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The Napa Institute and the Next America

July 15, 2021 23 min read
By Timothy R. Busch Chairman of the Board and Co-Founder, Napa Institute
Msgr. James P. Shea President, University of Mary
Tim Busch, founder of the Napa Institute

Timothy R. Busch, founder of the Napa Institute, spoke with Monsignor James. P. Shea, president of the University of Mary, to discuss his involvement in the life of the Church and the founding of the Napa Institute.


Monsignor James P. Shea (MShea): Tim, you and your wife, Steph, have supported the Church in so many ways, and the Napa Institute is just one example of how you’ve worked to build up the Church you love. I’ve known you for some years, and I’ve known about you for even longer than that, as you’re a seriously committed Catholic and a successful business leader who seeks to make an impact. What’s the story behind your love for Catholicism? How did the faith become so important to you?

Timothy R. Busch (TB): I read an article the other day written by Pope Benedict XVI, and he said that every single human being has a different relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I think back first, of course, on my parents: my dad was a Catholic and my mom converted to Catholicism after I had finished sixth grade. I was an altar boy at age five. That upbringing contributed to two turning points in my life. The first turning point was when I was in fourth grade, being taught by the Dominican Sisters of Adrian in parochial school, when one of the nuns told us that going to Mass didn’t have to be something that only happened on Sunday, but that we could go other days of the week, as well. Before that point I had only gone to weekday Mass when I was assigned as an altar boy, and even then I did so begrudgingly. But from that day forward until the end of high school, I went to Mass Monday through Friday. That changed my life. It was a great grace.

During college and in the early part of my business career I didn’t go every day. I went on Sundays and maybe once or twice per week, but not every day. Then when I was about 35 years old I joined Legatus and saw Tom Monaghan, who is like a living saint and the founder of Domino’s Pizza, and Carl Karcher, the founder of Carl’s Jr., going to Mass every day. As a young businessman, I was enamored by these very successful businesspeople, and I aspired to be like them. And seeing their witness, I said to myself, “I used to go to Mass every day in grade school and high school – why don’t I start going every day again?” And that was the second turning point in my life. I don’t think you have to go to Mass every day to be a saint, but I think that some of us – particularly myself – really have the need for grace. My commitment to daily Mass has radically changed my life.

So to answer the second part of your question: my commitment to daily Mass has helped me to see that the Faith is everything. It hurts me to see friends and family who don’t take their faith seriously until they have a problem. I just think they’re missing out on so much in life and on what the true joy of life really is.

MShea: And you’re the founder of the Napa Institute, which obviously grew out of your faith. I remember that a founding inspiration for the Napa Institute was Archbishop Chaput’s insight that Catholics in our time need to be prepared for the “next America.” Social structures and moral norms are in massive flux in our time. So the Napa Institute, as I understand it, is dedicated to helping serious Catholics get ready for life in the next America. It provides a forum for ideas that help to strengthen the nation that we love so much and to help faithful Catholics be well-informed citizens. What motivated you to found the Napa Institute, and what do you see as its role in our current age?

TB: Initially, the Napa Institute came from a locution I had back in 2010. I was vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii. I don’t like the sun because it doesn’t like me, so while everyone else was out on the beach enjoying themselves, I decided to go inside for a bit. And all of a sudden, sitting in solitude, the idea that would become the Napa Institute was given to me. I dictated it on an old dictaphone. What I heard on that day was truly what the Napa Institute was like for those first years. We focused on three things: liturgy, academic formation, and fraternity.

I’ve attended many conferences where I’ve thought that the liturgy was not treated with the respect and dignity that it deserved. Liturgy is a fundamental aspect of our faith. My father, who has now passed, went to a Pontifical High Mass in the Extraordinary Form celebrated by Archbishop Corleone when he was 85 years old. He had tears in his eyes afterward because, even though he had grown up with the Extraordinary Form, he had never seen that type of liturgy. He was from a small community, so he had never seen Mass celebrated like that. Not long after he went to the Ukrainian Mass, and he loved that, too! He was an average, meat-and-potatoes kind of guy that ran a nice business and went to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, but I wouldn’t call him ‘high church.’ But he was deeply moved by encountering these liturgies. I realized that it was important to expose others to these liturgies, because the human heart reacts to beauty. So now we average about 105 Masses throughout the week each year at the Napa Institute, and I think this year we’re going to have more than that. We’ve been criticized for not having everyone go to Mass at the same time, because we miss out on the community benefit of all going to Mass together. But that’s not our purpose – our purpose is to show all the different forms of liturgy that are authorized by the Church, not just the one you might see in your parish. So we have Ukrainian, Anglican Use, the Novus Ordo in Latin and in the vernacular, the Extraordinary Form, and so on. And we also have some great bishops attend each year who each have amazing homilies. If we only offered one Mass each day, only three or four prelates would preach during the entire conference. That would be a shame!

