Interview with Martin Wojcik

Patrick Murphy: Hello everybody.  This is Patrick Murphy with the Augustinians again.  I'm here today with Marty Wojcik.  Marty Wojcik is the executive director for the American College of Surgeons Foundation.  He is also a graduate of Mendel Catholic High School, an Augustinian high school on the south side of Chicago.  He is also one of the newest members of the Augustinian Advancement Advisory Council.  Thank you once again today, Marty, for taking the time to take this interview.

Martin Wojcik: You're very welcome.

Murphy: One of the first things that I like to ask many of our supporters is how was it that you first came to know the Augustinians?

Wojcik: Sure.  Two ways.  First of all, I became aware of the fact that the Augustinians were providing some Mass service to our parish on and off, and I would see occasional people come in.  The one whom I had the opportunity to interact with personally was Father McConville, who was a pretty stern character.  Getting to know him in his role as celebrant of the Mass on Sundays, and I think it was usually on Sundays he had that time slot, found out that he was austere but basically just a really fine person.

I think that was a useful thing to find out in the beginning, that the friars seemed on the one hand to be fairly severe and business-like but on the other hand were just genuinely fine people.  That was my first exposure to the Augustinians.  The other thing was that my parents and I agreed that Mendel was going to be a better choice as a college prep opportunity than the local public high school, which shall go nameless at this point.

Murphy: Okay.  Could you share a little bit more about your experience with Mendel?  What was it like with the Augustinians that were there?

Wojcik: I went to a parochial elementary school, and we had a mixture of both nuns and lay teachers.  I had heard that Mendel was going to be a very competitive place, and I was struck by the fact that there was an entrance exam to assess academic performance.  I remember being impressed by the fact that there were actual evaluations of that kind that took place before actually coming into the school.

I would say that when I got there, I really had high expectations but didn't quite know how that was... I probably had the same sort of freshman fear as lots of other people.  I wasn't quite sure what was going to happen, but I was definitely expecting to have a more ramped up, shall I say ramped up level of discipline than I had in elementary school with the nuns.  That certainly turned out to be the case.  It was an environment that definitely was oriented toward serious learning and discussion.

Murphy: That's great.  Are there any particular Augustinians along that journey going to school that really impacted your life, looking back?

Wojcik: Yeah, there really were.  I'm guessing that reasonable people might disagree about this, but over my entire four year period at Mendel I had in either Latin or Spanish the good teaching services of Father Labadie, and I believe it was William Labadie.  I had him for Latin, and I also had him for I believe at least two years of Spanish.  I think two years of Latin and two years of Spanish.  He was a tough task master. I actually over the entire four-year period of interaction with him really enjoyed him, really appreciated his teaching style.

He was very serious.  He really demanded performance, and I found that his ability to discipline and organize a class really, really assisted the learning process.  I appreciated the fact that, certainly looking at my peers over at the public high school, I felt that that discipline, and intellectual emphasis, and just the sense that this was a place to learn and not to recreate and certainly not to be disorderly.  

I thought that that was a great environment for me, and as I say, reasonable people might differ because I know there were people who were terrified of Father Labadie and were not necessarily always aligned with the disciplinary goals of the school and the Augustinians, but for me it worked absolutely great.  I would say another person whom I had a great appreciation for was Father Dodge, who is still with us.  I had him for freshman biology.

I had had very modest biological sciences exposure up until that point, and I just had a tremendous appreciation for, again, like Father Labadie, he really knew how to run a classroom, had a very low threshold for people spouting off, and really treated us as adults.  We were there to learn, and it's just I am just delighted that he is still influencing people all these years later. 

I have said to myself and others many times that if I had had a couple more years of Father Dodge, I probably would have gone into biological sciences.  As it is, I worked at the margins of bio-medical science over the years and have an appreciation of what Father Dodge did at Mendel and for other students at other institutions.

Murphy: Correct me if I'm wrong.  Just listening to you about the impact the Augustinians have had in your life, they really shaped who you are as far as pursuit of excellence, committed to education, hard working values that have led you to the man you are today.  I mean you're executive director of a prestigious foundation.  I'd venture to say that a lot of those values, and a lot of that hard work, and a lot of that discipline really paid off in the long run.

