

Credible religious leaders and interfaith organizations can do much to help discredit those groups. These leaders and groups can also work to prevent other young people from falling into the clutches of violent extremist organizations.

Of course it’s important for all states to help youth find peaceful and productive alternatives to express and achieve their aspirations.

How is the U.S. working with the Church in Ebola-affected areas?

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Kenneth Hackett presents his credentials to Pope Francis on Oct. 21, 2013.

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Kenneth Hackett presents his credentials to Pope Francis on Oct. 21, 2013.

The Catholic Church is on the ground and has a vast network of religious workers and lay people who are responding to the needs of those in Ebola-affected areas. We share with the Church the latest news we have from our efforts in the region to try to coordinate our approaches.

The Church has not only been a crucial element of the medical care on the ground in affected countries, but is also helping to address social and economic aspects of the crisis such as grieving, trust of health care workers, dignified and safe burial, and food aid.

Is there cooperation with the Vatican on aiding migrants reaching Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea?

Our government has been most generous to migrants, and the Catholic Church — as you well know — is often on the front lines when people arrive. You probably read that our Holy Father, in particular, has picked someone from his household to deal with this issue. His name is Archbishop Konrad Krajewski. He is the papal almoner. His office deals with papal blessings.

Archbishop Krajewski was told by Pope Francis not to stay behind his desk, but to “get out there.” The Holy Father gets letters from people all over the world. He will scribble a few words on the corner and ask Archbishop Krajewski: “Take care of this, will you?” or “Call this family who has a sick child.”

When this archbishop went to Lampedusa [Italy’s southern-most island which receives most of the migrants], he did two things: He brought $2,000 worth of phone cards and handed them out to recently arrived migrants. Secondly, he bought a whole bunch of pre-stamped envelopes for people who did not have phones at home to write a note to tell loved ones they had arrived safely. These are little things which get to the heart of things. It shows compassion.

What developing issues do you see down the road?

A number of human rights issues will continue to be at the forefront of our work. Combating human trafficking will remain a priority as will the search for peaceful solutions to conflict, countering violent extremism and the persecution of Christians and other minorities, promoting interreligious dialogue and understanding, and combating hunger and poverty.

And we are of course very excited that Pope Francis will be making his first trip to the United States this coming September for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

Homes where the heart is

DOUG SHARP is transforming Africa’s landscape by building innovative new houses . . .

Doug Sharp knows about building homes.

As the chairman of BSB Design, a leading architectural planning firm, Sharp has built some of the finest communities of luxury homes in America. A member of Legatus’ Des Moines Chapter, Sharp knows the security and dignity that a good house can give — something he wanted to provide for the poor. The question was how.

A new type of house

abod-1Eight years ago, he received a challenge.

“A friend of ours had recently traveled to Soweto in South Africa, which is full of shanties,” Sharp explained. “The conditions of the people living in these informal settlements were awful. They use anything they can to put together a home — tires, metal, rags. My friend came back and challenged us to do something: to come up with a home for $2,000 that one family could build in one day.”

Sharp’s firm accepted the challenge. After coming up with 15 different prototypes, they settled on the Abōd, a durable home that can be built by four people in a day.

The Abōd — pronounced “uh– bohd” — uses a “catenary arch,” a steel arch that holds up a lightweight frame. Abōds can withstand bad weather with their hurricane-grade panels and are fireproof and easy to ship. The structure’s main materials are corrugated metal and plastic panels. The houses can be built on a concrete foundation or recycled rubber mats. Quarter twist fasteners hold the frames together.

Abōd interiors can accommodate a ceiling fan and a loft/sleeping area. The roof can hold small solar panels, and the buildings are easy to move.

“We felt it was important that houses be portable because often in Third World countries people don’t own the land,” Sharp said.

The entrepreneur eventually created a nonprofit in 2006 called Abōd Shelters. His group is using a business model whereby non-profits raise money to build Abōd homes. A team of South African manufacturers are producing all Abōd parts, thus reducing shipping costs.

