The Gregorian Institute Shield, composed of the crossed gold and silver keys of the Papal Insignia, an open book with the words 'Via Veritas Vita' ('The Way, the Truth, and the Life') written on its pages, three golden six-sided stars on a red banner, and a Germanic cross.

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What Makes a Leader? 7 Quotes From Patrick Reilly

Benedictine College students heard from a significant leader in American Catholic higher education on Feb. 4.

Patrick J. Reilly founded the Cardinal Newman Society in 1993, two years after graduating from Fordham University in New York. More than a quarter century later, he has revolutionized higher education in America.

The organization’s Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College names and promotes Catholic colleges which comply with canon law by publicly requiring a mandatum for their theology department and intentionally follow St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution for Higher Education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

The guide has helped most of its two dozen “Newman Guide colleges” buck the nationwide trend for declining enrollment, and has caused many universities to strengthen their Catholic identity. In short, due to Patrick Reilly’s efforts, far more students are receiving far better Catholic formation in college than in decades. And since the college years have a profound, lifelong, transformative effect on students, Reilly’s impact on the future of the Church and the nation are enormous.

Reilly lives in Manassas, Va., with his wife Rosario and their five children. He spoke at a Gregorian Fellows leadership class.

On the Newman Guide’s Success

“My plan was that we would put out a guide reviewing all 200 Catholic colleges in the United States. Father Benedict Groeschel was one of our advisers. He told me ‘You really ought to focus on the good things. There are some really good things happening in Catholic education. You ought to focus on that.’ So we decided to recommend schools.”

“We do the work, we do our best to identify what’s really good and strong and we do our best to get that out to Catholic families. It’s really in God’s hands what he does with it.”

On Being a Founder

“At first, I did everything. My wife and I would prepare the room for meetings and conferences. I would put out the bowl and put the Doritos in the bowl. I still see myself as the guy who puts the Doritos in the bowl.”

The Key to Leadership

“The qualities we talk about with leadership are genuine qualities, but they are qualities of effectiveness, not leadership — management skills, charisma, decisiveness, being able to plan and organize. In most cases, those are genuine skills of being an effective leader. But are they qualities of being a leader? You will see many times that people have these skills, but they’re not leaders.”

“Fundamentally, one of the key qualities of a leader is confidence. I don’t mean just not being nervous. I mean confidence with regard to your mission.  … That’s what makes you a leader. You can be in the smallest working group, and someone can speak up and you know immediately that they are a leader. Everyone wants to follow confidence. “

Achievement is a Gift

“Ever since I was a kid, I did well in school. I never considered that a big deal. Intelligence was just something God gave me. The things I was proud of were the things I worked hard at and achieved. But I have come to realize that achievement is as much a gift as your talents are. You can work hard and be a good leader and not be successful, and God will make things work in the right way. Talents are a gift. Achievement is also a gift.”

Humility and Risk

“A leader is also humble. Which is interesting because you tend to think of leaders as prideful. But you have to have what it takes to make a fool out of yourself. You have to swallow a lot of pride if you’re going to be willing to be a leader.”

Second Only to the Sacraments

“The Church doesn’t have anywhere near the appreciation for Catholic education that it should have. Catholic education is supposed to help people be who they should be … We should be valuing Catholic education more than just about everything we do, except the sacraments.”


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Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.