Napa Institute’s Online Conference Will Focus on ‘Finding Hope in the New America’

Church leaders offer an inspiring lineup at the virtual event planned for mid-August.

Cardinal Raymond Burke leads a Eucharistic procession at the 2019 Napa Institute Summer Conference. The 2020 event will be virtual, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but dynamic speakers are still in the lineup.
Cardinal Raymond Burke leads a Eucharistic procession at the 2019 Napa Institute Summer Conference. The 2020 event will be virtual, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but dynamic speakers are still in the lineup. (photo:

For the first time since it was established a decade ago, the Napa Institute Summer Conference will be held online Friday and Saturday, Aug. 14-15.  The original event had been planned as an in-person event in July in Napa, California, per usual, but it will be online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The conference — “Finding Hope in the New America” — will not be a “slimmed-down version of the regular event,” said event organizers, with an expanded speaker lineup discussing issues related to faith and culture.

“This pandemic has been a life-changing experience for all of us,” remarked Tim Busch, Catholic entrepreneur who founded the Napa Institute, to supporters of the Napa Institute during an online meeting.

“We thought long and hard about going virtual, but we had no choice. There has been a resurgence of the virus on the West Coast, with quarantines in some states and new restrictions placed on us in California.”

Restrictions on gatherings, especially religious ones, continue in California.

“At the beginning of July, we had every intention of holding an in-person conference, even with a reduced capacity, as it is a wonderful networking opportunity for Catholic leaders,” said John Meyer, executive director of the Napa Institute. “But things progressed, the lockdown increased in California, and literally overnight we came to a place where we could no longer hold it.”

The Napa Institute was also planning an in-person conference for entrepreneurs in New York in October; that event has been planned for online, as well. 

On the positive side, Busch noted, the Napa Institute has grown in its ability to offer digital content, allowing it to reach even greater numbers of people worldwide and “impacting more people than an actual in-person event.” 

The in-person 2019 Napa Institute Summer Conference in Napa drew 700 participants, including many priests and bishops, and had 100 liturgies. Busch said the institute intends to resume the conference next year as an in-person event, albeit with a more significant digital component. 


Mix of Live and Prerecorded Talks

The August conference will feature a mix of live and prerecorded talks with top Catholic speakers and an opportunity for questions and answers during the live events. The 30 to 40 talks will be archived and can be viewed online for two months after the conclusion of the conference.

Meyer said the purpose of the conference is to help Catholic leaders better understand how their Catholic faith can help them respond to the present moment in U.S. public life, and the conference will include presentations on both spiritual and cultural issues.  The conference’s three pillars, he explained, are formation, liturgy and community. Formation will continue online, with the opportunity for the community to engage through question-and-answer sessions during the live presentations. Two morning liturgies will be offered via livestream by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, California. At a time when three statues of Franciscan St. Junípero Serra, who founded nine California missions, have been pulled down by California mobs and a fourth voted removed by the Ventura City Council, the bishops will intentionally offer their Masses at missions within their dioceses. Bishop Barber’s Mass will be at Mission San José in Fremont; Archbishop Cordileone has yet to select a site.

The Napa Institute is also working to develop online social opportunities, including an add-on wine tasting in which wine will be mailed to participants’ homes and enjoyed via social media.

Meyer said that topics will include a mix of cultural issues and evangelization in a hostile culture. The mass protests and riots “and the ideologies behind them” as well as the pandemic will be featured topics, said Meyer, “viewed from a uniquely Catholic lens.” 

The death of George Floyd and the unleashing of protests over race, combined with responses to the pandemic, has ignited an “incredible revolution” nationally, added Busch, something not seen since culturally since 1968. He recalled how, when he was a ninth-grade student in Michigan, Detroit was burned down that year and has never been the same since. He said, “This is spiritual warfare” and noted that it would be a theme of many talks.


Featured Speakers

Featured speakers include Cardinal George Pell, who will discuss suffering and persecution, particularly in light of his 13 months in prison as a result of what Australia’s highest court declared was an unjust conviction for child sexual abuse. (Busch noted that he had been friends with Cardinal Pell for a decade and that, in Cardinal Pell’s recent case, “grace prevailed.”) Arthur Brooks will discuss reconciliation and love in America, including the need for a return to civil discourse. Princeton professor Robert George will ask: “Where do we go from here?” Author George Weigel will present lessons from Pope St. John Paul II and what Vatican II was all about. Trent Horn of Catholic Answers and Catherine Pakaluk of the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America will discuss socialism, and evangelical pastor Rick Warren will speak about hope.

Other notable speakers include Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley, theologian Scott Hahn, Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer, evangelists Matt Fradd and Curtis Martin, Marian Father Michael Gaitley and Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation.

Meyer encourages attendance at this year’s Napa Institute for all those “who are interested in what’s going on in our country and want to be better equipped on how to respond.”

Register correspondent Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.

This story was updated after posting.



Early-Bird Registration Deadline: Aug. 1

Register online

The cost to register is $189, or $149 for early-bird registration (by Aug. 1). Host a “watch party” for $1,000; cost includes a case of Trinitas Cellars wine and cigars. 



Listen to a Zoom conference featuring Tim Busch and John Meyer talking about the conference here.

Confirmed Talk Lineup:

Arthur Brooks: “Reconciliation & Love in America”

Archbishop Charles Brown: “Personal Holiness & the Teachings of Pope Francis”

Louis Brown: “A New Birth for Civil Rights”

Norbertine Father Ambrose Criste: “Our Lady's Role in the New Evangelization: Your Ongoing Conversion, Her Renewal of the World”

Ross Douthat: “The Decadent Society and the Church”

Tom  Farr: “Come Be My Light: The Crisis of Religious Freedom in the United States and Catholic Responsibility”

Matt Fradd: “Porn: 7 Myths Exposed”

Robert P. George: “Where Do We Go From Here: How Do We Navigate These Waters as Faithful Catholics Who Want to Rebuild the Church?” (Robert George is interviewed by Daniel Mark.)

Tim Gray: “Unshakable Kingdom”

Allen Guelzo: “Ignoble History: The 1619 Project”

Scott Hahn: “Hope to Die, Hope to Rise”

Mary Hasson: “J.K. Rowling and the Crisis of Womanhood”

Trent Horn and Catherine Paklauk: “Can a Catholic Be a Socialist?”

Aaron Kheriaty: “Rioters and Revolutionaries”; “Maintaining Our Mental Health During the COVID Pandemic”

Father Dominic: “Grace in a Time of Anxiety”

Fran Maier: “Crisis, Church Reform and the Lay Vocation”

Curtis Martin: “Making Missionary Disciples”

Joshua Mitchell: “American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time”

Carter Snead: “The 2020 Supreme Court and Abortion: The Way Forward”

Chris Stefanick: “You Were Made for This”

John  Bergsma/St. Paul Center Presents the Bible: “Introducing the New Testament: Understanding and Teaching the Scriptures”;
“The Gospel of Matthew: The Kingdom Has Come!”

Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer: “How to Suffer Well Through Your Faith”

George Weigel: “What Was Vatican II Really About?”; “Lessons From St. John Paul II for This Catholic Moment”