Call it The Great Turnaround.
It was not very many years ago that the Wilmington chapter of Legatus, the Catholic businessperson’s group, confronted a dwindling membership that had fallen to somewhere around 10 people.
That was then, this is now.
The local group now includes more than 40 members.
The international organization that includes five large regions has recognized businessman Ray Manza, its Wilmington chapter president, as east regional president of the year.
“I lived the story of Ray and the Wilmington chapter recovery,” said John Knowles, director for the group’s 17 chapters in the northeast portion of the U.S. “Membership had gotten low and Ray was part of a leadership team that drove the turnaround.”
Legatus members describe themselves as ambassadors for Christ in the workplace. They meet monthly for rosary, Mass, fellowship, dinner and a speaker. The group’s international founder, Tom Monaghan, may be best known for founding Domino’s Pizza and Ave Maria University.
More than 80 chapters are organized in the U.S. and Canada and more are being planned. Members are current or former business owners, CEOs, presidents and managing directors or managing partners in their companies. They commit to study, live and spread the faith in their business, professional and personal lives.
Manza knows the local group’s survival was in jeopardy, but deflects credit for rejuvenating it and instead says it’s been the fellowship of many that helped it survive and grow.
“In the early days, we didn’t have a good agreement of what the organization is all about,” said Manza, a financial adviser with Affinity Wealth Management in Wilmington. They would attempt to draw national speakers for what turned out to be large fees and couldn’t strike the right balance among learning, prayer and fellowship.
The Wilmington chapter was chartered in 2006 with many of its founding members having come from the Philadelphia chapter.
Manza and local group treasurer Jerry Smith say they seem to have found more balance with some formal dinners on many of the group meeting nights mixed in with a casual picnic in July and low-key get-together in Lenten season.
Smith, who made his career in commercial real estate, said the purpose of the group is to speak and practice Catholic values in the workplace. The Wilmington group typically meets the second Tuesday of each month at St. Joseph on the Brandywine, beginning with rosary and Mass usually presided by Bishop Malooly.
Knowles cited Manza, Smith and the group of Legatus members, including program coordinator Maureen Manza, Ray’s wife, with building the strong group of Catholic leaders.
“Ray as a Christian gentleman is correct in giving credit to others,” Knowles said. “But I thought it was very appropriate to honor Ray.”