Archbishop's web site Denver Catholic Register Parishes Catholic Pastoral Center

February 21, 2001


New HUD secretary honored as Legatus `ambassador'

Even before they knew President Bush would name Mel Martinez the new U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, members of a national Catholic association of business executives had decided Martinez was their "ambassador."

"Our honoree is the model of an ambassador for Christ and his church; he has lived the Gospel in his daily life, and has used his success in business and his position in the community to glorify the power and goodness of God," said Thomas Monaghan, a Michigan businessman and founder of the Domino's Pizza chain.

On Feb. 10, Monaghan presented Martinez with the Ambassador of the Year award on behalf of Legatus, a network of Catholic business executives Monaghan established more than 10 years ago.

More than 500 members and Legatus chaplains from 36 of the organization's 40 chapters met Feb. 8-10 in Naples. There are 1,400 members nationally.

In 1962, Martinez arrived in Florida at Camp Miami, a Florida-based temporary refugee center for Cuban youths set up as part of the Operation Pedro Pan. A longtime member of the Cathedral of St. James in Orlando, Martinez served as Orange County chairman until President Bush brought him to Washington to oversee the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"During his campaign for public office, our honoree shared his faith in a uniquely moving and public way," Monaghan said during the awards presentation.

Martinez encouraged his Orange County political supporters and campaign volunteers, both Catholic and evangelical, to join with him in prayer at a Mass in the local cathedral and at an ecumenical prayer service, Monaghan pointed out.

"In public office, our honoree has sought to serve the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, of children and senior citizens, and of all the people in the community," he said. During the Elian Gonzalez saga, it was Martinez who offered to take the young Cuban refugee to Disney World.

Later, Martinez would testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the effect of Cuba's religious persecution in his own life. He encouraged the committee members to support the God-given rights described in the U.S. Constitution, according to Monaghan.

In his acceptance remarks, Martinez said he has been humbled already — as a member of the U.S. president's Cabinet — to see the broader picture of the political process and the American landscape.

"I now have a much broader responsibility to the community, and I've already been a witness to American history in the making," said Martinez, who is a Legatus member. "I have goose bumps: Every day I drive to work I am honored to be a member of the Cabinet."

A graduate of Florida State University Law School, Martinez said he is honored to be the only Hispanic in the Cabinet. "I am also proud to be the only Legatus member serving in the Cabinet," he said, drawing applause.

David Grabosky, an Orlando-area contractor and member of the Orlando chapter of Legatus, said the national board of directors of Legatus chose Martinez for their award before the public knew he would be recruited by President Bush.

"As the Orange County commissioner, he was never afraid to show his faith in public and he was proud to be Catholic," Grabosky said, adding that Martinez did not change when he became a public official.

"I know myself it is not easy to say grace before a meal with the staff, for example, but it's more the little things that matter," he added.

Through monthly chapter meetings and special programs and conferences, Legatus tries to encourage evangelization efforts and Christian ethics in the workplace. - CNS


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