This May marks 30 years since Legatus started bringing together some of the most powerful and influential Catholics in the country. Founder Tom Monaghan realized that forming an organization to deepen the faith of Catholic CEOs and presidents would put inspiration and knowledge where power already existed.
“Legatus takes leaders and helps them to be better Catholics,” Monaghan said in an interview for Legatus magazine. “They can do more than the average person and they should.” As a successful businessman and lifelong Catholic, Monaghan’s experience with “doing more” put him in the perfect position to influence other leaders.
“I’m doing this because it’s the best thing I can do to help people get to heaven,” he said. “All my past experience has contributed to this and somehow at the age of 80, I still have the energy and ability.”
Monaghan’s professional experience is vast, beginning with turning a restaurant that he paid $900 for in 1960 into Domino’s Pizza, which sold for over $1 billion in 1998, and including his ownership of the Detroit Tigers from 1983 to 1992. But after forming Legatus, Monaghan moved away from materialism into dedicating his life to the Church.
Affecting the Culture
Legatus has had a ripple effect, according to Monaghan, starting with those who can make things happen and then radiating into the Church and culture. Even back in the 1990s Legatus was called “the most influential lay organization in the Church” by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the first international chaplain for Legatus from 1988 to 2012.
And during a Legatus papal audience in 1988, Pope St. John Paul II told them: “The world needs genuine witnesses to the Christian ethics in the field of business and the Church asks you to fulfill this role publicly and with perseverance.”
It was after Monaghan’s dream opportunity in 1987 of attending Mass with Pope St. John Paul II in his private chapel and shaking hands with him afterwards that Legatus was born. Immediately following that experience, Monaghan was inspired to model an organization after the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), a group for networking among heads of businesses aged 50 and younger, but to make his group about the Catholic faith. He wanted to evangelize the heads of top companies by filling them with Catholic inspiration and truths to bring back to their families, their businesses, the Church, and the culture.
And So It Began
On June 2, 1987, just one month after Monaghan met the Pope, Legatus took hold in Michigan with a meeting of 11 men in Ann Arbor. It has been growing ever since with 87 chapters, which includes 2,700 executive members and over 5,000 total members including spouses.
“Legatus was a response to Pope John Paul II’s request to evangelize,” Monaghan said. “CEOs are influential because most people look up to those who are successful.” He explained that too often, successful people are looked up to for the wrong reason— worldly success. It’s more important that Catholics in the public eye give a good example, according to him. “That’s what the word Legatus means—ambassador,” he said. “They can evangelize just by being so visible. It’s quite an accomplishment to have achieved the level of a CEO and still be a practicing Catholic.”
Those that run big companies are a rare breed, Monaghan said, because it takes a lot to get to the top and to stay there. “Because of that, they need more spiritual support and more graces,” he said. “Everything else they do pales in comparison to their work and generosity for the Church, because that can make a difference in someone’s eternity.”
Into the Future
“We have an aggressive plan to grow Legatus in both quantity and quality,” said Stephen Henley, who became the organization’s sixth executive director last year. He explained that the goal is to become a global organization, doubling in size in three to four years, then moving into Latin America, Europe, Asia, the Pacific Rim, Africa, India and into the rest of the world. “Tom is a visionary through and through,” Henley said. “He has laid out the strategic plan on how it will grow and he’s developed new positions to better serve our current members.”
Unlike businesses where growth is about increased profits, Henley said that Legatus is about profiting souls. “This is about expanding the true mission of Legatus — to teach and support members in their faith so that they can better support the Church, especially during these times.”
Monaghan has never made a penny on Legatus, and even pays his own annual dues. A recent calculation, according to Henley, revealed that Monaghan has contributed more than $1.5 million of his own money, but the organization is now self-sufficient and there is a succession plan in place. When Monaghan is no longer able to serve as chairman and CEO, the executive director will become the CEO. “But Tom’s doctors tell him he could easily have another 20 years,” Henley stated. “Tom isn’t ever going to retire; he’s going to be with us to the end.”
