Just call it a strong cup of coffee for the soul. Every month, a group of Catholic business people start their workday with a double shot of faith and fellowship at the Catholic Professionals Forum, a networking event that encourages Catholics to realize their spiritual and professional selves as two sides of the same coin.
“It’s a good way to start the day,” said David Niles of PKI Digital Marketing, who has helped to organize the monthly meetups since the group got its start in 2013. “It reminds us that we’re business people, but we’re also Catholics, and we need to keep that in mind as we’re doing business.”
The gatherings are held from 7:30 to 9 a.m. every third Thursday of the month at Westmoor Country Club, 400 S. Moorland Road, Brookfield. The forums start with networking and breakfast, followed by a guest speaker. The group’s spiritual director, Fr. David Reith, said that their mission rests on four pillars — “to strengthen our relationships with Christ as businessmen and women, to strengthen our integrity as Christians giving witness in the business world, to strengthen our Catholic/Christian faith, and to strengthen our business relations and connections.”
The current group is a successor to several separate business associations that existed in previous years at St. Dominic and St. John Vianney parishes in Brookfield, St. Mary’s Visitation Parish in Elm Grove and St. Joseph Parish in Wauwatosa.
All were active to varying degrees, but in 2013 organizers decided to join forces to take the group to a new level. As interest grew and Catholics from other parishes around the archdiocese began to attend, they found a new home at Westmoor. Between 40 and 100 people attend each meeting now, representing a variety of industries and ranging in age from young professionals to those nearing retirement. A LinkedIn group with close to 500 members is also maintained.
Past speakers have included Archbishop Jerome Listecki, Bishop Don Hying, Bishop Jeffrey Haines, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Dr. Michael Lovell, Joe Bartolotta and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel. Some months feature a more faith-centric address, while other speakers choose to focus on business or community.
“I know that many of these speakers value the opportunity to talk about how faith guides them and the decisions they make, because in a normal business group, it might not be accepted,” said Niles. And it’s “reaffirming” for the attendees as well, he added. “We’re not ashamed to be Catholic. We’re proud to be Catholic, and we can be good business people and good Catholics at the same time.”
“For me, 10 or 15 years ago, colleagues didn’t talk about their faith, at least not in the circle that I was in — it was almost taboo,” said fellow organizer Shelly Wohler, a financial associate at Thrivent Financial and parishioner at St. Joseph in Big Bend. “I think when you join a group like this and see that others are open about their faith, it helps you to be open as well. I think it’s about letting your faith show in your actions — maybe not necessarily in your speech — so that if and when people find out that you’re Catholic, they think, well of course they are, because I’ve seen the way they act and I’ve seen the way they handle people.”
And the world is very much in need of professionals who are motivated by their faith, said Fr. Reith.
“It’s a good thing, for people who want to make a difference with their faith and be successful as businesspeople, to be reaffirmed,” he said. “It helps them be a gift to the communities in which they’re working.”
For more information on the forum, and to register for a future event, visit catholicprofessionalsforum.com.