More opportunities for fellowship and in-person connection are what Dwayne Keller said he’s hoping for as the Catholic Business League’s 2022 Leadership Catholic class continues.
“COVID and recent weather has made it more difficult to schedule things in person” and has caused one event to be rescheduled, said Keller, Catholic Business League board member and senior vice president of Vizient, Inc., a healthcare performance improvement company. “But I really hope we can have all our upcoming events in person because they’re just so much richer and people can connect personally a lot better.”
Leadership Catholic, a ministry of the Catholic Business League, began with its first class in September 2017 under the vision of board member Steve Horvath, Keller said.
Leadership Catholic is meant “to grow a network of mid-year, early career professionals to help them live the Catholic faith through their work, through their personal lives, through their communities, and then to also provide them executive mentorship from very senior Catholic executives from large corporations, entrepreneurs, attorneys, just every and any professional that lives their Catholic faith in all aspects of their lives,” said Keller, who was president of the CBL when the ministry began.
“It becomes so challenging when you’re in your early or mid-career, you’re having babies, things are crazy, and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact of how much your faith can help you be a better leader, a better parent, a better community member,” Keller said.
Catholic Business League, which was founded in 2008 by Greg Mays, began with the same principles, Keller said, but the network of Catholic professionals at that time were older and were more established in their careers and therefore had a more flexible schedule. Leadership Catholic was a way to bring younger Catholic professionals into the mix.
Each summer, applications for the upcoming class are open. Of the applications received, 12 are invited to participate. Participants are chosen based on their resume and their answers to a questionnaire.
“We want them to already have ideally five years of business or work experience just because it’s much more meaningful to people once they’ve been working,” Keller said. “And we’re agnostic to industry or position, in fact this is the most diverse class we’ve had.
“But we also really try to see into their hearts and minds through what they write about when we ask why they want to be part of the program,” he said.
Once the participants are chosen, each of them is paired with a mentor who can help guide them and answer any questions participants may have. Mentors and mentees, at minimum, meet once a month for at least an hour to talk, Keller said. Past and current mentors have included retired chief executive officers, retired executive chairmen, serial entrepreneurs, and more.
“It’s amazing the kinds of people we’ve had step up and support this,” Keller said. “They are incredibly successful people in business and careers, but if you talk to them, you’d never know it because they’re very humble, servant leaders, which is how they became successful. They used their faith to help them make decisions, to help them solve problems, and so on.”
The personal mentorship is what class participant Erin Stracener, director of the Tribunal of the Diocese of Nashville, said she has found most helpful.
“I was paired with a gentleman named Mike LaLonde and have really enjoyed and appreciated the one-on-one mentorship that we have,” Stracener said. “To me, that’s been the most valuable part of it all.”
LaLonde, a client executive with World Wide Technology, is in his second year serving as a mentor.
“I was very involved with the CBL as it got started, but then I had to focus on the domestic church at home because I’ve got five young kids born in the last 10 years,” LaLonde explained. “But people here kept me in the loop and asked me to get back involved and one way was Leadership Catholic.
“I was happy to do it, and I’m grateful that I did,” he said. “I’m always happy to serve.”
LaLonde’s approach in mentoring Stracener has just been about them getting to know each other and offer any guidance he can, not only in business but how to incorporate the faith in “how we do business and how we conduct ourselves in our work,” he said.
John Michael Ford, deputy executive director of programs for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Nashville, said he has also found the mentorship piece beneficial and has enjoyed talking with his mentor, Davidson County General Sessions Judge Ana Escobar.
“As a public servant, she’s working with the public at large as is Catholic Charities, and she’s been able to successfully integrate her beliefs and her faith into the decisions she makes and brings that spirit-filled energy to her work,” Ford said. “It’s just really nice to see a model of what success in faith and work looks like hand-in-hand.”
Along with the mentorship program, each quarter participants come together for a half-day event.
The first event is a faith-focused retreat, which includes Mass and stories from various guests about “how they have lived their faith journeys through work,” Keller said. “It’s a time for members to reflect on where they are, and it has a definite impact on each of them.”
The second event, “How To Think Like a Catholic Executive,” brings in some of the mentors and other Catholics in senior positions to further explain how they’ve been able to live their faith in the workplace.
The third event, Diocese Day, brings participants to the Catholic Pastoral Center to meet with Bishop J. Mark Spalding and other diocesan executives, who share with them the current ministries and projects in the diocese as well as answers any questions that they have.
“Bishop Spalding is a huge supporter of us,” Keller said.
The final event, Government and Community Day, which is organized by Judge Escobar, allows participants to hear from Nashville’s mayor, state representatives, the chief of police and other government leaders.
“It just exposes them and opens up to so many other things that are happening in all aspects of life and business and the community,” Keller said.
Finally, Keller said several social events are hosted throughout the year so that participants and mentors can interact with each other in a more laid-back setting. He said he hopes that eventually, they can host a social gathering that brings together all former and current class participants and mentors.
“We’re trying to get as much out of this year as possible with all the obstacles that everyone is dealing with around COVID and all the things relating to it,” Keller said. “We’re really just trying to hit a tipping point where it really takes off.”
After graduating from the Leadership Catholic class this August, the 12 current participants will help facilitate activities with the upcoming class that begins in September 2022.
Applications for the next class will open this summer.
For more information, visit catholicbusinessleague.org/leadership-catholic/.