Faith Story of Wegmans Food Markets
John H. Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America
President Garvey gave the following welcome during the opening gala of Dare to Overcome, the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s annual faith@work conference, May 23-25, 2022, co-sponsored with The Catholic University of America’s Bush School of Business.
Text of Prepared Comments
Welcome to Dare to Overcome, the third annual conference of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. We’re grateful you’re here, and for the fruitful partnership our organizations have enjoyed over the past several years. Allow me to say a word about the important work this conference does.
In 2005, when his chain of grocery stores was named Fortune magazine’s best place to work, Robert Wegman declared, “this is the culmination of my whole life’s work.” Wegman had set out to grow a company that honored the dignity of its workers. One of the first things he did when he took over the family business was to raise salaries. By building up employees, he hoped to help them better utilize their own gifts. If the company wanted to please customers, it first had to please its employees. His vision was vindicated. The joy and pride employees took in their work had a direct impact on customer happiness. Wegman’s goal was to build the best supermarket chain in the country. The way he did it was to build it one employee at a time.
The principles Wegman invoked did not come out of thin air. He learned them from his faith. As a Catholic, he had been taught by the Sisters of Mercy in Rochester that human beings are created in the image of God; that all people ought to be treated with love and kindness; and that all work can be sanctified. He learned about the importance of paying a just wage and maintaining a safe work environment. He adopted the idea that neither customer nor employee can be instrumentalized as a means to a profit. It’s one of the reasons that Wegman’s remains at the top of Fortune’s list of best places to work, fifteen years after Bob’s death.
This is a conference about religious inclusion in the workplace. It’s about making corporations more hospitable to faith. Part of your task is figuring out the “how.” Bob Wegman’s story reminds us of the “why.” The practice of religion changes how we view work because it changes who we are. It informs our approach to the world. It instructs us morally. It shapes our desires. It makes us aware that we are not just flesh and blood, but spirit as well.
Here’s my point: Religious liberty in the workplace is important because the practice of religion is important – not just for our private lives, but in the places we come together to create, design, produce, and serve. It influences our perspective, including the way we approach work. It heightens our respect for others. It gives us a conscience. It makes us accountable to a higher power and purpose.
This year our theme is Better Together. Last year we had to gather online as a result of the pandemic. I’m glad that we’re back together in person. People from all faith backgrounds described the inaugural conference as something that went beyond “just another conference.” It was, they said, a “family gathering” where they felt “at home.” Now, more than ever, we are well positioned to appreciate the value of face-to-face interaction, here and in our workplaces. As we continue our return to normal life, I hope we will find more space for religious inclusion in those places as well. They will be better places for it. Thank you.
Catholic University President John H. Garvey’s opening comments on why religious freedom matters to business people at Dare to Overcome 2020.