Changing the culture for Christ
These San Diego Legates have found fullness of life through nearness with death . . .
by Matthew A. Rarey
As classmates conducted combat missions in Vietnam, a Naval Academy midshipman back home planned and executed a mission to create rather than destroy — by proposing to his high school sweetheart at the 1968 Army-Navy game. Thankfully, the 19-year-old gave her “Aye, aye.”
Despite Navy’s gridiron defeat that day, Dick and Martha Lyles have proved a winning team since marrying after his 1969 graduation.
Theirs has been a blessed, albeit arduous journey — Dick’s two deployments to Vietnam, his ensuing business career, three children and seven grandchildren, surviving a fire that destroyed their home, and discovering divine callings through brushes with death.
Members of Legatus’ San Diego Chapter, Dick and Martha told Legatus magazine that their encounters with mortality have encouraged them to devote themselves more fully to living and sharing the Catholic faith, which has been their lifelong bond and joy.
Tragedy struck in 2004 when Dick lapsed into a coma after an allergic shock to drugs treating a lung infection. He even stopped breathing for 10 minutes. Doctors told Martha there was nothing else they could do. “That’s when she pulled out all the stops,” Dick interjected.
She contacted everyone they knew, asking for their prayers. From their local parish all the way to Legatus headquarters, people offered Masses for Dick’s recovery. “I want more time with him here on earth,” Martha prayed to God. “We’ll do good together if You will let us.”
Two days later the infection had disappeared. Unbelievable, said the shocked doctors. The next day they brought him out of the coma. After several weeks of learning to eat, talk, and walk again, his recovery was complete.
The couple, however, has no doubt that it was a miraculous cure — with the reciprocal obligation to serve God and bring as many souls to Him as possible. The Lyles say they discerned their particular mission by embracing the new evangelization — the call to proclaim the Gospel anew using all available means of social communication.
Taking the call to heart, the Lyles are touching lives for the Lord in a variety of ways. One is Dick’s weekly radio show distributed by EWTN called “The Catholic Business Hour.” The program focuses on careers and business from a Catholic perspective. Another is through the faith-and-family-oriented columns that Martha writes for HuffingtonPost.com.
Martha’s diagnosis and recovery from breast cancer two years ago deepened the couple’s commitment to making the most of their lives. They devised a more comprehensive way to coordinate their efforts and to engage others to join the new evangelization. So last year they launched the Catholic Renewal Campaign to focus on culture, leadership and public policy.
Film and politics
Dick and Martha firmly believe that culture precedes policy — and that film profoundly impacts culture. So rather than deplore Hollywood degeneracy, Dick became CEO of Origin Entertainment several years ago and the couple founded The Genesis Initiative to produce movies, television shows, and documentaries with Catholic themes and values.
“Taking back the culture requires real investment,” said Barbara Nicolosi Harrington, executive director of Galileo Studies at Azusa Pacific University. “Dick appreciates that. He’s a business guru who can make great, high-quality films possible.”
Origin has two big-budget films in the hopper. For Sinners: The Fatima Story is about Our Lady’s 1917 apparitions in Portugal, and Mary, Mother of the Christ is a prequel to The Passion of the Christ.
The Lyles also believe that renewing America’s Christian culture requires political action. To this end, they are working to establish a network of Catholic political campaign managers who can help faithful Catholics get elected to local, state and national office.
The initiative is still in formation, but the Lyles are working with U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) to develop a pro-family, pro-community legislative focus that could be actualized through an institute for campaign managers.
“We’ve written a book, gotten the technology together, and know the secrets of success,” Dick said. “We just need to put together the training programs, recruit people, and get it done.”
Faith and family
Dick said he especially loves Legatus for introducing him to like-minded Catholics. Dick and Martha worked with Philadelphia Legate Tim Flanagan, founder of the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), to develop CLI’s “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” executive leadership program for Catholic clergy.
Kansas Archbishop Joseph Naumann has attended several CLI workshops, including one last summer where he met the Lyles.
“Dick and Martha impress me as a couple truly taking the new evangelization seriously, doing what they can in their spheres of influence to help re-evangelize our culture,” he said. The archbishop readily agreed to write the introduction to the Lyles’ new book. Answer Your Call, slated for release on March 1, is aimed at helping people become more adept at discerning God’s call and using their particular gifts to fulfill their purpose in life.
“Our job in life is to integrate God’s grace to achieve our purpose, which ultimately means achieving sainthood in this life and eternal happiness in the next,” said Dick. “We believe this is an authentic Catholic response to books like The Purpose Driven Life.”
Although Dick tends to be the public face of their efforts, the couple says they are completely complementary.
“For every time I’ve put Dick first, he’s put me first,” said Martha. “It’s a harmonious, almost musical relationship. We work hard at it, but that’s what strengthens our marriage.”
Even mundane moments, she said, serve to build up one another — like using car rides to discuss a chapter in their book or to discuss building a playhouse for their grandkids.
Rather than build a run-of-the-mill playhouse the kids would one day outgrow, the Lyles used a nine-hour drive to brainstorm the project. The result is a fantastic structure they call the “Earth Exploration Module,” where kids can don lab coats and examine the abundant nature in the couple’s 40-acre estate with a canyon running through.
“The grandkids love it,” said Dick. “In fact, we all love it. It’s what came out of one of the most stimulating trips we’ve ever taken. There’s never a moment to lose for faith and family.”
Matthew A. Rarey is Legatus Magazine’s editorial assistant.