Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Do the Legionaries of Christ recruit the best and brightest?

Along comes Frank who left a thoughtful comment on the last post. I respect his opinion on the saga of the Legionaries of Christ, the Regnum Christ and Fr. Maciel although I don't always agree with him. Nor does he always agree with me. When you have two guys who agree on everything you really can do without one of them. So, again, I welcome Frank's contribution which deserves a longer response than would fit in the comments section.

Essentially, Frank disagrees, strenuously, with my use of the terms "best and brightest" as applied to the Legion of Christ's recruitment efforts. Ultimately, I think "best and brightest" are emotionally laden terms for those who see the Legionaries as arrogant. Let me dive right in addressing myself directly to Frank's comment.

First, I had no idea I “stepped on a landmine with my 'best and brightest' assertion.”

Second, I disagree with your [Frank] characterization of all Legionaries as “basically grifters in Roman collars, taking and using the genuine work, success, and achievements of others and appropriating it to themselves.” I’d like to hear evidence for such a global statement.

Third, I use the terms “best and brightest” in the sense they are used, corporately, in the fields of recruitment and retention, also referred to as “talent management.” For example:  Microsoft’s recruiting statement:  “Microsoft is always on the lookout for the best and brightest talent around the world. People who truly enjoy the challenge of defining the future of technology and making a real impact on the world. And there you are!”

It has been said that there were two people in the old west – the Quick and the Dead. The Quick knew that it came down to not only talent and ideas, but execution. The Dead thought only talent mattered — with predictable results. Maciel was one of the ultra-Quick. (Don't forget academic achievement was not his forte - it's not at all clear how much he actually studied after his teenage years.)

People and their behaviors, integrity, hard work ethic, proactive nature, moxie, and much more either make or break an organization. It’s about all about getting the work done, in good times and bad.  Organizations compete in a knowledge based economy as centers of excellence – without leaving dead bodies at every gun fight. This means they need recruits who are capable of learning to manage a community of people with a common mission willing to routinely operate at levels of peak performance.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don'tTalent must be recruited since it cannot be imparted or acquired after the hire. If an organization wants leaders it needs to hire leaders. If they want managers they need to hire managers. The idea that organizations need to hire the “right” people, is one that Jim Collins stressed in his book “Good to Great”: "People are not your most important asset. The right people are. Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats."

The Legion, for better or worse, has been all about execution. They recruited people to do a specific job – i.e. expand the organization as quickly as possible by enlisting the help of influential people (finance, ecclesiastical, politics) who could bring leaders and resources to the table. In other words, I don’t think Maciel set out to recruit individuals who he thought might, initially, make great contributions to the world of theology, philosophy or psychology. The Legion sought the “best and brightest” for the job at hand.

In terms of raw execution, it is difficult not to admire the expansion the congregation has achieved in a relatively short period of time. Maciel clearly articulated the need to generate critical mass, quickly. After the Congregation was solidly established he envisaged his Legionaries making significant academic contributions. But first, he had to get the Congregation established, approved and with a global presence. This is what he consistently told us.

Now, I don’t want to give you [Frank] the impression that I gave great thought to the “logical implications” of my statement. I didn’t and, yes, I penned my opinion in a hurry when it occurred to me to say something "positive" about the Legion on Holy Thursday morning. Maybe I should nuance what I intended to imply when I referred to the Legion’s record in attracting the “best and the brightest”. 

I was recruited by a Legionary seminarian from Monterrey, Mexico. Take my word for it – he was one of the best and brightest. He later left the Legion - I understand he is now a military chaplain with some elite US unit. He wasn’t the academic “type” but few theologians, philosophers or poets could have achieved what he did, singlehandedly introducing the Legion of Christ to Ireland, while on his “apostolic practices”. Some Irish Bishops to this day dislike the Legion, accusing them of having recruited their "best and brightest vocations" only to lose them later on. They remember our man from Monterrey.

Amongst the first Irish recruits there were guys who placed at the very top of Ireland’s national “leaving certificate” (taken in the last year of high school) examination. Others were accomplished musicians and sportsmen (including nationally ranked track athletes, swimmers, tennis, and golf). In the most common acceptation of the terms, I think they could be classified as being amongst the “best and brightest” Ireland had to offer – at least in terms of potential. However, I repeat, the Legion wanted them for their ability to execute and that’s what they were trained for.

When I went to Salamanca, then Mexico, and later Rome I encountered a host of guys who I would consider to be amongst the best. Several of the LC students in Rome won top honors at the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities. Some of them obtained their doctorates under challenging conditions. I’d rather not mention names (I would be dating myself) but one Mexican Legionary single-handedly “founded” Regnum Christi in Madrid, providing the model for everything that was to follow. Another, one of the first directors of the Instituto Cumbres, was widely regarded as “brilliant” by the high echelons of Mexican society. He was a very shy man who enthralled and educated audiences in the Faith. Others founded new schools, universities, social works and attracted influential leaders world-wide to support their apostolates. The LC is now behind one of the most important charities in Mexico which truly makes a difference in peoples lives.

I shouldn’t exclude so many incredible guys who put their enormous talents to use developing the missions in Quintana Roo. Some of them were sent there because Maciel maybe thought they were “trouble-makers” – but what counts are their generous efforts and their pastoral achievements. A former Legionary (fellow bus-driver in Rome) became a Bishop in Washington, DC in short order after leaving the Legion. He is now the Bishop of Dallas. His brother is a respected Prelate in the Vatican. Other LC (I believe) are involved at high levels in Vatican IT and media.

To conclude, I don’t for a minute believe (as you imply) that “this year’s newly-ordained legion priests are superior to those priests ordained for the dioceses of New York, Arlington (VA), Denver, Wichita (KS), or any other diocese?” Frankly, I don’t know anything about this year’s crop of priests – whether diocesan or Legionary, so I can’t opine.My perception remains that, in general, the Legion (up to now) has been able to attract highly talented young men. They recruited the "best and brightest" for the specific job they wanted to get done. They need men who could execute and implement ventures capable of attracting influential leaders.

In my memoirs of the Legion (Driving Straight on Crooked Lines) I mention that Legionaries (at least in my time) felt “superior”, in some senses, to diocesan priests. In my opinion, this had nothing to do with intellect or academic achievement. It had everything to do with our (perceived) “execution”, zeal, and commitment. We felt we were the elite, Special Forces, ready to go anywhere in the world to do God’s work on a moment’s notice. That was not what diocesan priests signed up for. Many of us had not experienced this level of “zeal” in our contacts with diocesan clergy before joining the Legion or afterwards. Of course we thinking like over-zealous teen-agers – that is the way Maciel trained to perceive ourselves. Put it down to the “exuberance of youth” a trait that became a negative characteristic of some, emotionally immature, Legionaries. I think the recent scandal and the process of the Vatican visitation and reform will change what is left of that mentality in short order. In fact, I don’t see that “superiority complex” anymore but maybe I haven’t had as much exposure to contemporary LC as you have.

So there you have it Frank. I always appreciate your thoughtful and usually conciliatory comments. I submit we may have had different perceptions of the meaning of “best and brightest” and hope the above addresses your concerns.

1 comment:

Frank I said...

Thanks, Monk, for taking the time to offer a response. For now I would like to mull over what you have written, before responding in kind. I'm glad we can move the discussion in a constructive direction.

Best to you and Mrs. Monk.