By John Heuertz
One fine day in 1987, St. John Paul II told some American businessmen that “The world needs genuine witnesses to Christian ethics, and the Church asks you to fulfill this role publicly and with perseverance.”
Later that same day, a staunch American Catholic billionaire got the idea – “like a lightning bolt,” he says – to found an organization for Catholic CEOs of companies earning more than $4 million per year.
Its purpose would be to promote and support “moral ethics in business in conformity with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church so that the lives of all can be enhanced.”
“Legatus” was the group and its founder was Tom Monaghan, then-owner of Domino’s Pizza and the Detroit Tigers.
Monaghan addressed about 50 Catholic laity, priests and sisters at an informational gathering about Legatus at Indian Hills Country Club Thursday evening, June 11 after Confessions, the Rosary and Mass at St. Agnes parish in Roeland Park.
Among other topics, his remarks touched on the sources of his Catholic faith and on how to support proven leaders in society who want to move the “New Evangelization” of the Church forward.
If any modern American Catholic embodies the Horatio Alger story, it is Tom Monaghan.
Born in 1937 during the Depression, Monaghan and his younger brother James lived at St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Jackson, Mich. after their father died in 1941, remaining there until his mother could retrieve them both in 1949.
The home was run by Polish nuns, and later in life Monaghan named a college dormitory in memory of it.
“They were very devout,” Monaghan said. “They were father, mother and family to us. I got my faith from them.”
He wanted to be a priest after a year with the nuns, but was asked to leave seminary in the early 50’s after a series of minor infractions.
At 19 Monaghan joined the Marines by mistake – he thought he was joining the Army – and was honorably discharged in 1959.
Monaghan started architecture study at the University of Michigan and in 1960 bought a pizzeria with James for $900 to help pay the way through school.
“But I was working 100 hours a week and losing my shirt, so I didn’t go to class much.”
He dropped out of school, bought out his brother, met his wife of 53 years while delivering a pizza, courted her with a heart-shaped pizza at one point, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“We had three stores when we got the name Domino’s. We were going to add a dot to the domino every time we added a store, but we ended up with 11,000 stores.”
The company Monaghan founded is now the world’s largest pizza chain, but after reading C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity, he decided to step back.
In 1992 he sold the Tigers to fellow Detroiter Mike Illich, owner of the Detroit Red Wings and founder of the Little Caesar’s pizza chain, and sold nearly all of his stake in Domino’s in 1998.
Since then, Monaghan has bankrolled a series of high-profile Catholic initiatives in law and education.
“I dropped out as a college freshman, and now I’ve got 13 honorary degrees,” he said. “But I won’t get any more because I’ve run out of money.”
Legatus seems to be the project nearest to his heart these days.
The word “legatus” is a Latin noun meaning officer, envoy or diplomat.
The group Legatus was formed to help top executives study, live and spread the Catholic faith in their business, professional and personal lives.
This is accomplished through monthly meetings structured like the one on June 11. There are also optional forums and retreats, pilgrimages, and an annual three-day summit.
Legatus prides itself on fidelity to the Magisterium and its members also have the opportunity to attend an annual Pro-Life conference in Washington, D.C.
Spouses are full members, and Thursday evening’s gathering had a beguiling Date Night feel.
“People ask us what we do,” Monaghan said. “We don’t have any special projects. Our only project is the members themselves. We help each other to be better Catholics.”
Legatus “has had an amazing effect on my life,” said local chapter president Bill Graveman.
There are currently 88 Legatus chapters with over 4,000 members in the USA, Canada and Ireland. The goal is to establish 300 chapters in the next ten years, including in Kansas City.
Contact Bill Graveman at (913) 238-0815 for more information on Legatus, or visit the web site at www.legatus.org.