I realized that it was important to expose others to these liturgies, because the human heart reacts to beauty.

My team does an amazing job with the liturgy. Every year we invest in beautiful vestments and sacred vessels. This year we’re blessing a new altar in preparation for the conference. Liturgy is a key element of what we do.

Our second area of focus at the Napa Institute is academic formation. I go to a lot of Catholic conferences, and a lot of the talks I hear become more about people selling their latest book or telling their personal story than about the Faith. So I wanted to make sure that every speaker we had was a true intellectual who could really speak to the substance of our faith. It’s really important that our speakers aren’t just offering warm-and-fuzzy content but are really getting into the substance of the Faith, which is so rich and deep.

Our third focus is fraternity. I’m very much into getting together with friends. That’s what I’ve enjoyed about our relationship, Monsignor: I’m inspired by you, but I also love simply getting together with you and spending time with you. I’m still working on this aspect of creating an expansive organization that allows for free-flowing information. Legatus has been wildly successful, but it’s limited to a finite group of people: Catholic CEOs and their spouses. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ve been a proud member for 31 years. But what if you’re not one of those individuals? So at the Napa Institute we’re trying to create a much more free-flowing opportunity.

As you said, we are preparing Catholics for the next America. When we founded the Napa Institute, we were just in the throes of our culture leaving Judeo-Christian principles behind and moving on to a new world. But now we’re living in that next America. It’s no longer the next America, it’s the America. With that transition, the Church has entered a new world of evangelization, just as it’s captured in the University of Mary’s recent book, From Christendom to Apostolic Mission. You, George Weigel, and many others have been talking about this transition, and we need to provide people with the tools they need. We can’t all just hunker down and live in a private community. I understand many people are working on efforts of that kind – Bishop Strickland is working on one. I’m interested in hearing about all that, but it won’t be the path 99.9% of Catholics take. So we have to provide people with the tools and support they need to live in the world but not be of the world, as Jesus says. It’s edifying each year to hear from priests and religious brothers and sisters who come to the Napa Institute who say “There are real Catholics out there that believe like we do! We never see this! It gives us so much hope.”

MShea: I was very moved just now to hear about the three fundamental elements in the founding of the Napa Institute to address the next America – or now, this America. Because we really have entered a new apostolic age, and the three elements you listed are the elements that guided the life of the early Church. When Christianity first broke onto the scene, Christians were intent upon worship. They were going to worship the one, true God, made known in Jesus Christ, and they were not going to burn incense to the emperor or any other god. They had a vivid intellectual life such that they were confident in the Faith. We’re not talking about the tired academic structures that haunt so much of education in our time – bland and effete. It was a supreme confidence and intellectual ballast that was there from the very beginning, like we see in the writings of St. Paul. Christianity was, according to the Fathers, the “true philosophy.” And finally, fraternity: the early Christians loved each other and they loved Jesus enough to die together for the Faith. That you would be given a vision, Tim, that recreates something of the building blocks of the early Church of the Apostolic age for this apostolic age is very moving to me.

TB: Thank you for clarifying that, because I hadn’t realized that! That’s how the Holy Spirit works: he takes a misinformed guy like me but makes sure we end up where we need to be. Praise God.

MShea: The other thing that is so beautiful about what you’ve done at the Napa Institute is that you’ve followed the beautiful Catholic instinct to show the whole panorama of the true, the beautiful, and the good. Diversity is something like an incantation in our time, but people don’t really mean true diversity when they talk about it. What is often meant is a totalitarian instinct for groupthink and slavish conformity. But your vision is a true cultural and ecclesiastical diversity borne from your instinct as a layperson. The Second Vatican Council was meant to offer a universal call to holiness for an age like ours: one of the things I admire about you and the work you’ve done is that you’re not willing to step aside and hide under a bushel basket and allow priests and bishops simply to bear the full brunt in the adventure of evangelization.

