For as long as I can remember, I’ve been reading books that have the TAN Books publishing label, picking them up in Catholic bookstores, and eventually on Amazon.com. I’m even – when I finally turn the manuscript in – compiling one of their devotionals this year. So naturally I was interested when I saw that the people at TAN Books and Saint Benedict’s Press have established a Benedict Leadership Institute at Belmont Abbey College and for the second year in a row are giving an award to someone I have a lot of respect for, who uses his influence for good, and who I happen to most often run into in churches around the world. Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy, is this year’s recipient. The executive director of the Benedict Leadership Institute, Conor Gallagher, who is also publisher of TAN Books and Saint Benedict’s Press and also an adjunct professor of philosophy and political philosophy at Belmont Abbey College, talks about the award being given tonight in North Carolina.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What’s the importance of the Benedict Leadership Institute and its significance to people beyond your event this week?
Conor Gallagher: We live in difficult times. And in difficult times, we need leaders. Belmont Abbey College distinguishes itself by this mark. We produce great leaders. Of course other catholic colleges do as well. But this is a core focus of Belmont Abbey. And the Institute is just another sign of Belmont Abbey’s commitment to producing great Catholic leaders.
Lopez: How did you come to choose Leonard Leo to honor in your second year?
Gallagher: The Abbey has long defended religious liberty. It was in our defense of religious liberty that we learned Leonard Leo is one of the preeminent leaders in this arena, including as three-term chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Additionally, the Federalist Society is helping the current presidential administration find great conservative judges who believe in the Constitution. Mr. Leo is leading the charge on behalf of the Federalist Society in finding these judges.
Lopez: Both Leo and last year’s recipient, Carl Anderson, have been active in the defense of and education about Christian persecution internationally. I would guess that’s not by accident?
Gallagher: You are correct. Belmont Abbey feels a great sense of solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters who are persecuted, abandoned, and even martyred. We Americans need to be reminded of this regularly — in between our runs to Starbucks and Target. Our fellow Christians are suffering greatly. People like Carl Anderson and Leonard Leo can provide us with concrete actions we can take to help our brethren.
Lopez: You’ve also noticed his “personal witness to the sanctity of life”? What stands out to you about that?
Gallagher: Well, since you asked about personal witness: Leonard and his wife have two special-needs children. The first, Margaret, has gone to her eternal reward. Margaret became an inspiring witness to all those around her. She is featured as one of three children who died heroic deaths in a book entitled, Littlest Suffering Souls. And Mr. Leo’s commitment to her, and her influence on him, is inspiring for all parents.
Lopez: As a fellow father, has he inspired you?
Gallagher: Absolutely. His witness makes me realize I’m a big wimp who complains way too much about my 12 perfectly healthy children. Reading his story was a bit of an examination of conscience for me. I looked in the mirror and said, “Get a grip. You got nothing to complain about!”
Lopez: Were you nervous about awarding this to someone who obviously has had some influence with Donald Trump, who can be quite the controversial figure?
Gallagher: Absolutely not. We are not bashful about recognizing the importance of defending our Constitution with particular judicial appointments. If we became embarrassed about this, we would be no different from secular schools.
Lopez: Your press release notes that “The Institute confers the Award annually, recognizing outstanding men and women whose achievements reflect the heroic leadership of St. Benedict.” What’s the heroic St. Benedict formula we can take up today?
Gallagher: 1) Build enduring greatness in their organization or community; 2) Lead others to their own success; and 3) Utilize the principles of their faith in their leadership role.
Lopez: Where can one go for training in being a Benedictine kind of leader? Are there books for the busy person? Some other primer?
Gallagher: I would suggest reading The Rule of St. Benedict first. Read as a father or mother or manager or employee or friend. Don’t read it as a monk, unless you are. It has so much to offer us each in our own lives.
Lopez: In some ways how Leonard Leo lives could be seen as the opposite of how Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option is conventionally understood (flee for the monasteries! which isn’t really Rod’s point). But if “The Benedict Option” is at heart about living the contemplative life in every vocation, is Leo some of the best of it at work?
Gallagher: Yes. Here is why: Leo’s faith is central to all he does, like a monastery use to be central to a medieval village. A true Catholic in the public square must have faith as like an internal Grand Central Station, by and through which everything comes and goes.
Lopez: Going into Holy Week, what do you want people to know about the Institute, the books TAN and Saint Benedict’s Press publish, and the Catholic faith?
Gallagher: Well, what I really want people to know is that if they want to support the development of Catholic leaders, if they want to invest in vibrant, talented, faithful youth, then they should financially support Belmont Abbey College. We grant Catholic Leadership Scholarships. But housing and educating the kids still costs a lot of money. We need your help, so we can help make leaders.
Lopez: Do you have some go-to books you publish for people looking for a help in these final days of Lent? For some Easter growth in the faith?
Gallagher: We sure do. Our recent bestseller entitled, Kingdom of Happiness by Father Jeff Kirby is about the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are Jesus’ formula for happiness. But here is the catch: Every one of the Beatitudes involves suffering and dying to self. Only then do we rise as a new man or woman. Lent is the ideal time to meditate on the Beatitudes. Suffering is the center of the Gospels. Sorry; there is no way around that. But the Good News is that happiness is truly offered to those who are poor in spirit, to those who mourn, to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc. This little book will give practical advice on how to do just that.