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Legates enjoy confidential support amid life’s toughest challenges

Mike Sullivan doesn’t know what he would do without his Legatus Forum.

A member and former president of the Denver Chapter, Sullivan has been part of a Forum for 12 years. During that time, he said, the 11 Legates in the group and their families have experienced births, deaths, job successes and challenges, and significant spiritual growth. “I look around the room and see guys who are peers on many levels, but mostly we are tied together by our strongly held Catholic faith,” Sullivan said. “There is absolutely nowhere else in the world where I can go on a regular, long-term basis to experience the love and support that I get from these wonderful guys.”

Sullivan has been a vigorous promoter of Forums since 2007 when, while serving as chapter president, he was advised at a Legatus Summit to consider starting the small groups in Denver. He took the idea back to the Chapter, which today has 11 Forums – five for men and six for women. “Roughly 71 percent of the total Legatus membership of approximately 103 members in Denver are now in Forums, with a new one planned to start soon,” he said.

Deeper camaraderie

A Forum is a small group within a chapter that provides a “deeper dive” into the Legatus experience, said Mike McCartney, a member of the board of governors and the Genesis Chapter. “It is a confidential, close-knit group that discusses where your faith, your work, and your family converge.”

Legatus Forums trace their origins to Orange County Legate Mary Campbell and two other women from her chapter, who started a Forum based on their experience with groups in the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). Their idea took off, and today Orange County has four men’s and three women’s Forums.

Each Forum group meets monthly at the minimum and begins with an opening prayer and reading of a confidentiality statement, followed by short updates from each member and discussion. Sticking to the format is important and keeps the group from becoming something it’s not intended to be, said Laura Sacha, Legatus director of training and development. “A Forum isn’t a book club and it’s not to give advice and it’s not a social gathering.”

Peer-group privacy

Confidentiality is key and means that members do not share what is said in the group with anyone, not even their spouses. “You have conversations in that Forum you could never have outside of it,” McCartney said. “In fact, that is the bedrock: the number-one prevailing rule is unbending confidentiality.”

This is especially important when it comes to discussions about business. “In many cases,” McCartney continued, “this is a chance to run stuff by your peers, to get challenged, be supported, and explore options of how you would handle business issues that have far-reaching ramifications.”

Added Sullivan: “For some, it’s like having a private board of directors to assist in complex and thorny business issues.”

Legatus currently has 101 Forums – 55 for men, 44 for women, and two that are mixed. Of the 90 chapters, only 38 currently have Forums and Sacha said every chapter is being encouraged to have one Forum each for men and women by the first of the year.

The structure and format of Forums have worked well and so have remained unchanged since the groups were introduced, Sacha said. However, with the push to establish more Forums, an effort is being made to offer more structured training for facilitators and additional support for the groups.

 Where Forums flourish, chapters are solid

Forums are considered beneficial not only to individual Legates, but chapters as a whole. “Wherever you have Forums flourishing, you have a solid chapter,” McCartney said. “. . . Our data tells us that if you’ve got a vibrant Forum, it will be foundational for your chapter.”

Sacha said this is partly because membership in a Forum enhances the Legatus experience, making Legates more committed to the monthly chapter meetings and national events. It also leads to higher retention rates. “Some members renew just because of their Forum,” she said, adding that for many, the groups represent their core support system.

When their 21-year-old daughter, Courteney, was killed in an auto accident in 2017, Denver Legates Craig and Shelly Saeman said their fellow Forum members brought meals, prayed with them, and fulfilled other needs, including helping with funeral arrangements. Craig said the support continued after the funeral as Legates had Masses said for Courteney and called and texted him and his wife, inviting them to lunch and letting them know their friends were thinking of them.

Sacha said one of the strengths of Forums is that members know from the start they are with likeminded individuals. “It’s not like a layer of onion you have to peel off. It’s a given. You’re in that Forum and you can get to the real issues more quickly.”

NOTE: Must be a Legatus member to participate in a Forum. To start or revive a chapter Forum, contact Laura Sacha lsacha@legatus.org.

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.