The Men Behind the Magis Institute

Catholic entrepreneur puts his faith first in schools and think tanks.

IRVINE, Calif. — CNN’s Larry King recently welcomed noted physicist Stephen Hawking on the air to discuss his new book, The Grand Design, in which Hawking opines that the universe did not need God to create it or establish its laws. There to challenge Hawking was Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer of the Magis Institute.

Magis is an apostolate founded and funded by Catholic businessman Tim Busch. It’s headquartered in his offices in Irvine, Calif.

When you sit down and talk with Tim Busch, two things are readily apparent: He’s a Catholic and an entrepreneur — in that order. In a professional career that has spanned more than 30 years, Busch has launched or been a part of many successful businesses that have given him the resources and opportunity to share and promote what is most important in his life: his Catholic faith.

“The focus of my life is getting myself to heaven and to help others get there too,” Busch explained. “And that should be the focus of everyone else’s life as well.”

Busch grew up in Michigan. His father, Joe, was an entrepreneur, founding and operating Busch’s Marketplace, a chain of 15 upscale supermarkets. It was because of his father that Busch wanted to own his own business.

“Working for someone else was never even a consideration,” he remarked.

In search of a warmer climate and better business opportunities, Busch relocated to Southern California in 1982. He founded The Busch Firm, which specializes in high net-worth estate planning, real estate and business transactions, and tax law. Busch is also a C.P.A. and real estate broker.

Other businesses Busch founded include Pacific Hospitality Group, LLC, a hotel development and management company that manages five hotels; he also has holdings in real estate as well as public and private operating companies.

In 1985, Busch married his wife, Steph. When the couple’s first child, Garrett, was a preschooler, the couple began looking for elementary schools. They were living in south Orange County, an hour or more drive from downtown Los Angeles, and there was a limited Catholic infrastructure in place. The Catholic parishes in their immediate area did not have schools, and the parochial schools a bit farther away were overcrowded. So, Steph recalled, Busch came up with a solution: “He came home one evening and said we’d start our own school.”

In 1992, St. Anne’s School in Laguna Niguel opened its doors. While its initial challenges were in finding land and building enrollment, the greatest challenge, recalled Busch, was in establishing and maintaining the school’s Catholic identity.

“Some of our parents wanted a nondenominational school; some wanted a secular school,” he said. “It took us some time to get its Catholic identity firmly established.”

Today, St. Anne’s serves 800 students.

Sleepless Nights

Busch undertook an even greater challenge in the decade following the opening of St. Anne’s: the founding of JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano. South Orange County had limited options for parents who wanted to send their children to a Catholic high school, so Busch and a few like-minded parents began the search for an appropriate site.

After looking at various sites, the founders settled on a location near historic Mission San Juan Capistrano. However, purchasing the land and establishing the school proved a monumental task. The city of San Juan Capistrano was cool to the idea of a nonprofit, non-tax revenue-producing organization being established on such a large plot. Neighbors said they’d miss the open space and were concerned about traffic. Building the school required the approval of many regulatory agencies. And, most frustrating of all, some members of the tribe of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, protested construction on what they declared a historic and sacred site. The “Juanenos,” as they were named by the Spanish padres who founded the Capistrano mission, are descendants of the Indians who were once the sole occupants of Orange County.

Steph recalls that Busch endured many sleepless nights, wondering how he’d meet the challenges of his opponents, but he never wavered on his decision to found the school. Six times lawsuits were filed to stop construction, but JSerra prevailed each time. One hundred fifty-five students started school on Sept. 3, 2003.

Seven years later, the school educates more than 1,000 students, well on its way to a capacity enrollment of 1,450. Many in the community have come to accept and even embrace the school. JSerra has strong academic credentials as well as competitive sports programs. And, most importantly, JSerra is solidly Catholic. Its staff includes several Norbertine priests from St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, which is known for its orthodoxy.

The Catholic identity of St. Anne and JSerra is of paramount importance to Busch. “If your kids finish school and don’t have the faith, they leave with nothing,” he explained. “The faith is the most important thing they can have to guide them through their lives.”

Register correspondent Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.