By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published October 16, 2008
Tom Peterson used to suffer from what he calls “affluenza.”
It was the desire to collect more and more tokens from the secular world—items such as cars and houses—that showed off his success to those around him.
At the time, he was a self-proclaimed workaholic. He was a successful ad agency president who had no time for others, especially not for God.
“Many people saw me as an overachiever. I was an overachiever at work, but an underachiever in my Catholic faith,” he said.
Peterson shared his story at a meeting of fellow members of the Atlanta chapter of Legatus. Founded in 1987 by Tom Monaghan, founder and former owner of Domino’s Pizza and the Detroit Tigers, Legatus (Latin for ambassador) has a mission to bring top-tier Catholic business leaders and their spouses together in a monthly forum that fosters personal spiritual growth.
According to its Web site, Legatus “offers a unique support network of like-minded Catholics who influence the world marketplace and have the ability to practice and infuse their faith in the daily lives and workplaces of their family, friends, colleagues and employees.”
The Atlanta chapter was founded a little more than a year ago, and each month some of Atlanta’s top Catholic business executives come together for Mass and to enjoy a meal and listen to a speaker. Peterson spoke at the Oct. 3 meeting at the Ashford Club in Sandy Springs and told his fellow Legatus members about his spiritual conversion.
For 25 years, Peterson built his career as an award-winning, national corporate advertising executive. Highly successful, Peterson launched numerous secular campaigns during his career—one particular campaign yielded $1.3 million in revenue. He had vacation homes, expensive cars and the best clothes.
But everything changed when Peterson attended a men’s retreat. During the retreat, he clearly heard God’s voice telling him to “downsize and simplify.”
Soon after, he founded Virtue Media and Catholics Come Home, educational nonprofit media apostolates dedicated to Catholic Christian principles. With the vision to combine his professional background and knowledge with a positive series of faith-based messages, he dedicated himself to producing and airing powerful, national commercials, particularly speaking to the general public with pro-life messages and appealing to inactive Catholics to come back to the church.
Pro-life ads created by Virtue Media have drawn thousands of women in crisis pregnancies around the country to call local pregnancy centers for help. When the ads first ran on MTV, 2,000 women called within a 36-hour period. Through Catholics Come Home, which was first tested in the Phoenix Diocese, thousands of people have been drawn back to their Catholic faith through media outreach on television and the Internet answering questions and inviting them to parishes.
Peterson, a parishioner of St. Peter Chanel Church in Roswell, told Legatus members that he has learned to follow his heart, rather than his paycheck.
“Our hope is in Jesus. It’s not in the stock market or in anything the world can give us,” he said.
As a member of Legatus, he said he is “blessed to be a fellow ambassador for Christ.”
“I am blessed by your support and prayers,” he said. “It’s about time the clergy has help from the laity, and I’m glad we’re all willing to do our part.”
Frank and Trudy Coan, parishioners of All Saints Church in Dunwoody, have been members of Legatus since the chapter began in Atlanta. Coan, who owns a consulting company, said it’s refreshing to know there are other business leaders who are committed to their faith.
“We have the opportunity to be with people who are like-minded. Trudy and I get to have an evening together, and it’s a place where you don’t have to worry about what you say,” he said. “It’s comforting just to be able to be yourself.”
Coan said he tries to infuse his faith into everything he does.
“The world out there is anti-Christian and anti-Catholic in particular. God put it heavy on my heart that I need to be the same person wherever I go, whether that’s at Mass or in my professional life,” he said.
The Coans have attended several Legatus conferences—or summits—offered in various cities throughout the world. Legatus members also have the opportunity for spiritual pilgrimages to Rome and shrines in Poland and Lourdes, France.
“You sit down at a table with these people you’ve never met before, but it’s like they’re already friends because you have something in common with them,” Coan said of the summits. “And we’re able to be refilled by the speakers, who are extremely inspiring.”
Mary McKenzie and her husband, Bill, an attorney, have also been members since the Atlanta chapter’s inception. Mary said the meetings are a good opportunity for her and her husband to spend time together.
“I go on women’s retreats and days of reflection, and he does the same thing with men’s groups. But Legatus gives us something to do as a couple. We pray the rosary together, go to Mass, have a nice meal and listen to a great speaker,” she said, adding that she enjoys the camaraderie among the group members. “It’s so great to be with people who are on the same page. We gather socially and affirm each other’s faith, which helps us to carry it through to all aspects of our lives.”
Tom Wessels has been with Merrill Lynch for 36 years and retired as a major general in the Army after 37 years. He does not try to hide his faith in his professional life.
“In all these arenas walking your faith has been respected,” he said. “I am known as a Catholic.”
As a member of Legatus, he has met others who are as dedicated to their faith as he tries to be.
“There are great role model members in Legatus that you meet on the Web site, the summits and the monthly meetings,” he said. “Most of us enjoy the religious and social aspect of our faith with our spouses. (There are) no projects, just continual reminders of what is important in life.”
Warren Dazzio, the South region director for Legatus International, said the group helps busy professionals “keep their faith on their radar.”
“Our faith is important in everything we do—from the way we treat our employees to ethical business practices,” he said.
Legatus members must be high-level executives with responsibility either for a large number of employees or for a firm generating substantial revenue or sales volume. There is also a special category for younger applicants. Dazzio said there is a reason Legatus recruits these leaders.
“It’s not to be exclusive. But these are people with a greater influence over a large number of people. Not only that, but most of them are respected leaders in their communities or churches. They can really make a difference,” he said.
Visit www.legatus.org or contact Warren Dazzio at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about the Atlanta chapter.