Wojcik: Yeah, I would say that's true, Patrick.  I really appreciated just the environment and the dedication to learning, and teaching, and serious scholarship.  Again, I felt it really helped me form thoughts, and impressions, and attitudes that have stayed me over my life.  I think it's true.

Murphy: Personally, I like to think that a lot of that derives from Saint Augustine's pursuit of truth.  He spent his entire life in restless pursuit of truth, and I think that the Augustinians do so likewise.  We're all on this journey on earth together, and even whether if it's biology or if it's theology, that pursuit of truth I think is really indicative of the Augustinian Order.

Wojcik: Yeah, absolutely.  I would agree with that.  I think those kinds of values are every bit as important today and maybe even more important.  We are in a society that believes in pushing the boundaries, and experimentation, and going after the flashy and the new, but there is a great deal to be said about reflection and taking time to really understand how we got to where we are.  I think that that sense of reflection and introspection probably are... I think that's really part of the Augustinian canon, and I certainly felt like I was exposed to that significantly in high school.

Murphy: You say that a lot of those values are relevant today in today's society.  What would you say that the role is of the Augustinian Order today?

Wojcik: I think obviously that part of this campaign is to reinvest in, if you will, in the business, if I can use that term, through investing in formation, investing in outreach, investing in taking care of those who have gone before, and I think really sustaining that sense of community and sustaining the sense that we are all in this together and we need to be mindful of each other's welfare, and I think just the notion that we need to take time to be thankful of where we are, and what we're doing, and who we are, and who's around us. I think the Augustinians are really all about that.

Murphy: Yeah, I would definitely agree.  Since we're talking about the campaign, the campaign as you know is set to raise the trusts for Father Ray Ryan and Journey of a Lifetime, which help build funds for vocations and men in formation as well as the retired Augustinians.  Why is it in particular that you are helping with the Continuing Our Journey of Faith capital campaign?

Wojcik: It's a really good question, and Michael Gerrity and I have talked about that more than a few times.  I think I probably, and I don't think it's any great secret, I went out of alignment I guess I could say, went out of communication with the Augustinians for a period of time.  Part of that was the fact that I was somewhat itinerant in building my career, and I think I probably fell off the mailing list at some point and was not in a position to go to the local events in the Chicago area.

Even though I was an alum, I really fell away from the culture and the community of Mendel and the Augustinians, but I certainly never forgot about it because some of my best friends through life have been fellows that I met at Mendel, so we would talk and reminisce about various experiences and individuals and so on at Mendel and certainly about the friars.  It was always there. 

Then somewhere along the line, and I'm going to say it was probably maybe in the mid 80s or late 80s, somewhere in there I think, I was asked to participate in an alumni reunion exercise, doing some of the review of alumni rosters and so on that those of us in the philanthropy business are familiar with.  For probably about I would say six months or so I got very engaged with what I guess was the early effort by the Augustinians at Mendel to craft an alumni relations and an alumni giving program.

I remember we were involved in doing a reunion, so I was really all in for probably about I'm going to say a six month period of time, but it seems like it unfortunately was not sustained.  The rest is history, and Mendel evolved, and the Augustinians moved on.  I really after the school closed really pretty much lost track of what was going on, and I was not living in the Chicago area at that time.

Somewhere along the line, and I honestly can't remember when it was, sometime in the last I'm going to say five years, and maybe under Michael Gerrity's leadership, I started getting contacts from the Augustinians about becoming a donor.  I think I probably donated modestly once or twice. 

In part, it was because of the fact that I was very interested in supporting the ethos, and the work, and the legacy, and the future, partly because I was just struck by the fact that somebody was actually pulling this together because it didn't seem like in the past it had been particularly continuous.  Somewhere along the line I decided to send a larger donation, and I think I just did that because I was impressed with the line of communication that opened.

Not probably a couple of days later, I got a call from Michael Gerrity saying, "I wanted to thank you.  I wanted to..." As a development professional, as somebody who spent much of his career in philanthropy, I was impressed.  I thought, ah, okay, they've got somebody there who's figured this out.  That was where it started.  This was probably two years ago, something like that I would say.  The rest I guess you could say, Patrick, is more recent history.

