This weekend, the lobby of the Meritage Resort in Napa, California is filled with an unusual group of guests. Laity, religious, and clergy walk the halls and fill the conference rooms of the upscale wine-country resort, absorbed in conversation about the state of the Church and the US, as well as their various ministries and projects. This summit is known as the Napa Institute, an annual gathering of Catholics spanning the worlds of business, politics, academia, media, and the arts, arriving not only to enjoy the temperate Northern California summer weather, but to engage in an important symposium on the challenges facing the Church in the “next America.”
“It started in the summer of 2011,” explains Tim Busch, speaking over the phone. “So we’re now in our fifth conference.” Based in Southern California, Busch—an attorney and businessman known for his involvement in various Catholic organizations and charities—is the owner of the Meritage Resort & Spa, and the founder and CEO of Pacific Hospitality Group. Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Napa Institute, Busch has gathered some of the leading voices in the American Church to engage guests and equip attendees for the ongoing secularization of modern culture. He explains: “It’s a gathering of Catholic lay and ordained participating in an apostolic and academic conversation—to teach us about our faith and the principles we believe.”
Passing through the main doors of the Meritage lobby, one takes in the typical resort setting: staff hurry along as desk clerks answer phones and other guests sip cocktails at the bar. But a short walk down a back hallway leading away from the lobby, a door opens into a room not typically featured at other big resorts. The red lamp signals the presence of Christ in the Tabernacle of the hotel Chapel, where those attending the Institute’s many events can duck in for a quick prayer. Mass is offered in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms, as well as in the Ukrainian Rite and Anglican Use, Busch says, “to expose people to the many traditions of the Church,” emphasizing the spiritually formative side of the Institute’s mission. “We have the Rosary, confessions, spiritual direction, things that might go beyond the parameters of what those attending might be used to at their own parishes. We also expose them to various apostolic ministries like the Augustine Institute or Legatus that they may not be familiar with, and, if appropriate, get involved.”
Networking is an important part of the Institute’s efforts, and events are structured around facilitating interaction between guests and speakers. “We actually have speakers stay for the entire conference,” says Busch. “So they don’t just come to give a presentation, but actually have an opportunity to interact with people. We have relaxed meals with no prearranged seating. We have wine and cigar evenings where people can feel comfortable to informally approach and speak to others. Just give people an opportunity to converse with others of a like mind.”
The Institute’s speakers give presentations on a variety of issues covering many of the pressing questions of our increasingly secular culture. “Every day of the conference we have a different topic,” Busch says of the four-day event. “But one day is always devoted to faith and reason.”
The relationship of faith and reason is central to the purpose of the Institute, and returning for this 2015 conference is Father Robert Spitzer, SJ, who will give a presentation on “The Soul’s Upward Yearnings: Clues to Our Transcendent Natures From Experience and Reason.” Spitzer serves as president and sits on the Board of Directors for the Institute, as well as an envoy for his own Magis Center for Reason and Faith. He was president of Gonzaga University from 1998 to 2009, and is now at the forefront of the conversation between faith, reason, and science with his work at the Magis Center.
“2015 is the year of the family,” says Busch, explaining the Institute’s particular theme this year. Speakers such as Dr. Timothy Grey and Dr. Pia de Solenni of the Augustine Institute, Dr. Catherine Pakaluk of Ave Maria University, and Dr. Aaron Kheriaty of UC Irvine are discussing major moral and cultural issues confronting families and society. Grey will be speaking on marriage and De Solenni’s talk will center on “Women and the Body of Christ.” Dr. Pakaluk’s topic is “Soulmates, and Other Myths about the Family in American Society”; Dr. Kheriaty focuses on the latest research into homosexuality and transgenderism, as well as the ethics surrounding physician-assisted suicide.
2015 also marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “To celebrate the publication, we have Cardinal [Christoph] Schönborn this year,” says Busch. “He was editor of the Catechism and worked directly with Pope Benedict as well as John Paul II on it. Every participant this year will receive a copy of the Catechism.” George Weigel, one of the US’ leading Catholic thinkers, is speaking on “Catechesis and Culture” as well as on “The Evangelical Future of Catholicism in the Next America.” Busch hopes to create a conversation between Weigel, John Paul II’s biographer, and Cardinal Schönborn on the events of the upcoming Synod on the Family. “I think people are really looking forward to what the cardinal has to say,” explains Busch. “He doesn’t come to the United States very often.”
“We also have bishop panels,” Busch continues. “We have about 15 prelates and we’ll have them on two different panels. They’ll address the group on our subjects for a few minutes and then answer questions and give direction to the laity.” The Institute will conclude Sunday morning with Masses in both Latin and English celebrated by Bishop Vasa of the Santa Rosa diocese and Cardinal Schönborn.