Legatus forums strengthen chapters and stress confidentiality, commitment, leadership . . .
by Judy Roberts
Similarly, when two Legates lost their wives, they were able to openly share their grief in a private, confidential setting with several men from their chapter.
Such experiences illustrate what happens in Legatus forums, small groups of men and women who gather regularly outside the monthly Legatus meeting for personal spiritual growth and support.
“What forums are intended to do is take the Legatus experience to a deeper level,” said Gary Rosaasen, who oversees the development of Legatus forums. “It’s an opportunity to challenge your faith and grow in it, to share things going on in your life — both good and bad — in a completely confidential environment.”
Legatus forums were inspired by the experiences Mary Campbell and two other women from the Orange County Chapter had with YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) forums. “We were married to good men, we were Catholic, and we had similar values,” said Campbell. Knowing what forums could do to build closer relationships among like-minded people, the three decided to invite other women in their chapter to join them in starting a Legatus forum.
About a dozen women came to the introductory meeting and within a year, the group grew to 20 and had to be split in half. Today, the Orange County Chapter has six forums — three for women and three for men.
Campbell’s husband Bill told Legatus magazine that the women’s forum had been meeting for about a year when the men started to ask about it. “The women seemed to be getting something out of this so we said, ‘Why don’t we try it?’”
Since that initial success, the Campbells, along with Bill and Joanne Brown from the Orlando Chapter, have worked to grow Legatus forums. About 12 chapters now have forums, but Legatus’ board of governors would like to see more. Rosaasen, who is also national director for new chapter development, marketing and international chapters, said six more chapters are in various stages of developing forums for their members.
“A lot of chapters feel forums are optional,” Rosaasen said, “but actually a bylaw indicates chapters should provide members the opportunity to participate in a Legatus forum.”
Bill Campbell said the Legatus forum experience differs from that of YPO in that it adds a spiritual dimension. “That becomes inspirational many times when somebody shares maybe a recent sermon they heard or the fact that they made a decision to go to Mass daily and how that changed their lives. So you learn from your fellow members and see things that maybe you hadn’t seen — or you find a different way to pray or hear about the power of prayer in someone else’s life.”
Forum members also seek and receive practical help from one another with family and business concerns. “Seeing each other on a monthly basis and knowing more about what’s going on in each other’s lives truly makes you friends for life,” Bill Campbell said.
Tom Spencer of Legatus’ Indianapolis Chapter, which has had forums for five years, said that for him, the forum supplements other small groups he attends through the Cursillo and Christ Renews His Parish movements. Although those groups offer spiritual support, he said, the Legatus forum gives him a place to share business concerns with other Catholic professionals.
Besides benefiting the members who participate in them, Rosaasen said forums strengthen chapters and contribute to their overall health. “Typically, chapters with [forums] experience improved attendance at chapter events. Through forums, people become more committed to Legatus. There is increased membership retention and growth because people are more engaged.”
Most Legatus forums meet monthly, but the location and length of their gatherings vary. Spencer’s forum, for example, meets at St. Luke Parish on the north side of Indianapolis for several hours on the morning of the regular Legatus meeting.
Bill Campbell’s group, known as the Holy Spirit Forum, meets from 4 to 6 p.m. at a business club, a private room in a restaurant, or occasionally at a member’s home. After the forum meeting, most members stay on for dinner and additional discussion.
The Holy Spirit Forum begins with a prayer and statement of confidentiality, reminding members that what is said in the group stays there and is not to be shared, even with their spouses. Next, everyone gives an update on his business, family and spiritual life. After this, participants take time to help a member with a particular problem or explore a topic of interest. The meeting ends with a request for prayer intentions and prayer.
Rosaasen said the three most important characteristics of a Legatus forum are confidentiality, commitment and leadership. “Confidentiality is a forum absolute,” he said. Should someone break the seal of confidentiality, that person could be asked to leave the forum.
When a member does share a particular struggle or problem, Mary Campbell said, “we’re not there to be a psychologist or give advice, but to listen, to respond prayerfully, to support, to pray and maybe say, ‘I don’t know if this will help you, but this is what happened to me.’ We don’t ever want to prescribe advice, but we can say, ‘I had a similar experience.’ This part is really very powerful.”
Father Justin Ramos, O.Praem., who recently led a retreat for six women in one of the Orange County Chapter’s forums, said he was struck by the degree of intimacy among the members.
“These women knew everything about each other’s families and spouses,” he said. “They’re very, very close-knit. When I did a funeral for one of their spouses, all of them were there. They seem to have grown not only in great friendship, but in loyalty toward one another and the faith.”
Father Ramos said Legatus forums work because they’re uniquely Catholic. Members “trust each other. They understand where they’re all coming from. They can talk freely and know the response is going to be one they need.”
Judy Roberts is Legatus magazine’s staff writer