I was integrated into the effort and made to feel like a member of the family again, and it's been terrific interacting with you, and Michael, and the team there.  Of course, the friars are wonderful, wonderful working with them.  I guess giving my time is the sort of thing that's really in my wheelhouse as far as align with my own professional activities and of course as someone who's already persuaded of the inherent value of the Augustinians in today's society.

It just seemed like a good opportunity for me to give back and to help, if you will, invest in those who supported me in the past and to help invest in those who will be serving in the future, so here I am.

Murphy: That's a fantastic story.  First, I have to say on behalf of the Augustinians, we're all grateful for all you're doing for us right now, for the capital campaign, for the future of the Order, and for your insight as a professional fundraiser and as somebody that went to our schools.  It really means a lot to us that you're participating.

Wojcik: You're very welcome.

Murphy: Since you have a good insight as a fundraiser, I do know that fundraising isn't all smiles. Sometimes it could be very, very challenging work, particularly for the capital campaign, there might be other people out there right now that have a similar story to yours that aren't as engaged right now for one of many reasons.  Hopefully, we get to reengage them, but I guess what I'm curious to ask is when things get hard for you in fundraising, what is it that makes you continue to push on, and keep asking for money, and keep pushing to build relationships, in particular with the Augustinians?

Wojcik: I think we have, as you well know, Patrick, we have ingrained philanthropy as an integral part of the way that we provide social, and educational, and spiritual services in this country, not to put too fine a point on it.  You know as well as I do that there are several hundreds of billions of dollars raised per year around these United States.  I think it's something like 315 or [3]20 billion most recently that goes to support a whole variety of very, very worthy causes.

I would say in general, one of the things I think makes philanthropy attractive to Americans is it's a kind of market driven investment that people... It's a discretionary investment that people can make.  Unlike an additional tax, it's one that's discretionary, so you give according to your ability and you invest according to the need hopefully.

With that as background, I think the Augustinians probably have been under-represented for a number of years in the philanthropy sphere, so to some extent I think there's some catch up that has to go on.  It would be great to say that had someone come through with a ten million dollar check or a five million dollar campaign 10 or 20 years ago, how would things look different?  We don't know.

I think to some extent, I think we're playing catch up.  The Augustinian Order has every right to be out there looking for a philanthropic investment from its various constituencies, so just on a worthiness level I think there's every reason for the Augustinians to be out there, if you will, in the marketplace looking for their share of philanthropic investments.

Clearly, the mission, the benefit, the impact, the value proposition, all of those things for the Augustinians are very solid.  I think first of all, we have every right to be out there asking.  The other part of it is... That's part of my answer is we have every right to be out there, and we should be for heaven's sake.  We've been leaving money on the table.

The other part of it is that, and you know this and many people know this, philanthropy is about relationships, so this campaign is about identifying existing relationships and they exist obviously in parish relationships, in school institutional relationships, community service, what have you.  Again, without being too business-like about it, the Augustinians need to monetize some of those relationships in a meaningful way.  I think that's what philanthropy is.  It's an effort to monetize a real social, if you will, social or spiritual value.  In that sense I think that's a... I think the campaign is about shifting the focus from, 'Oh, here's $50.  Go away and I'll see you next year," guilt gifts, into something that's a more meaningful investment.  I know, you know, Michael knows, we all know that it takes time for that message to speak, if you will, to permeate people's thinking, and particularly if you consider...

Let's take my cohort at Mendel:  a lot of those people have had really nothing to do with the legacy of Mendel or the legacy of the Augustinians even over a number of years, but like me, they probably still have enduring benefit and a sense of obligation, if you will, for the good, the good service, and the good counsel, and the good guidance, and the good education that has been provided and continues to be provided.

I think the key thing is you have to get the value proposition out there in front of people who are willing to listen to it and give them an opportunity to sort through, if you will, the promotional activities that they're exposed to from various organizations, and then let them make up their own minds.  In my case, and this is very analogous to my own organization here, we know that we're not necessarily the number one charitable interest of many of our own constituents.  We know that they've got their alma mater, we know college alma mater, or medical school alma mater, or hospitals, or faith community, or local community chest, or whatever. 