“All Abōds have safety features like locks on front and back doors,” Sharp said. “The doors are solid. Also, we try to build each community of homes in a circular setting for added safety.”

The original goal was to price the Abōds at $2,000, but the materials cost much more. Right now, they go for $3,300 in Africa.

Building communities

Doug Sharp

Doug Sharp

In 2009, the first community of five Abōd homes was built in Limpopo, a small province in South Africa. The homes were going to be used to house AIDS orphans in a project run by Dr. Jim Blessman, a Christian pastor from Iowa.

The Blessmans ran into difficulties with South African social services and its orphanage regulations, so the Abōd homes were turned into staff housing for locals working with Blessman Ministries.

“Our local pastor in Limpopo now lives in an Abōd home and he is very pleased,” Blessman said.

Blessman Ministries ordered another set of five Abōd homes in early 2013, which were built for what Africans call the “grannies” — grandmothers and great grandmothers.

“We let the grandmothers live in an Abōd for $10 per month,” Blessman said. “We give them all the food they need during the month, and they end up bringing their grandchildren to live with them. Almost all of these children have either lost one parent or both to AIDS.”

Blessman Ministries had another set of five Abōd homes built late last year for their safari game farm, which generates income for the ministries. The homes accommodate staff who had been living in shacks.

“They helped us design a community,” Blessman said. “Doug Sharp has come over to South Africa three times. He is very interested in our feedback.”

Another group of Abōd homes in Zambia was built in September.

“We built three girls dormitories for a school,” said Michelle Rothfus, Abōd’s project coordinator. “They had 100 girls living in facilities that were meant for 50. The funding was provided by the U.S. charity called Hoops of Hope, and World Vision provided resources on the ground.”

For Sharp and his family, being in South Africa and participating in the construction has made a deep impact.

“It changed our lives, just being there with my wife, my son, his wife and their friends,” he explained. “God has been so good to us. It made us appreciate things more — the country we live in, the safety we have, the lifestyle we have, even the food in our refrigerator.”

Faith and work

Sharp grew up Methodist, though his family rarely went to Church. He became interested in Catholicism after meeting his wife Marilyn, a devout Catholic. He converted after the birth of their second son.

“We joined the Des Moines Legatus chapter 10 years ago and I was president for a few years,” he said. “It’s a wonderful group of people who are very supportive.”

Working on the Abōds has been a way for Sharp to combine his architectural talents with his desire to help others.

“The goal with Abōd was, first, to provide dignity and an affordable housing solution, and second, to provide an economic trigger to the communities where they are located,” said Ginny Shiverdecker, Abōd’s marketing director. In fact, Abōds are built with the ability to be transformed into retail stores.

Although Sharp and his team will be doing Abōd builds in Ghana and Zambia early next year, they would like to bring Abōds to the next level and build 100-unit communities or greater.

“The U.N. talks about the problem of growing slums, especially around urban settings,” said Shiverdecker. “The Abōds can be a solution. We want them to be used for disaster relief. Often in disasters people are given tarps, but tarps don’t last long. The Abōd is a long-term solution.”

Sharp and his team have spoken to U.N. officials who showed great interest, but they’ve discovered that the most action-oriented groups tend to be faith- based.

“They have connections, projects on the ground, and relationships,” said Shiverdecker.

It is Sharp’s hope that Abōds can be used to help people on a larger scale.

“We would love to have a warehouse with thousands of these Abōds ready to go as soon as disaster strikes,” Sharp explained.

Abōd markets itself simply with the motto “One home, one family, one day at a time.” As the issue of housing for poor people grows increasingly dire, this Legatus member provides a real solution today.

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

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Fighting the good fight

Alan Sears and Alliance Defending Freedom are changing America’s legal landscape . . .

cover-nov14Alan Sears found his calling in 1993 when a group of Evangelical Christians asked him to help found a legal organization to defend religious liberty in America. The fact that Sears, a member of Legatus’ Phoenix Chapter, was Catholic didn’t matter to them. They were willing to cross denominational lines to defend one of the fundamental pillars of America’s founding.