As you said, we are preparing Catholics for the next America. When we founded the Napa Institute, we were just in the throes of our culture leaving Judeo-Christian principles behind and moving on to a new world. But now we’re living in that next America. It’s no longer the next America, it’s the America.

You were given a vision and as a Catholic businessman, you decided that you were going to enact it. You and Steph have invested deeply in the Church. As a proud graduate of the Catholic University of America (CUA), I was thrilled to see their new school of business be named for you and Steph in acknowledgment of your generosity. Because you’re so invested in the task of founding a mission-based Catholic business school, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on how a faith perspective in business can make a difference in the culture and for our world?

TB: Businesspeople have more influence on society than the leaders of any other profession. I read Michael Novak 30 years ago, and was struck by the idea that business is a noble vocation. I think businesspeople are kicked to the curb sometimes, as if we’re just lechers for money. But I think businesspeople have a larger role to play in society than lawyers and doctors. I think that businesspeople can play a larger role than even priests, in a certain sense. Cardinal Bevilacqua said that the priest is dressed up like a clown, and nobody listens to clowns. Now, he wasn’t actually calling priests clowns, but he was pointing at that for many people, being told by a priest that you have to be holy won’t do much because of course the priest is going to say you have to be holy! It’s the priest’s job to tell you that. But it’s not seen as the job of the laity, necessarily, so they can be more impactful.

The minute I heard about the idea for a business school at CUA, I thought, “Oh, we’re going to start a seminary for businesspeople,” because business is a vocation. Now, we have a lot of work to do there. We’ve been at it since 2013, and our name was put on the school in 2016, but I’ve been through this sort of experience before and know that God seldom allows us to be successful on the first day. I have really challenged the team at CUA to continue finding ways to integrate the Faith in our business education. Of course CUA already provides an education in philosophy and theology, but we need to teach students how to integrate that in their study of management, finance, and marketing, and we need to form students in practices of daily Mass, the rosary, adoration, and spiritual direction. Our faith is simple, and we try to complicate it too much. If we stick to the graces and tools that Jesus Christ has given us through the Holy Spirit, it will be “game over.” But we tend to get distracted. When the devil doesn’t think he can tempt us with lust, or theft, or so on, he tempts us with “work harder,” “work until you drop,” “work until you finally collapse.”

Fr. Robert Spitzer says that 75% of our young people who enter college leave college not practicing the faith, and 25% of those become atheists. That’s really troubling to me. Atheism in America is still pretty rare as world standards go, but as you know, it’s rising rapidly. We have to stop it. That’s the whole object of Fr. Spitzer’s Magis Institute for Reason and Faith, of which I’m proud to serve as chairman, and I think it can serve as a model for Catholic universities.

A great example of someone seeing how important Catholic teachings are in business and for society is Charles Koch. Charles went to Catholic school, as did his wife, but he wasn’t really sold on Catholic teachings until he started reading St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and papal encyclicals like Centesimus Annus and Rerum Novarum. Then he had to step back and ask himself, “Why am I seeing the sorts of things I talk about appearing in the writings of these saints and popes? What do they know about this?”

And so to go back to the beginning of the founding of the business school at CUA: Charles Koch was the one who had the idea of leveraging CUA to form businesspeople. He coordinated to bring in the three largest gifts to CUA in the 130-year history of the university. That aggregate gift of $50 million has now turned into a capital campaign of $500 million. About $75 million of that has gone to the business school, but the rest has benefited the university in other ways. Bill and Joanne Conway were inspired to make something like a $60 million gift to the nursing school, which is now the largest gift in the history of the university. They’re building a beautiful nursing school right next to the Busch School of Business. So we’re seeing a movement to restore CUA to the grandeur it had at the beginning of the last century.

I wanted to make sure that every speaker we had was a true intellectual who could really speak to the substance of our faith. It’s really important that our speakers aren’t just offering warm-and-fuzzy content but are really getting into the substance of the Faith, which is so rich and deep.

John Garvey, the president of CUA, has made such a great contribution to the university. He is one of the finest presidents they’ve had in their 130-year history. I can’t sing his praises enough. And we’ll someday need the next leader, but I know the Holy Spirit will provide: he has been so clearly active in all that is going on.