We know that there's, if you will, there's competition out there, so this campaign, the Continuing our Journey of Faith campaign, is about getting some attention, getting in front of potential donors and saying, "Okay, we know you've got a lot of other opportunities out there to invest, but here's why you might want to consider this one a little more seriously, and we'd love for you to take out that checkbook, or take out your estate plan, or your credit card, or whatever and do something right now, but I think we'd rather have you think about it a little bit and really do a stretch gift, a stretch commitment rather than just give us that annual guilt gift because there will be plenty of time for the annual guilt gift.  If I'm not mistaken, Patrick, that's ongoing, but this campaign is about making a special investment.

Murphy: Exactly.  Exactly.  You hit on a few, a lot of really great points.  One of them that really resonated with me just right now is you said that we were playing a little bit of catch up here in the fundraising department for the Augustinians, the advancement department, and you are entirely right.  We are trying to reach out to many, many people that have fallen by the wayside or might have forgotten about us or just lost touch, but I think that in a very similar way to the energy that's around the Province there are a lot of donors, a lot of volunteers, a lot of friars that are willing to take that risk and willing to take that extra effort to say, "No, we're not going to give up because we are still relevant today."

We see that in our increase of donors, in our increase of volunteers.  We see that in the increase of vocations.  We have more vocations now than I think maybe about 20, 25 years, something like that.  It's that Augustinian value coming again of persistence, and dedication, and discipline to say that we are relevant and we're not going to go by the wayside because this is an important cause, and really getting the message out there, showing that message, and saying that we are still relevant, making ourselves as visible as possible is important.  I think that those are great reasons to help the capital campaign right now.

Wojcik: I completely agree.  I think one of the... To frame one of the issues, I have, as you can tell, great fondness for my experience with the Augustinians in high school in particular. Those folks, a number of them, have moved on including Father Labadie, Father Dodge, however, is still around.  I think it is a waste of resource, if I can use that term, if we don't take care of these aging and infirm friars who really are still in many cases emotionally and spiritually robust and have a tremendous role to play as, if you will, senior counselors to their younger peers and really to the community at large.

It's like what do you do with your emeritus faculty if you're a university?  You could boot them out on the street and say, "Well, thank you and farewell" or you can find some role for them to play as advisers and great eminences to have around the campus.  I think that's part of what we're doing here with the campaign is we're investing or reinvesting in some of these wonderful committed men who have spent their lives helping others and providing guidance.

There's still fuel in the tank.  They've still got things to do and say.  I think to not take care of those people and give them the kind of dignity, and respect, and comfort that they should have later in life, there's still a lot to get from those folks.

Murphy: Yeah.  I'm reminded of a story, just a quick story real quick.  Some of the guys in our retirement center in Crown Point St. Anthony Home, I've heard stories where even though they're early 90s and not entirely mobile, their sense of community and sharing just with each other there in Crown Point, it actually brought somebody back to the faith that was working on staff just by sheer witness of their dedication to community, to the Augustinian values.

Wojcik: Yep.  I can completely understand that.  Absolutely, yeah, and that's certainly part of what we're doing with this campaign.  We're investing in the future, but we're also nurturing the legacy.

Murphy: Yeah.  I have one more question, and I hope it's not too redundant based off of the great insights you've given already, but if there was one parting message that you can share, out of many, why would ... Why should others go the extra mile to make a special gift to the capital campaign?

Wojcik: Because it's the right thing to do for the right reason.  You can make a lot of investments in many organizations, and ventures, and so on, and this one, this has demonstrable value. This is an investment that people can make that they can absolutely feel good about and know that there is a good value proposition there that people can invest in and feel good about, and it's a tangible investment with tangible benefits.  It's something that we know is going to continue to help many people beyond ourselves in ways that will be very evident.

Murphy: Thank you.  Thank you.  That's very well put.  I want to thank you again for taking the time out of your schedule to take this interview.  I hope many people listen to it.  For anybody listening, if you want more information on the campaign, there's more information here at augustiniancampaign.org or please feel free to reach out to Michael Gerrity, the campaign director, at 773-595-4035 or michael@midwestaugustinians.org.  Once again, thank you so much, Marty, for taking the time for this great interview.

Wojcik: My pleasure, Patrick.

Murphy: All right.  Have a wonderful day, and thank you again for all your work on the campaign, and best of luck to you.

Wojcik: Thank you.

Murphy: Take care.

Wojcik: Bye.

Posted on November 12, 2014 and filed under Martin Wojcik.