For the past 20 years, Alliance Defending Freedom — or ADF — has defended religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, marriage, and parental rights all the way to the Supreme Court. In the process, it has become the most influential network of Christian lawyers in the country.

Faith journey

Alan Sears first learned his faith from his Baptist parents.

“I had wonderful, faithful Christian parents,” he said. “They led me to have a love for my faith and respect for God.”

As he grew older, Sears became involved with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the SBC had an identity crisis regarding social and biblical issues. Sears held two SBC executive positions during that time. Eventually, the more conservative faction won out.

“While I was involved in this fight, I began to read the Church Fathers,” he explained. “Then I came across the writings of Pope John Paul II.”

Alan Sears

Alan Sears

Around that time, Sears met and married his wife Paula, a devout Roman Catholic. At one point, Sears’ father-in-law asked him why he wasn’t Catholic. Sears remembers saying that he would never convert because of the Catholic Church’s “unbiblical positions.”

Time and study would prove his position wrong. Before long Sears was enrolled at the Kino Institute, a Catholic catechetical school in Phoenix where he studied one-on-one with a priest.

“First, there would be one hour of teaching and studying of Fr. Hardon’s catechism,” Sears explained, “then one hour of argument. At some point, I realized that there was nothing left to fight about.”

Sears entered the Catholic Church in the summer of 1988.

Building a coalition

Besides his personal journey into the Church, Sears was working hard on his legal career. He served the Reagan administration in several positions. Notably, he was staff executive director of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography during the Reagan administration.

“We were on our way to wiping out hard-core pornography in the nation, but then the administration changed,” said Sears, referring to the beginning of Bill Clinton’s first term as president.

After his work in government, Sears worked for 10 years in Arizona’s largest law firm. By the time ADF’s founders came looking for him, he had experience in all areas of law, including private practice, public policy and media work.

Alan Sears with Tom Monaghan.

Alan Sears with Tom Monaghan.

“The whole idea for ADF was not about dominance of one group,” he explained. “It was 35 Evangelical groups who came together. The founders understood that we are in a time when we must stand together to fight for things that matter most.”

Today, ADF has over 170 full-time employees and over 2,500 allied lawyers working in every U.S. state and 40 foreign countries.

Every summer, ADF runs its Blackstone Legal Fellowship Program — a nine-week program that takes about 150 of the country’s best law students who go deeper into natural law, government, philosophy and key legal doctrines. That includes six weeks of “field work.”

“I think ADF is doing outstanding work,” said Bernard Dobranski, founding dean of Ave Maria School of Law. “They get students from the best law schools across the country, and the students are paid well. ADF gives them instruction that is often neglected in law school.”

Dobranski credits Sears for helping build a new generation of well-equipped Christian attorneys who can defend religious and personal liberty in and out of the courtroom.

Wesley Hodges, who graduated from Baylor in May, participated in ADF’s Collegiate Academy in mid-July. The program provides upperclassmen an opportunity to learn from renowned Christian experts in legal and policy fields.

“The program transformed the way I act and see myself as a Christian in the public square,” he explained. “It allowed me to break through the worldly notion of barriers between a person’s private beliefs and public actions — and be trained to craft excellent moral arguments in the public square as a Christian.”

Conscience rights

Wesley Hodges

Wesley Hodges

Sears said he believes that ADF’s biggest accomplishment has been to “show up” in court on a large scale. From the post-World War II era until the 1980s, he said, people of faith became silent in public policy.

“We didn’t show up,” he said. “The body of Christ forfeited. We weren’t looking at the big picture.”

One of the things that ADF’s founders realized early on was that little cases no one was paying attention to became big cases. Today, ADF takes small cases very seriously. For example, Barronelle Stutzman, a florist from Washington state, had a customer ask her to provide flowers for his same-sex wedding.

“He had been her customer for nine years,” said Kristen Waggoner, ADF’s senior vice president of legal services. “She respectfully declined because of her Christian beliefs. She got sued by the state, which was unprecedented, by the ACLU, and by the homosexual customer.”

