by Kara Hansen
Kansas City, Kan. — They saw the need for a Catholic business group.
But they had no idea how great that need was.
“We thought if we could get a couple dozen people once a month, that would be great,” said Dan Spencer, executive director of the Heart of America Catholic Business Network.
“The first meeting we didn’t know if anyone would show up,” he continued. “So I had my wife and adult children there just in case!”
Spencer need not have worried. The first meeting, held in October 2008, started things off with a bang. Seventy-five businessmen and women showed up — all of whom had heard of the event strictly through word-of-mouth and friend-of-a-friend connections.
“We have had a great response, and there seems to be an interest in learning more and growing in faith and work,” said Spencer, a parishioner at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.
The Heart of America Catholic Business Network is the brainchild of Spencer; Church of the Nativity, Leawood, parishioner Michael Shirley; and Jim O’Laughlin, a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Kansas City, Mo.
“I was [already] involved with men’s ministry and had noticed a lot of men’s challenges revolved around their work, because they didn’t know to integrate their faith within the workplace,” said Spencer.
Simultaneously, Shirley and O’Laughlin had been discussing the need for more support within the Kansas City area for Catholic businessmen and women.
Shirley got in touch with Spencer, and the trio together began brainstorming, planning and organizing. The three chose a format similar to one followed by many chambers of commerce, and the Heart of America Catholic Business Network was born.
The group’s mission is to “be a catalyst in exhorting, promoting and facilitating financial opportunity, spiritual growth and moral courage for both Catholic individuals and organizations serving the workplace.”
Morning meetings are held monthly; they start at 7 a.m. and last 90 minutes. They include a speaker, information from Spencer, and an invitation to anyone who is unemployed to briefly share his or her professional background. All those in attendance have a chance to socialize briefly before and after the meeting.
“There’s discussion about witnessing and spirituality in the workplace, as well as encouragement to do business with other Catholics,” said Shirley.
Evening events, scheduled after regular business hours, are generally more networking in nature.
“We’re using Avila College [in Kansas City, Mo.] for breakfast meetings, with different business sponsors for the after-hours events,” said Shirley. “It’s been nice to go to different members’ businesses and see what they are like.”
Though the evening and morning meetings each have different goals, they serve a variety of needs within the Catholic business sector.
“The breakfast meetings are more formal, with the speaker, whereas the after-hours events are more casual and focused on networking opportunities,” said Spencer. “I think the different formats we have appeal to people.”
So far, the meetings have been averaging between 80 and 100 people each month, with total membership standing at 200.
“We have something unique we feel is appreciated and has a high value in the marketplace,” said Shirley. “It’s a really positive environment, where people feel comfortable talking about their faith and business.”
One of the most immediately productive things to come out of the meetings has been help for the currently unemployed to find work.
Shirley estimated that 20 to 25 people have found employment through networking at the meetings.
“At the meetings we invite Catholic men and women who are out of work to stand and give a brief, one-minute resume,” said Spencer. “It was something we added almost as an afterthought, but it’s turned into one of the most popular things. It’s Catholics helping Catholics find work.”
Since a variety of people within the business community are attending the meetings, they offer members the opportunity to discover, and utilize services from one another’s businesses.
“If someone needs an attorney, a plumber, a printer, we encourage them to do business with other Catholics who provide those services,” said Shirley.
Though the three are thrilled about the connections taking place in the Catholic business community, the goal of integrating one’s faith in the workplace remains primary.
“We’re bringing in some great speakers, plus people are finding jobs and companies are finding workers,” said O’Laughlin. “Still, the business-to-business connection is not the priority. The goal is more to help people operate as Catholic businessmen and women according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
The Heart of America Catholic Business Network received canonical approval as a private association of the lay faithful in January of this year. It is recognized by the archdiocese and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Plans are in place for the network to grow and expand within the Kansas City area. The group has grown entirely by word-of-mouth thus far, with approximately six to 12 new people at each event, said Shirley.
“We have 200 members and another 100 people who are not members but have come to the meetings,” said Shirley. “We’re very committed to establishing a chapter north of the river [in Kansas City, Mo.] and making this something for the Greater Kansas City area.”
“Most Catholic business people don’t know we exist,” he said. “We’re really hoping to expand and grow in Kansas City.”
For more information on how to get involved, visit the Heart of America Catholic Business Network Web site at: www.catholicbusinessnetwork.net.