Legatus helps Catholic business leaders bring the faith into the office

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A small Nashville group called Legatus is coming close to completing the requirements it needs to become a full chapter in a global organization that helps the lives of 3,000 faithful business leaders across the world.  

Legatus International is a Catholic lay organization that has grown into a large network of Catholic business leaders and executives since it was founded in 1987, opening nearly 200 chapters in that time. It is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  

It is the brainchild of Tom Monaghan, the entrepreneur and founder of Dominos Pizza, who retired in 1998. He is also the founder of what would become the Ave Maria Foundation, as well as Spiritus Sanctus Academies. 

“At the time, he was working with Young Presidents’ Organization, but he realized that when he was in a secular group, the lack of faith in the group was a problem. He started Legatus to help Catholic executives touch lives in ways that are sound for business and faith,” says Chapter Development Officer Ron Nielsen

“One of the things we say a lot is ‘iron sharpens iron.’ We get groups together, challenge each other and grow, and this group of people would’ve never found each other,” Nielsen said. “They’re facing the same challenges in their work, but they want to grow their faith and do things right.”

The Nashville chapter has been a project that has taken years to come together, but the growth of the city’s Catholic population has seeded the ground for Legatus to grow with it.

The group officially started meeting shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic but saw few early guests. The growth has increased significantly over the past year. While the group is still below the minimum number of members necessary to become an official chapter, its members believe it will hit its target within the next few months. It currently has 15 couples, including two sets of parents with sons who are priests in the diocese. 

Legatus is designed to appeal to a very specific group. To join, a person must meet several criteria, including being a Catholic in good standing being an individual who holds the top position of a qualifying company, subsidiary, or division with at least 50 employees and revenue of more than $8 million. Emeritus membership is open to people who formerly met the criteria. Members join with their spouses.

“It’s designed to create a safe place where a business leader and their spouse, with the sacraments as our foundation, can come together with other executives for an intentional date/fellowship night without feeling they will be sold something” said Steve Hayes, senior advisor and managing director of Gallagher Executive Search and Leadership Advisors and a member of the Nashville chapter. “They live a stressful  life leading a large flock and are often being propositioned, which won’t happen at Legatus.”

Each monthly meeting begins with a group rosary, confession, and Mass, followed by fellowship time, a cocktail hour, a meal, and a guest speaker who addresses a specific issue or challenge to inspire the integration of a person’s Catholic faith in every facet of their life at home, work, and in the community at large. The group also plans to launch a gender-specific forum for male-only and female-only fellowship and collaboration.

“I struggled early in my professional career; it seemed as though I needed to live two lives. I found it very hard to bring my faith life into my work life,” said Steve Wilgenbusch, director of operations and administration at St. Edward Church and School. 

“When I walk into the room with Legatus, I see a peer-level group of professionals working to integrate their faith into their work life at a very high level,” Wilgengusch said. “This faith-based environment can have a great effect on your work professionally. We don’t have to leave faith at the office door, it can come with us and be a part of our daily decision-making process, and Legatus helps us see that.”

“It’s been awesome making connections with the couples at the monthly meeting, especially with couples we would’ve never gotten to have known from other parishes. These people hold faith very important to them, and they want to come together for fellowship. It’s been a great thing for us,” said Hayes.  

The growth of Legatus in Nashville would’ve been unheard of 15 years ago, but the growth of all the city’s parishes has created new opportunities, Nielsen said. 

Legatus can help those business people foster their values within their work, he added. It also provides a scholarship program for 13 Catholic universities, including Aquinas College in Nashville, and provides a discount on children’s or grandchildren’s education. 

For more information about Legatus International, visit Legatus.org. Those interested in attending the next meeting of the Nashville Chapter can join the group’s upcoming meeting on Wednesday, May 3, and RSVP at Nashville@Legatus.org

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