Stutzman’s cases are being litigated in state and federal courts.

Cathy DeCarlo was a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. At the beginning of her tenure, she told the administration she would not participate in abortions. DeCarlo was assured that her conscience rights would be respected. One day, a patient was wheeled in for a 22-week abortion. DeCarlo was told that if she refused to participate in the abortion, her career would be over.

“Our legal efforts led to a rewrite of the case,” Sears said.

In light of all the cases ADF handles, Sears says the No. 1 fight in America today is for the right of conscience. Although Catholics experienced religious persecution at various times in U.S. history, today’s battle is unprecedented.

Kristen Waggoner

Kristen Waggoner

“We really haven’t seen, in a modern sense, the deliberate and direct attack on the practice of the faith as we have now,” said Sears.

One of the most obvious attacks has been the Health and Human Services mandate, an Obama administration directive that most employers pay for contraception, abortifacients and sterilizations — regardless of the employer’s religious convictions.

“Never before has there been a time when you’ve had to choose between your conscience and your business,” said Sears. “We represented a Montana pharmacist who didn’t want to administer contraceptives. He was threatened with the loss of his license despite the fact there were other pharmacies in the area that provided contraceptives. We’ve won all these cases, but we shouldn’t have to fight these cases to begin with.”

Changing the culture

ADF and its allied attorneys are hopeful for the future. They’ve played various roles in 45 cases that have gone before the U.S. Supreme Court, and they’ve won 75% of them.

“We are about building alliances and changing the culture,” said Waggoner. “I don’t know of any other organization that does this with the spirit of unity we have. To be able to do what we do with our training and strategy component — this is Alan Sears’ greatest accomplishment.”

One common observation from those who work with Sears is his humility.

“I have been in private practice for 17 years,” Waggoner explained. “And with very accomplished people, you inevitably see very big egos. What really drew me to work with Alan Sears was his genuine humility and his love for God and people. He is always telling us that we have to make ‘stars’ of people, that we must build other people up.”

Not only is ADF building people up, but they are changing the culture of the legal profession from within. Perhaps one of the biggest changes ADF has wrought is for the lawyers themselves, Dobranski said. It’s not taboo anymore to talk about faith and defend it in court.

“People have been influenced and are more willing to make arguments on behalf of religious freedom,” he said.

And for people of faith, that is a welcome change.

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

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A mission to transform Hollywood

Legate Derry Connolly leads a university bringing Christ to the world of entertainment . . .

People of faith often complain that Hollywood runs roughshod over Christians. For some, the answer is to avoid mainstream entertainment altogether. But John Paul the Great Catholic University — aka JP Catholic — has a different solution.

Students at the country’s only Catholic film and business school are taught to impact Hollywood by transforming themselves through Jesus Christ — and by excelling at making quality movies and entertainment.

Solid foundation

Derry Connolly

Derry Connolly

Derry Connolly, founder and president of the San Diego-based university — and member of Legatus’ San Diego Chapter — says he never set out to found a university.

In 2000, he visited Franciscan University of Steubenville with his daughter. At the time, Connolly was teaching entrepreneurship at the University of California San Diego. Steubenville’s dynamic spirituality caught him by surprise. During the next three years, Connolly felt God calling him to found a university with Steubenville’s spirituality — but focused on the media.

“I spent three years telling God, ‘No,’ but He put it in my heart and it kept coming back,” said Connolly. “I couldn’t get rid of it.”

With the help of generous donors and a team of Christians working in Hollywood, JP Catholic opened its doors in 2006 in San Diego’s Mira Mesa neighborhood.  In the fall of 2013, JP Catholic moved to a new campus in Escondido, 30 miles north of San Diego. The new campus has more building space and is only five minutes away from a train station that takes students directly to Los Angeles.

