Outside Charlotte, North Carolina, near the South Carolina border, lies Belmont Abbey College. Founded in 1876 by Benedictine monks, the college is home to the new Benedict Leadership Institute.
Conor Gallagher is the executive director of the Benedict Leadership Institute and co-founded it in collaboration with the college to develop a new generation of Catholic leaders and inspire them to transform society in light of their faith.
Belmont Abbey College is no stranger to the need for strong Catholic leaders. The college has been involved in controversies regarding health care coverage of abortion, contraception and voluntary sterilization. In 2012, the college sued the Obama administration for its mandate requiring such coverage in health insurance plans. The leaders being formed by the Institute may need to fight battles such as this, defending the truth as well as conscience rights.
Lead by example
The Institute aims to form the Belmont Abbey student body by introducing students to Catholic leaders of today and hosting symposiums and lectures on a variety of leadership topics. The Institute exists to cultivate leaders, first and foremost, and the best way to cultivate future leaders is to show them examples of world-class, faithful, Catholic leaders, according to Gallagher. “Why is this our goal? Because personally meeting great men and women can have a bigger impact on young people than any book or video on leadership.”
The leaders introduced to the students come from various disciplines and backgrounds. In 2017, students met with Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, who has worked tirelessly to defend Christians in the Middle East, who are being tortured and martyred. This year, the students were introduced to Edward Whelan, a former law clerk and friend of the late Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia.
Key to the activity of the Benedict Leadership Institute is the conferral of the Benedict Leadership Award, which is presented each year to an outstanding Catholic leader or group of Catholics whose achievements reflect the leadership of St. Benedict. Candidates include those who build enduring greatness in their organization or community, lead others to their own success and utilize the principles of the Faith in their leadership role.
This year, the award was presented to Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy, in a ceremony at Belmont Abbey College on March 22. The award included a $10,000 honorarium, which Leo graciously donated back to the college. Leo was selected for his dedication to the defense of religious liberty, both in the United States and abroad, and for his personal witness to the sanctity of human life.
“Through his work around the world on religious liberty, his work with the Federalist Society to defend the Constitution, his work with the White House in selecting Supreme Court justices and lower federal judges, Mr. Leo was a tier-one candidate for the award,” said Gallagher.
Leo was appointed to three terms to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as chairman by President George W. Bush. During his tenure, he traveled to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Sudan and Vietnam in order to assess the status of religious freedom in those countries.
“In his personal life, Mr. Leo has cared for two disabled children (out of his seven children) with love and affection and dedication that should humble all of us,” said Gallagher.
Need of the Church
The Benedict Leadership Institute grows out of the college’s unique ability to develop great Catholic leaders. “Other schools have catechesis, or great books, or engineering as their distinctive mark,” Gallagher said. “And we offer some of these specialties as well. But the world needs leaders. The world needs more lions to roar out against the evils of our times.”
According to Gallagher, this is something that sets the college apart: “This is what makes Belmont Abbey indispensable at a time when we are under attack in every state, in every courtroom, in every school. And the Institute exists for the purpose of preparing our students for these great challenges ahead.”
Moreover, the Institute is an important work of the Church, according to Gallagher. Forming tomorrow’s leaders in Catholic tradition is a crucial task for the future of the Church.
“In dark times,” said Gallagher, “there is no substitute for leadership. Many people’s skills, functions and talents are squandered without leadership.” It is important to form leaders in the Church’s tradition so that they can utilize the principles of their faith in their leadership roles. “At Belmont Abbey College, we know that leadership has always been and always will be the key to bringing about real change,” he said.
Gallagher has high hopes for the Benedict Leadership Institute: “I hope that we will be able to bring in world-class Catholic leaders four times a year to engage with our students,” he said. “We are working towards this. But it isn’t cheap.” In addition to this, Gallagher wants the Institute to be an apostolate of its host school. “I also hope that the Institute will continue to spread the unique attributes of Belmont Abbey College,” he said. He sees the college as a place that will help form tomorrow’s leaders as people who will “fight the good fight,” spread the Gospel and help others become saints.
Paul Senz writes from Oregon.