AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
The woke federal assault on American institutions and the right of association for those holding to traditional Jewish and Christian understandings of the human person as male and female continues under the Biden Administration. Not having learned their lessons in recent elections in places such as Virginia, the Administration and the Department of Education are again pushing for acceptance of the new theories of gender under pain of losing federal funds.
As The Federalist reported this past week, the Biden Administration is announcing rules (for which the formal rulemaking will begin in June) dictating that schools that receive “federal funds for lunches, breakfasts, and snacks” will be required to allow boys who identify as girls into girls restrooms, shower areas, and sleeping areas—as well as “requiring staff to use inaccurate pronouns to describe transgender people and allowing male staff to dress as women while on the job.” No public schools will be allowed exemptions. And while private schools will be allowed waivers requiring no paperwork, the U. S. Department of Education is already encouraging them to apply in writing for them. According to Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Greg Baylor, this is a move that follows the Human Rights Campaign’s Blueprint for Positive Change 2020 that encouraged the Biden Administration to tighten religious exemptions where possible and identify those who apply for them—for the purpose of advancing pressure campaigns.
In one way, parents and citizens have already been pushing back against this sort of crazed approach to education, and one wonders when the professional educators are going to catch on. Frankly, with the millions of students who have been pulled from public schools, it would be foolish of public school teachers and administrators to not object lest they see more parents pull their children because their daughters are afraid to use the bathrooms or the changing areas. Alas, all too many public schools are run by people who have drunk the gender Kool Aid and will see even more of their students leave for private or homeschooling if they can.
This failure of the education lobby to catch on and instead continue their assault on sane schooling explains the growth in networks for businesses and nonprofits to support each other like New Founding, the new nationwide startup that AMAC Newsline recently wrote about. This week we will look at a smaller local network for Catholics that is helping Americans liberate themselves from the education lobby and woke corporate and federal power.
That ability to allow parents to educate their children in private schools or homeschool was one of the main things in Roger Vasko’s mind three years ago when he began the St. Joseph Business Guild out of his house in North Saint Paul, Minnesota. The Catholic businessman does not claim to be a mystic, but he says occasionally he becomes aware when it is God’s voice telling him something specific. The first time was in 2005 when the then-47-year-old realized he ought to sell the family business, Vasko Rubbish Removal. Given that Saint Paul, Minnesota, took over the formerly free market system of hiring one’s own trash service only a few years later, setting up contracts with several large companies and driving out of business many of the thriving local companies, one can be forgiven for thinking that was God. The second time was a few years later when, like St. Francis of Assisi, he believed God wanted his local parish church rebuilt; he pushed for it and offered the lead gift. The third time was in 2019 when, as he says, the idea for the St. Joseph Business Guild came to him “in one fell swoop.”
He had been thinking about his nephews, nieces, and the many young people he knew who had been postponing marriage and delaying children. While it’s not the whole story, one component of this was the fact that even the faithful young who wanted to do so were worried about their capacity to raise and educate their children in the way they believed was becoming necessary in the modern world—and seems to be more necessary today. “I was trying to strengthen the financial capabilities of families so they can homeschool or pay for good Catholic schools.” That was what the Guild was about. The mission statement for the Guild states that it “supports Catholic families by connecting Catholic business owners to workers and customers in the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.”
The Guild has three goals. The first point is, he tells me, getting his Catholic brethren to get “the best jobs” they can get so that they can support their families and personally put more of their money and talents back into the Catholic community here. The second is helping Catholic entrepreneurs find business opportunities, educating them on how to do so, and giving them mentors as they start. The third is providing “a cost-free method of marketing to promote their business by using our online business directory.”
