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Better Capitalism in Action – Notre Dame Federal Credit Union

Can faith and business coexist? Currently with $2B in assets under management, 250 employees, and 11 locations, Notre Dame Federal Credit Union (Notre Dame FCU) has the credibility to speak to the question. We’re honored to publish this week’s blog post, co-authored by Notre Dame FCU’s President/CEO Thomas J. Gryp and its Chief Partnership Officer, Robert Kloska.


Many people no doubt believe that faith is an entirely private matter that should always be kept to oneself. Christian scripture contradicts this view over and over. Jesus tells us that “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (Mt 10:32-33) He doesn’t say, “Except while you are at work.” Peter the Apostle says, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” (1Pet 3:15).


Perhaps most explicitly, Jesus asks, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?” (Mk 4:21). Catholic tradition is imbued with the belief that faith ought to permeate every single thing we do: thoughts, words and actions. Human beings do not somehow magically escape this reality during the week while they are at work.


Having said this, there are different kinds of businesses that demand different approaches. Family businesses can be heavily influenced by faith, large corporations almost never. It is right and just to play by the rules of whatever kind of entity employs you. You don’t want to be obnoxious or a distraction while you are at work, so most of the time, faith need not be discussed. Common sense tells us to avoid potentially divisive topics when working together regardless of where we work. Every person is important. A teammate is a teammate regardless of religious affiliation. Nevertheless, your faith can still shine in how you do your work and how you choose to interact with these teammates.


Unlike a family business or a large corporation, we work for a rather unique entity, a cooperative bank. In America, we call such financial co-ops "credit unions." Co-ops are entities that are owned equally by a group of people who have banded together in solidarity to help each other in a particular way. Our credit union is located on the campus of arguably the highest profile Catholic university in the country where 80% of the student body and the majority of faculty, staff, trustees, etc, identify as Catholic.


So it comes as no surprise that a member-owned coop founded by Catholic professors on a Catholic campus would naturally have a mission related to the faith that predominates the makeup of its membership. This is the case at Notre Dame FCU. You don't have to be Catholic to be a member or work at Notre Dame FCU - nobody even asks that question.  However because of our faith history, we make a special effort to interact with our members in a way that demonstrates how a Catholic oriented credit union should conduct itself. 


Notre Dame FCU makes a concerted effort to reach out to the margins of society and serve even those people who don't generate much revenue for us. We intentionally try to integrate Catholic Social Teaching into all that we do. In that regard we are like a Catholic hospital that serves whoever walks in the door.



Image Credit: Notre Dame FCU


Walk into any Notre Dame FCU branch and you will see something you probably won’t see in many other places.  As an an outward sign of our faith, we proudly display a crucifix for everyone to see.  Not only does every branch of our credit union have a crucifix, but our new branch which serves a largely Hispanic population also displays a beautiful painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is a very meaningful symbol for many of our Hispanic members. This gift was given by an enthusiastic member right after a blessing ceremony led by our local bishop. Of course, we hung it on the wall. The branch manager there has told me that she sometimes sees people facing the image in a posture of prayer while they wait in line.


In today’s hyper-sensitive world, we still have the guts to also pray together. Our Board, which includes a broad and diverse array of our membership (including a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister) prays together before every meeting. At company parties, there is always a prayer. Such a refreshing attitude to take! Imagine that, actually acknowledging and calling upon our creator as part of what we do together! This kind of officially sanctioned prayer may not be possible to do at other companies, but we can do this because we're a member-owned co-op and we were founded by Catholic economics professors who wanted to integrate faith and finance. That gives us permission.


This picture shows the beautiful prayer that is said at the beginning of every Board meeting. As far as we are concerned, it says it all and inspires us to be the hands and feet of our Lord as we intentionally strive to improve the financial lives of our members, partners (employees) and communities we serve.



Image Credit: Notre Dame FCU


You can read more about Catholic credit unions at www.catholiccua.blog.


Now, we at Better Capitalism invite you to think about how you can best integrate your faith tradition (Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Seeking, 12 Step, or otherwise) into your business for better results. Then, we invite you to turn your thinking into implementing. YOU can do it, just like the example of the founders of Notre Dame FCU. YOU are the way this becomes a better world, just like the examples of Tom Gryp and Bob Kloska.



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"This book merits close, sustained attention as a compelling move beyond both careless thinking and easy ideology."—Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary


"Better Capitalism is a sincere search for a better world."—Cato Institute

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