PHILADELPHIA — While Tim Flanagan, then-owner of the Flanagan Financial Group, was Catholic, he felt something was missing in his life.
“I had a desire to strengthen my relationship with Christ and felt a real desire to do that beyond the scope of my parish,” said Flanagan.
Friends invited him to join the Philadelphia chapter of the Catholic fraternal association Legatus in 1994. It was precisely what he was searching for.
“With as big as the Church is, I always felt like there was something lacking. This was a way to bring business leaders together,” said Flanagan. “I was able to expand my relationships with Catholic business leaders.”
Legatus has been making connections between Catholic business leaders for 25 years. On May 7, 1987, then-Domino’s CEO Thomas Monaghan was inspired by a meeting with Pope John Paul II to create an association offering spiritual and business support for Catholic business leaders and their spouses.
Today, the organization has grown to include 75 chartered chapters and nearly 4,000 members. The fruits of the organization are evident not only in the spiritual growth of its members, but that it has spawned other Catholic apostolates as well.
“Tom was inspired by the Holy Spirit after an audience with Pope John Paul II,” explained John Hunt, executive director of Legatus. “It was modeled after the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), of which Tom was a member.”
“Tom realized that business owners and leaders are in a unique position to be people of influence,” added Hunt. “They are in a position to be leaders in the community and the Church.”
The structure of Legatus is very much the same as when it was founded. Members gather for regular monthly meetings that include Mass, opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation, praying the Rosary, a reception, dinner and a speaker. Members also gather for an annual summit.
“There are no projects or fundraising solicitations,” explained Hunt. “Legatus doesn’t solicit its members for causes.”
David Karam, former CEO of Wendy’s restaurants, has been a Legatus member for the past two years. Karam said that he has been inspired by interacting with other business leaders dealing with difficult issues but guided by their Catholic faith.
“[Business leaders] are very busy, but they don’t sacrifice daily Mass, frequent confession and a deep prayer life,” said Karam.
“What draws me to Legatus is that focus on forming Catholic leaders who are in a unique position to apply the resources that are at their disposal and to utilize some of their management skills that they’ve developed to put them to work for the benefit of the Church,” said Karam. “It’s not simply about perfecting our gifts for the benefit of our careers. It’s about applying those gifts to the benefit of souls.”
Through Tim Flanagan’s involvement in Legatus, he was inspired to found the Catholic Leadership Institute, a nonprofit organization that currently offers a two-year leadership-formation program for priests, as well as ongoing formation for bishops and lay ecclesial leaders.
“Priests are ordained to teach, sanctify and govern, but they receive very little, if any, of the governance piece [in terms of the day-to-day running of a parish],” explained Flanagan. “We saw that weakness and wanted to provide that.”
The curriculum guides clergymen through Christ-centered leadership to teach them strategies for management, non-adversarial problem solving and to overcome the challenges of a diminishing number of priests and more complex circumstances in priestly ministry.
Flanagan credits Legatus and its members for the institute’s growth. The institute provides training for priests in 70 dioceses.
“As Legatus members introduced us to their ordinaries and provided funding, more bishops asked us to do leadership programs for their dioceses,” said Flanagan.
Similarly, Timothy Busch’s involvement in Legatus has led him to be involved in a number of exciting initiatives. Busch has helped start Catholic elementary and high schools. He also was involved in the Diocese of Orange’s recent acquisition of Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral in California. Busch has been a member of the Orange County Legatus chapter for 22 years.
“I was fascinated with the idea of successful business people focusing on spirituality,” said Busch. “It seemed like a way to make great connections with people who have common values and a common vision.”
Busch is also responsible for the creation of the Catholic leadership conference known as the Napa Institute.
“The Napa Institute is intended to bring Catholic intellectuals to teach Catholics about their faith so that they can defend it,” said Busch, CEO of the Busch Group. The inaugural conference was held in July 2011 with 250 attendees. Busch expects that 350 will attend this year’s event.
“Legatus has maintained my faith,” said Busch. “When you get busy and successful, you think you don’t need God; but you need him more.”
Hunt has seen the organization grow and become more and more accepted by the bishops.
“What’s been clear to me in current times — that was not the case early on — is the level of appreciation for and understanding of Legatus by the hierarchy,” said Hunt. “We’re welcomed and sometimes invited by ordinaries to come into their dioceses. Many dioceses have a medical or legal association. Many bishops see this as the third leg of a stool for support in their local community.”
The organization also has witnessed dramatic growth, from its earliest chapters in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Toledo, Ohio, to its newest chapters — a fourth chapter in Orange County, Calif.; one in Lexington, Ky., and a chapter in the South Bay Los Angeles area. Hunt said that Los Angeles represents a key success in terms of the density of memberships. There are multiple chapters in the Los Angeles area — in Palm Springs, West Los Angeles, Pasadena and others.
Other notable areas of membership include Detroit and southern Louisiana. The Baton Rouge chapter is the organization’s largest, with 84 CEO members.
“We have a presence in practically every major diocese, population-wise,” said Hunt. “Tom [Monaghan] believes we could have 100 more chapters.”
In addition to Legatus’ U.S. growth, the organization is also focused on expanding internationally.
“We have aspirations for the organization to become more international,” said Hunt. “We have a healthy chapter in Toronto, we have a chapter in development in Dublin, and ground work is being done with the hopes of establishing a chapter in Poland.”
“Legatus exists to help the Church,” said Hunt. “It’s something of a support group of people on the right path, looking to make the greatest impact they can for the good of society.”
Tim Drake is the Register's senior writer.