But, as I said before, businesspeople impact more jobs and more communities than do those in other professions, so it’s important that we focus on educating them in the Faith. You’ve got to have a compass, and mine is my faith. And because I’ve had the formation that allows me to understand the faith, I’ve been able to explain it to others. Charles Koch, for instance, doesn’t necessarily align with the Faith on everything, but we’ve been able to talk through a lot of those issues. If I lacked the formation to have those discussions, I probably would have just “gone along to get along,” and I would have lost my chance to have such an influence. So when we help students to understand the Faith, and help them to recognize that we don’t have to proselytize everyone we come into contact with but just have to live out the Faith, we really do them and the world a great service. Never be afraid to pray. Never be afraid to share the Faith.

MShea: And that’s the work of integrated evangelization: forming relationships and being who you are, being bold about the Faith and about the truth. I like how you describe the importance and vocation of the businessperson, and how you’re trying to inculcate that into the Busch School of Business at CUA, and of course our school of business here at the University of Mary has the same vision. We want to form business leaders for the next America, which is this America. You mentioned John Garvey, who I admire so very much. You also mentioned Fr. Robert Spitzer, who was a college president and actually survived! He’s an amazing person, and we’ve had him to our campus a couple of times. You’ve had a long collaboration with him in the Magis Institute, as you discussed. And I think he’s typically the emcee for the Napa Institute. How did your collaboration with Fr. Spitzer come about, and what have been your main intentions as you work together. You’re both visionaries: when did it begin?

TB: What a companion Fr. Spitzer has been! We have complementary skills. He has probably the highest academic IQ I’ve ever seen, and even though he has lost his eyesight and isn’t in the greatest health, he hasn’t let it bother him. If you don’t believe God has anointed Fr. Spitzer, I have no hope for you. He writes books like I write letters.

We met over 20 years ago when he was the national chaplain of Legatus. I was so impressed by a talk he gave that I invited him to a small retreat with 30 or 40 Legatus members. His talk had been substantial but also so practical, which wasn’t the case for a lot of talks I’ve heard at conferences. He agreed to join us for our retreat, and he blew everybody away. I had never heard anything like it. Afterward, I said to him, “Father, if there is anything I can do to help you in your ministry, let me know.” He was still the president of Gonzaga University at that time. I chased him down for about a year, and we founded the Magis Institute. About four years later – maybe a little longer – he left Gonzaga as president, so I asked him to come down and join us in Orange County. I talked to the bishop who put him up at a retreat house, and providentially, the rector of that retreat house had been his novice master when he was first joining the Jesuits! He still lives there today. He officed with me for seven or eight years and celebrated daily Mass in the chapel in my office. When he was moved up to the Christ Cathedral I was disappointed to lose him, but I was sure God had a plan.

Fr. Spitzer and I still stay involved with one another, and I am still the chairman of the Magis Institute. His intentions are very simple: to reverse the movement of high school and college-aged students and young people from the Faith under the lie that reason and faith don’t reconcile. This lie dates back to the early Church. St. Augustine was battling it in his own time. It’s a lie that repeats itself.

God is a mathematician and everything goes together. But we’re too dull to figure it out, so we split it up into biology, and philosophy, and theology, and astrophysics, because if we rolled it all together, we would never grasp it! We have to take it apart because we’re limited.

Charles Koch has said to me that God is a mathematician and everything goes together. But we’re too dull to figure it out, so we split it up into biology, and philosophy, and theology, and astrophysics, because if we rolled it all together, we would never grasp it! We have to take it apart because we’re limited. This is why Fr. Spitzer has been so successful with brilliant astrophysicists, with brilliant scientists, because once they really start getting deep into their fields, they were forced to ask the question of how something could come from nothing! So Fr. Spitzer reverses the usual phrases, faith and reason, and presents it as reason and faith, because he wants to say to his readers and listeners, “Let’s start with reason, and I’ll get you to faith.” He does a fabulous job of it and is reaching millions of people. Before John Garvey became the president of CUA, I really wanted Fr. Spitzer to take on that role. Fr. Spitzer is an alumnus of CUA, as well: that’s where he received his PhD in astrophysics. But the timing wasn’t right. Fr. Spitzer realized that he didn’t want to be weighed down with the administrative responsibility and bureaucracy that comes with running a university again. He didn’t want to speak just to several thousand students, but instead wanted to speak to the world. And that is exactly what he is doing in the Magis Institute. So the Holy Spirit had other plans for Fr. Spitzer, and had John Garvey in mind for CUA.