The budding university offers two Bachelor of Science degrees: one in communications media and another in business. Within the communications media degree, students can specialize in directing films, producing, screenwriting, acting, animation, video game production and the New Evangelization. The school also offers two master’s degrees: one in business administration and another in biblical theology. The university’s MBA is specifically focused on film production.

JP Catholic’s 170 students live on campus, with 90 other students taking its online theology degree.

“The theology department is led by Dr. Michael Barber, who studied under Scott Hahn,” said Tiffany Hall, a senior at JP Catholic. “He’s been really great. We do a scripture class that takes us through all the covenants in the Bible.”

Faithful storytelling

The Catholic faith permeates every aspect of the school. All professors sign an agreement that they will not teach anything contrary to the Catholic faith, and every theology professor has a mandatum — an acknowledgement by the local bishop that the professor is teaching in full communion with the Church.

Dorms are housed in apartment complexes with a strict no-visiting policy between male and female students.

“In our common room, we pray a rosary every night at 9 p.m.,” said Hall. “I love that! We have daily Mass and our chapel is always open for daily Confession.”

“Responding to the crisis in the world of Catholic higher education, JP Catholic is part of a group of faithful universities founded over the past several years,” said Adam Wilson, communications director for the Cardinal Newman Society. “It was created with the renewed conviction that a Catholic university must be founded on the Church’s authentic vision for Catholic education.”

Chris Riley

Chris Riley

Chris Riley, a Protestant, heads the screenwriting department at JP Catholic. Before coming to the university, he worked for 14 years at Warner Brothers as the head of the script processing department. He is considered an authoritative figure in Hollywood when it comes to screenplays.

“There is a certain amount of theory for screenplay writing,” said Riley. “There is some science, a ton of art, and then wrestling with the story. The hardest thing to overcome is the discipline of writing.”

Students interested in screenwriting first take a class on theory. Then they take a class where they write an episode for a TV series. Finally, they take a feature-film writing class.

“Ultimately, screenwriting students must write a feature-length film,” said Riley. “By the time they graduate, they will have multiple scripts.”

One of JP Catholic’s strengths, he said, is the strong link between the faculty and the film industry.

“Students have gotten great internships,” said Riley. “We have great networking possibilities. Our faculty really understands the business.”

Transforming Hollywood

In terms of making it in Hollywood as a Christian, Connolly says things are changing for the better. “The Christian network in Hollywood is getting stronger,” he said.

Riley concurred.

“I haven’t experienced a ton of hostility to the faith,” he said. “Most people I work with want to do good work and are not specifically hostile to Christians.”

JP Catholic students made a full-length feature film last year called Redline, starring Nicole Gale Anderson. It’s available on DVD and streaming on Netflix. They’re working on a second feature film called Leap.

“Students who major in film produce their own short films,” Riley explained. “They raise the money themselves, create a schedule, get the equipment and crew, and shoot the film. Donations come from family and friends and crowd-funding sources.”

JPCatholic-1Students enter their work in film festivals, and some have won awards. Other students have earned cash by working on professional television commercials.

JP Catholic’s gaming and animation program is also growing in popularity. The program focuses on design, art and storytelling.

“I want to create my own video games, like interactive puzzles, adventure games and solving mysteries,” said Hall. “I want to start my own studio — called Guardian Studios — using Old Testament stories as a basis, so people can learn the faith and virtues.”

Students like Hall, however, are aware of gaming’s pitfalls, especially for younger players.

“What bothers me about violent video games is that sometimes you’re rewarded for violent behavior,” she said. “You need to be rewarded for right behavior. Children need limits with any kind of ‘screen time.’ I love the digital world, but it will never be God’s world.”

Connolly sees a bright future for JP Catholic, with a peak enrollment down the road of 1,200 students. The school is planning to launch an undergraduate degree in fashion design, as well as theology, in two or three years.

But the university’s mission is above and beyond fame and fortune.

“What I hope for all my students,” Riley said, “is that they are individually impacted and transformed by Christ. Some will go into mainstream Hollywood. Some will get married and have children.  I want them all to bring the flavor of Jesus wherever they go.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

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