Peter Feuerherd
Legatus may be the most exclusive Catholic organization this side of the College of Cardinals.

Started by Domino Pizza mogul Tom Monaghan in 1987, Legatus is open only to Catholics who are the owners or chief executive officers of their companies. Its nationwide membership is slightly more than 300, including the spouses of members.

The guiding philosophy is that even bosses (some would say, particularly bosses) need spiritual guidance as they guide companies through difficult economic and moral shoals.

"The mission has remained the same," Jim Berlucchi, executive director of Legatus, told the Register from the group's Ann Arbor, Mich., headquarters.

Legatus members dedicate themselves to "studying, living and spreading the Catholic faith," said Berlucchi. But, he emphasized, that doesn't mean that Legatus members are proselytizers. They're business people, both men and women, dedicated to living their faith in the world.

"Most of our members are entrepreneurs," says Berlucchi, noting that they most often run medium-sized firms with 50-70 employees.

Berlucchi, who took over the reins at Legatus three years ago after a career with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and other nondenominational Christian organizations, was hired by Monaghan and the other members of the Legatus board. Monaghan, the chairman of the Legatus board, has made Ann Arbor the home base of Domino's. He is also the former owner of the Detroit Tigers baseball team.

Monthly chapter meetings are the staple of the group's organization. Chapters have sprung up in the Detroit area, as well as in Philadelphia, New York City, San Francisco, Toronto, Newark, N.Y., and Orlando, Fla. Expansion plans call for Legatus to establish chapters in St. Louis, Cincinnati and Los Angeles, among other places.

The idea for Legatus came after Monaghan had an audience with Pope John Paul II. The first meeting of the organization was held in Honduras, where Monaghan, who was raised by nuns in a Michigan orphanage and has become famous for his fervent Catholic faith, has charitable interests.

Membership requirements include a stipulation that Legatus members must be Catholics in good standing and be in charge of firms with 50 or more employees.

At the beginning of monthly meetings, members are frequently offered the opportunity for confession, which is followed by Mass, dinner and a speaker.

Legatus members are brought together, said Berlucchi, by "a set of responsibilities and challenges." It is, he said, a "peer-to-peer ministry," in which lay people in responsible positions can discover how their Catholicism can make a real difference in their lives.

The vision is based on Vatican II's emphasis on the lay calling as one which should be focused on bringing Gospel values into the marketplace.

Besides the personal support of those in similar circumstances, Legatus members also learn about the Church's social teaching and how that can affect their business practices. Another important component is to help members improve their marriages and family life.

"Our members are extremely busy," said Berlucchi, noting the demands frequently placed on the time of executives. As a result, meetings have to be productive. Legatus, he said, brings "faith, family and business concerns into one package."

Legatus chapter meetings include, he noted, discussion on the role of labor unions in business and how enterprises can incorporate Church teaching on the rights of labor into their business policies.

One publication put out by Legatus, for example, describes the most appropriate way to fire an employee, keeping in mind the importance of "upholding the dignity of the individual."

A special concern is family life.

"Most of our members are successful and relatively prosperous. Many are concerned that their children are not spoiled," said Berlucchi. A recent Detroit chapter meeting included a panel discussion by the adult children of members sharing their insights about how they were raised.

To keep the spiritual aspects of Legatus in the forefront, the group has developed a history of cautioning members about what Legatus is not.

"It's not a clique for movers and shakers," said Berlucchi, who noted that business networking at meetings is discouraged. Such opportunities, while legitimate, are best met by other organizations, he stated.

It is also not a forum for Catholic organizations seeking donations from the well-heeled. Collections for causes are not taken up at Legatus meetings. According to Berlucchi, most members are already involved in other Catholic fundraising efforts, with many holding responsible positions in their home diocese on the boards of bishops' and Catholic Charities fund-raising drives.

While the group's membership may be exclusive, the goals of its members are the same as those pursued by millions of other Catholics around the world.

Members, said Berlucchi, "are people who take their faith seriously."

Peter Feuerherd is the Register's national affairs correspondent.

Taken from the "National Catholic Register," October 30, 1994. For subscriptions contact the "National Catholic Register", P.O. Box 260380, Encino, CA 91426-0380, (800) 421-3230.

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