As chapters grow and new ones are formed, there is a move to bring in younger members. Henley pointed to Craig Henry, who joined at 45 and became a founding charter member and the inaugural president of the Lafayette-Acadiana chapter, as a good example of that.
Henry is the founder, owner and president of MAS Transportation & Logistics, LLC, based in Lafayette, LA, and managing partner in the Bradford Food Group, a food distribution and bakery company which operates in Mexico and the U.S. He and his wife Jamie have three children.
It was good friends Sam and Sally LaVergne who introduced the Henrys to Legatus through the Baton Rouge Chapter in July 2013. “Legatus has literally changed our lives,” Henry said. Although they went to Sunday Mass (usually), and their kids were in Catholic school, he admitted that something was missing.
“We kept feeling like we had a hole in our hearts that we could not fill,” Henry said. “We didn’t know what to do with the fruits of our success and like many lost 40-year-old souls, we weren’t living our Catholic faith as Christ intended.” After attending their first Legatus Summit in Orlando in January of 2014, Henry said that he felt “reborn.”
“We learned what the Church stood for and how we could utilize our successes to be true ambassadors for Christ,” he said. “Legatus changed how we ran our businesses and showed us how to lead by Christian example.”
When Henry reluctantly — after much prayer — agreed to step up as inaugural president of the new Lafayette-Acadiana Legatus Chapter, with the help of many other great Catholic business leaders, they broke the Legatus record at charting with 54 member couples.
He described Monaghan as a great friend and mentor who has helped him in both business and his spiritual life. “He challenged me to say a rosary every day for the rest of my life and I’ve done it for years now.” Recently, while saying a rosary in the car after getting a new puppy, he chuckled to hear his daughter say to the dog: “Duke, get ready, this happens all the time.”
“Legatus has focused us on our faith even with the friends we have, how we raise our kids and run our businesses, and how we view our faith and spread it,” Henry said. “It has touched everything in our life. “
PATTI MAGUIRE ARMSTRONG wrote the newly published book, Legatus @ 30, is an award-winning author and Catholic journalist, TV and radio commentator, and mother of 10.
Tom Monaghan meets with Pope St. John Paul II who inspires him to form Legatus
First chapters form in Michigan and Honduras
First Legatus retreat held on Drummond Island, MI
First Legatus “University” meeting held in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Legatus membership at 124
Archbishop Justin Rigali named international ecclesiastical advisor
Pope St. John Paul II meets with Legatus pilgrims at Vatican
Legatus celebrates fifth anniversary, 672 members
First Legatus awards at the National Awards Banquet and Celebration at Dearborn Inn, Dearborn, Mich.
Revised Legatus Mission Statement is published: “To study, live and spread the Faith in our business, profession and personal lives.”
Legatus founder Thomas Monaghan sells Domino’s Pizza to devote his time and resources to philanthropic work
Legatus members meet with Pope St. John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Vatican while on pilgrimage
Legatus has 1,200 members in 22 chapters
First Leadership Summit is held
Legatus website is launched: legatus.org
Legatus welcomes its 1,000th CEO member
Legatus pilgrimage and audience with Pope St. John Paul II
Legatus holds its first annual pro-life conference in Washington, D.C., which includes a 20-minute private visit with President George Bush
Legatus monthly newsletter becomes Legatus magazine accepting sponsorship advertising
Legatus charters seven chapters, breaking all previous chartering records: San Antonio, Ann Arbor, Lincoln, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Houma-Thibodaux, Peoria.
Legatus celebrates its 20th anniversary with more than 4,000 members in 73 chapters
Legatus Annual Summit at the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, CA hosts former President George W. Bush
Legatus 25th anniversary
At year’s end: 2,155 members and 75 chapters
Legatus begins new growth strategy and develops new position of Chapter development officer. In the next three years Legatus
charters 18 new chapters
Legatus surpasses all chartering records with eight
new charters: Lake Charles, Vancouver, St. Charles, Harrisburg, Charlotte, Madison, Washington, D.C., and Fairfield
30th anniversary of Legatus
80th birthday of the founder of Legatus, Tom Monaghan
88 chapters; 18 more in development
There are now 2,655 executive members and over 5,000 total members