The Catholic Partnership Summit. Part 1 - Background

Last week I was invited to attend a Catholic Partnership Summit. It was held in Washington, D.C and sponsored by the Catholic Leadership Roundtable. The Leadership Roundtable was formed in March 2005. It followed a series of discussions aimed at offering ideas to assist the Catholic Church in the U.S.

The Roundtable has a fascinating history. It was founded by Geoffrey T. Boisi. Boisi was a philanthropist and former vice-chairman at JP Morgan Chase. Geoff was discouraged by seeing his Catholic Church floundering in so many ways. Boisi is a man of action. He wanted to do something. Around 2006, he invited top Catholic CEOs, executives in the non-profit sector and leaders in Catholic education to Philadelphia for a conversation. Around this time, Patrick Harker (another faithful Catholic) was Dean of the Wharton School of Business. Boisi had been a generous benefactor of Penn and, thus, knew Harker well. At one point, Harker arranged for the group to meet at Wharton.

Initial participants included an august collection of Catholic leaders. Among the members were Adobe Systems chairman Charles Geschke, Korn/Ferry Consulting Chief Executive Paul Reilly, former Freddie Mac CEO Richard Syron, Gerard R. Roche of executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, and former McKinsey Consulting Managing Director Frederick Gluck. Lawrence Bossidy, the former CEO of Honeywell, has been a pro bono consultant. Kerry Robinson serves as the organization’s Global Ambassador. Close to a dozen bishops also attended.

I was Chaplain at the Penn Newman Center at the time. Our Campus Minister was asked to recruit several Catholic Penn students to act as “scribes” for the event. Scribes were assigned to capture the content of the table conversations. I was asked to arrange for liturgies. Thus, we had a “place at the table” from the outset.

At one point, Roundtable participants expressed the need for the group to stop talking and start acting. The sex abuse crisis hit in Boston in 2002. Poor financial reporting and a total lack of transparency played a role in the crisis. This was noted in several Roundtable discussions about the crisis. They mentioned that an early warning might have been sounded with more and better financial transparency. Inordinate legal fee costs and other unspecified (payout) spending might have been a tip off that something was amiss.

The Archbishop of Boston asked the Roundtable to help. They eventually revamped the financial and accounting systems of the archdiocese.

I remember personally meeting New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes at Mass when he visited the Roundtable. He was one of the original bishops in attendance. In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated southern Louisiana and Mississippi. Archbishop Hughes reached out to Boisi and appealed to the Roundtable for help. They gathered and coordinated resources to rebuild the Catholic School system in New Orleans. An interesting side story involved the New Orleans public school system. It, too, was decimated by the storm. Hughes told the city that the archdiocese would accept any student - Catholic or non-Catholic, to attend any of the Catholic schools once the buildings were in acceptable operating order. I remember hearing the archbishop say that he had absolutely no idea how they were going to do this, much less pay for it. Nevertheless, he said that it was unacceptable that Catholic students would be able to attend school while thousands of New Orleans public school students would have to possibly wait months, and perhaps years, until they could continue with their education. The Leadership Roundtable played a significant role in this tremendous success story.

I’ll continue my reflections on the Leadership Roundtable next week.


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