Concerning the first goal of helping connect workers and businesses, the Guild’s member area on the website has a job posting list and a private online community that is similar to LinkedIn or Facebook. Catholic employers can post jobs as can Catholics who have found good jobs at their own non-Catholic-owned companies. Those looking for work can also post resumés on the job seeker list. While the private online community has largely been dormant, Vasko is raising funds to improve this part of the site and reboot it later this year. Finally, the Guild hosts live events, including quarterly dinner meetings with time for networking, a short program introducing local businesses, a speaker, and night prayer. (I was introduced to the Guild this past year when I was asked to be a speaker at their January dinner on the topic of property ownership in the Catholic tradition.) They also host six happy-hour-type networking meetings for young adults. Women in the Guild had a Zoom meeting and have now started up their own periodic networking meetings. Roger stresses that the goal of the Guild is ultimately spiritual. The Guild has a prayerbook that they distribute, and they encourage members to think of their networking as relational and not transactional. Members help each other even if there is no immediate quid pro quo.
For entrepreneurs, the Guild is busy working to provide mentors and education. They have about fifteen mentors already and they’re seeking more. “Our goal,” Vasko tells me, “is to have mentors for every kind of member.” Their classes have taken on a number of different areas, including how to use and accept Bitcoin and other crypto currencies. Their class offered this month was on how to create a top-notch business plan taught by former Best Buy Vice President Jeff Peterson.
The online directory is one of their big projects, however. Right now they have about 185 listings in it. Already they have companies that do website design, cybersecurity, art and advertising, construction, education, health care (including dentistry, fertility care, doula services, and physical therapy), mental health, and legal services in the directory. The goal is to increase this to about 250 by the fall, when the Guild is going to start advertising the directory in all the Catholic parish bulletins and on their websites. In the meantime, they are gaining exposure through a partnership with Leaflet Missal, a 90-year-old Catholic goods store based in St. Paul but with a national customer base. The Guild produces a small Shopper insert in which Guild member businesses can advertise. Customers at the home store get a brochure and the Shopper with their purchases, while a national version of the Shopper is going out with all packages Leaflet sends.
Does the St. Joseph Business Guild have bigger ambitions? Vasko says that what he had envisioned was simply to build up his local Church community, but that he is open to more. He tells me he thinks it would be better to have different franchises in different places, but through the internet it is possible that the Guild could itself be nationwide.
More has happened organically. Catholic college students started approaching him about memberships—some of them from outside the Minnesota-Wisconsin area. An Italian art company found out about the Guild and recently purchased a business membership. Recently Ryan Cornell, owner of Twin Pikes Roastery, a Louisiana, Missouri-based coffee company, was looking for help in growing his roasted coffee and kegging business. He discovered the Guild over the internet and found Generate360, a Minnesota-based marketing and consulting firm whose owners, Tanya and Andy Rausch, were able to help Cornell develop a marketing plan that would allow him to keep operating as he opens a new retail coffee shop and a larger wholesale space.
Vasko is happy for such national and international connections. Right now, he is happy to watch them happen. His goals are geared at making such partnerships possible, the biggest one being to recruit more businesses, parishes, and individual members since in any kind of networking endeavor size and visibility matter to the ultimate success. He has other plans for making the Guild more visible on the local space. Soon he will be opening a coworking space in an empty Catholic school building. This will allow for a stable location for the classes and meetings of the Guild (the school cafeteria will allow for a banquet hall setting), a place to record podcasts, and space for shared equipment. Vasko is envisioning a kind of Catholic Business Center that would provide services, sharing, and networking all in one. A future plan would be to use the facility to start a Catholic trade school in the building. This is important, Vasko tells me, because while the Guild’s membership is mostly white collar, his goal to provide jobs and opportunities for all Catholics requires more blue-collar membership and input. Given the vast needs in the U. S. for this kind of labor, Vasko is right to think this way.
Some might object that it is “sectarian” to have Catholic or other Christian or Jewish groups gathering together for support. But that’s always been a part of any society’s health, especially that of American society. Families look out for each other. So too do many different groups associated with faith, ethnicity, national origins, and various other interests banding together for their own health and success.
Today, with assaults on schools, charities, and even businesses from the so-called progressive left in the federal government, there is an even greater need for groups that do not accept the new ideas of the human person, family, and our country to band together and make sure that their own families and communities have the capital—monetary, human, and cultural—to thrive.
David P. Deavel is editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN). He is the co-host of the Deep Down Things podcast. Follow him on GETTR @davidpdeavel.