History of the Catholic Bar Association Initiative

On March 6, 2015, a national meeting of Catholic attorneys took place at the Polsinelli, PC office in Kansas City, Missouri to discuss the creation of a national organization of Catholic legal professionals, the Catholic Bar Association.  The meeting was convened by Joshua McCaig, a shareholder with the Polsinelli law firm and a graduate of the inaugural class of Ave Maria School of Law.  Joshua began by introducing Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to lead the group in an opening prayer.  Archbishop Naumann’s opening prayer is as follows in its entirety:

We stand before you Holy Spirit,
Conscious of our sinfulness,
But aware that we gather in your name.
Come to us, remain with us,
And enlighten our hearts.

Give us light and strength
To know your will,
To make it our own,
And to live it in our lives.

Guide us by your wisdom,
Support us by your power,
For you are God,
Sharing the glory of Father and Son.

You desire justice for all:
Enable us to uphold the rights of others;
Do not allow us to be misled by ignorance
Or corrupted by fear or favor.

Unite us to yourself in the bond of love
And keep us faithful to all that is true.

As we gather in your name
To form this national association of Catholic lawyers
May we temper justice with love,
So that all our decisions
May be pleasing to you,
And earn the reward
Promised to good and faithful servants.

You live and reign with the Father and Son,
One God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Joshua began the meeting with opening remarks on the history of the initiative, going back to his founding of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Kansas City in 2007 and a building desire to see a national or even international association of Catholic attorneys.  At the time there were over 60 independent Catholic lawyers group in the United States, like the one in Kansas City, however there was no national or international organization with the sole purpose of creating a community of Catholic legal professionals. 

In September of 2013, Joshua in his capacity as a board member of the National Lawyers Association, organized the Religious Liberty Summit in Kansas City.  During this Summit, he gathered a group of attorneys from 6 different Catholic lawyers organizations throughout the United States (including Kansas City, Dallas, Chicago, St. Louis, New York and Denver) to discuss the idea of a national organization.  At this meeting, Joshua met Thomas Brandt of the St. Thomas More Society of Dallas.  Also at this meeting was Thomas Brejcha of Chicago, an early supporter of this initiative.  Thomas Brandt, following the discussions, agreed to take this idea to the Board of the St. Thomas More Society of Dallas. 

Following the Summit, Joshua engaged various organizations, guilds and Bishops to continue laying the foundation for this organization.  Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas enthusiastically supported the idea and Joshua and Archbishop Naumann met on multiple occasions to map out a strategy for bringing the organization to fruition, knowing that a much broader coalition was required.  Early supporters of this initiative included Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Thomas Brejcha of Chicago, William Kirk of Ave Maria University and the late Professor Charles Rice of Notre Dame.  William Kirk, as the General Counsel of Ave Maria University, had already taken steps to start a legal organization for Catholics attorneys involved in higher education and readily joined in the initiative. 

In 2014, Ellen Dorn of the St. Thomas More Society of Dallas was introduced to Joshua  by Thomas Brandt.  Ellen, through her work with the St. Thomas More Society of Dallas, had already created a website designed to connect the various independent Catholic lawyers organizations in the U.S. called www.catholiclawyerguilds.org and post a Red Mass schedule for all the guilds.  Ellen’s efforts provided a valuable resource to connect with already established Catholic lawyer organizations.  Then, in late 2014, Thomas Brandt and Ellen Dorn introduced Joshua to Jake Vollebregt, a member of the St. Thomas More Society, Orange County, California.  

Jake led an impressive group of attorneys that broadly represented over 12 states in the Country.  These individuals included the Honorable Thomas J. Brennan, Jr. of Michigan, the late Paul McNamara of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Boston and David DeWolf of Gonzaga University.  Paul McNamara played an integral role in the first meeting of the CBA and his guidance on difficult issues during discussion was one of wisdom and practical knowledge.  Everyone could immediately tell he was a man of faith and it saddened us deeply when he passed away on January 23, 2016. 

Jake’s team of almost 20 attorneys had begun the steps of creating a national Catholic Bar Association, where Jake had worked on a website under the domain name www.catholicbar.com.  Jake, after speaking with Joshua, Thomas and Ellen by phone, set up a phone call with his team to introduce them to Joshua and ideas about this initiative. 

A joint call was held on November 6, 2014, the list of attendees directly below:

Joshua McCaig (Catholic Lawyers Guild, Kansas City / Ntl. Lawyers Assoc.