Fr. Spitzer is the C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton of our time. And 50 years from now, his writings will be more important than they are today. That’s why it’s so important that we preserve what he is doing. The Holy Spirit is working through him, and that becomes so clear when you read his books. There’s no way he could have that amount of knowledge and insight on his own without co-creating with God.

MShea: And he provides so much of the intellectual ballast that you were talking about in the life of the Napa Institute. He has been with you from the very beginning, hasn’t he?

TB: At the very beginning of the Napa Institute, I tried to get a very, very famous Catholic announcer to be the emcee, but he said he was too busy. We were just a startup conference. So I asked Fr. Spitzer if he would be the emcee, and he agreed. Of course, he blew everybody away, so he has been the emcee ever since. His three-minute summaries after each presentation are so succinct that oftentimes they’re better than the actual presentation! I think presenters get intimidated by how well he is able to repackage and summarize their talks. And there really isn’t any subject matter that he isn’t able to provide a few thoughts on. It’s gotten to the point where we print off his summaries and make those available: if you don’t want to watch the entire presentation, just read Fr. Spitzer’s notes.

He will of course be the emcee again this year. People are always surprised to understand that he has lost his sight entirely. He memorizes every presenter’s curriculum vitae and introduces them by memory. And he reads them all before the conference. It’s quite a miracle. It’s fun to be his sidekick: we’re great friends, and it’s been God’s blessing to have such a friendship with him.

MShea: It’s tremendous. He’s been given a great gift by God and he uses it for God’s glory. It’s deeply inspiring.

Many of our readers are young Catholics on the doorstep of their lives. I want to give you an opportunity here at the end of our time together to say a word to young Catholics who are hoping to make a difference. You’ve marshaled all the energies that Lord has given you in building a business, and you’ve used the resulting success in a beautiful way to give glory back to God, to build up the Church that you love, and to make sure that when the Son of Man returns he will indeed find faith upon the earth. What would you say to young Catholics who want to make a difference and who look to you as an example?

TB: Never before in society have young people had the upper hand on a culture and in business. Because young people understand the relevance of technology, they can truly rise above. You can see this in these young entrepreneurs who are finding success with new ideas across the board.

Young people today are about mission rather than money: they’re about experience, they’re about the importance of their lives, and they haven’t been corrupted like my generation, who grew up through the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution that Pope Paul VI predicted. Instead, young people today are more pro-life than any other group of Americans. It’s so beautiful. And they’re pro-life because they follow the science: every single human being in the womb has different DNA than any other human being that’s ever been created. It’s why I don’t understand how people can be anything other than pro-life. And these young people who are so pro-life have the upper hand.

So I would also say to them: don’t fall for the lies. Stick to the basics and the teachings of the Church. If you don’t understand why the Church teaches what it does on same-sex marriage, on transgenderism, or any other of the controversial issues of the day, please go find an explanation from the clear teaching of the Magisterium. The Church has reasons for everything it teaches. These cultural lies are going to end very badly. That’s already the case with abortion: we’ve killed 66 million people in our nation alone. These other lies will end badly in their own way. When the government and society sanction sin, I understand why someone might say, “Well, maybe the Church is just behind the times.” And the social arguments against Church teaching can seem so strong. But with the amount of information we have access to today, there’s no reason you can’t find out why the Church teaches what it does.

MShea: Thank you for that word of encouragement. I look forward to seeing you at the Napa Institute, and we really wanted this chance to highlight for the readers of Prime Matters the importance of the Napa Institute and all that you’re doing. I want people to know about it, because as the movement grows, I’m sure many of our graduates and our readers will be at the Napa Institute: some as presenters, others as dedicated attendees.

TB: The Lord has made clear to me in prayer that he isn’t going to give me the answers to where he wants to take the Napa Institute. Instead, he is going to give those answers to other people. So I’m excited for your students and readers to encounter the Napa Institute as we try to understand where the Lord wants to take it and how it can do the most good, to the glory of God.

MShea: Tim, thanks so much for your time. We’re really grateful: especially in the week leading up to the Napa Institute, we know how much must be on your schedule and on your mind. We’re really proud to be able to feature you and the Napa Institute on Prime Matters.

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