Carter L. Stout (St. Thomas More Society, Atlanta)

Paul McNamara (Catholic Lawyers Guild, Boston)

Thomas P. Brandt (St. Thomas More Society, Dallas)

Ellen Dorn (St. Thomas More Society, Dallas)

Hon. Thomas Brennan, Jr. (Catholic Lawyers Guild, Lansing)

Thomas Quasarano (Catholic Lawyers Guild, Lansing)

John J. Flynn, III (St. Thomas More Society, Orange County, CA)

William E. Malecki (St. Thomas More Society, Orange County, CA)

Michael Offenheiser (St. Thomas More Society, Orange County, CA)

Jake Vollebregt (St. Thomas More Society, Orange County, CA)

Gregory N. Weiler (St. Thomas More Society, Orange County, CA)

David K. DeWolf (Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA)

David Luke (Topeka, KS)

During the discussion ideas were exchanged, vision was shared and prayers for guidance were offered up.  Following this discussion, a decision was made by everyone involved to join efforts in order to bring this organization to a reality. 

Joshua offered to host a national steering committee meeting at his office in Kansas City, which took place on March 6, 2015.  Attendees gathered that day included over 30 attorney’s from across the nation, including representatives from academia, corporations, law firms, non-profits, catholic conferences and the Church, including representatives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Canon Law Society of America. 

Following opening remarks by Joshua McCaig and Jake Vollebregt on the purpose and scope of this initiative, Joshua invited Jeremiah Morgan, the international chair of the J. Reuben Clark law society to speak to the group on the organizational structure of the Mormon legal society.  Soon after, Mario Dickerson, the CEO of the Catholic Medical Association presented the history and organizational structure of the Catholic Medical Association and expressed his support of this initiative. 

The remainder of the day was spent in discussion and dialogue, including additional comments by William Kirk of Ave Maria University, the Honorable Thomas J. Brennan and Patricia Dugan of the Canon Law Society of America.  Ellen Dorn of the St. Thomas More Society of Dallas led a discussion focused on the development of the Mission statement, which after much debate, was unanimously approved by the group in the following form:

The Catholic Bar Association is a community of Legal Professionals that Educates, Organizes and Inspires its members to faithfully uphold and bear witness to the Catholic Faith in the study and practice of Law.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Joshua proposed three resolutions to the delegates for a vote, namely (1) that the Catholic Bar Association be formally established, (2) that the mission statement be formally adopted, and (3) that an interim board be established from the members present at the meeting to legally establish the organization.  The resolutions were unanimously adopted (the resolution is included in this report). 

Thomas Brandt, of the Thomas More Society of Dallas, closed the meeting with a prayer that he personally prepared for this historic meeting, the prayer is as follows: 

Heavenly Father, we ask you in the name of your son Our Lord Jesus Christ to send down the Holy Spirit to fill us with your grace, love, joy, peace, hope and courage so that we may imitate the examples of humility and obedience given to us by Our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph.  May we be instruments of your peace, love, and healing.  May we live our lives as your faithful, humble and obedient sons and daughters.  May we support each other in our pilgrimage to our heavenly home with you and may we answer your call individually and collectively to be a light to the world so that, with your grace, we may participate in doing your will now and forever.  With your grace, may we be your faithful, humble and obedient ambassadors to a world so desperately in need of your love.  May our efforts help all to come to know, love and serve you.   Amen.

Joshua agreed to put together a strategic plan for moving the initiative forward and following the meeting an interim board was selected which included: 

Joshua McCaig, Ellen Dorn, Mark Haug, Thomas Brandt, Jake Vollebregt, William Kirk, Mary Pilcher Cook, Thomas Brejcha, Tyler McClay, Paul McNamara, Thomas Brennan Jr. and David Luke. 

In September of 2015, Joshua discussed the initiative with Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna while in Austria and Cardinal Schonborn expressed his support of the idea. 

On July 6, 2015, the Catholic Bar Association, through the work of Ellen Dorn, was formally incorporated in the State of Texas on the 480th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St. Thomas More.

The first General Assembly was set for October 27-30, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri, during which the formal election of the board and officers will occur and the general assembly will serve as a gathering of representatives from the Catholic lawyers organizations across the country to unite in this initiative to promote the faith and provide a community through which Catholic attorneys may find support in living their faith within their profession.

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