Many of the over 100 people who came to Marquette University on Oct. 16 to honor “a man who tried to live the Gospel,” were folks you might be surprised to find in the same room. Nuns, priests, and social justice activists mixed with investment advisors, executives from Walmart, Merck and Phillip Morris, and local civic leaders. They all came to honor and remember Fr. Michael Crosby, OFM Cap., who 45 years ago started something whose impact very few, perhaps even he, could have imagined.
In 1973, Crosby, a Capuchin Friar working at St. Benedict the Moor parish in Milwaukee, was inspired by the founding of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) in New York, whose aim was to engage with big business and change its ethical practices and outlook. With two School Sisters of St. Francis, Sr. Charlita Foxhoven and Sr. Alphonsa Puls, he founded the Wisconsin/Iowa/ Minnesota Coalition for Responsible Investment, consisting of ten women’s and men’s religious orders. They wanted to use their orders’ leverage as stockholders to get corporations “to the table” to discuss things like environmental impacts, human rights in the supply chain, justice for workers and more transparency.
And use it they did. Crosby got RJ Reynolds to retire Joe Camel and take cigarette smoking out of youth-rated movies. He also became a leader of ICCR, which now includes over 300 institutional members and spawned seven other “CRI” coalitions like Crosby’s. His last victory came in spring of 2017 when Exxon agreed to put a climate change expert on their board. Crosby died last summer less than a year after receiving a cancer diagnosis. But even before that, he had begun planning how to continue his ministry long after he was gone.
Five years ago, he recruited as associate director a retired businessman named Frank Sherman, who helped him form a board and attain 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. The group renamed itself Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment (SGI), reflecting the reputed Iroquois practice of considering the impact of community decisions far into the future and their desire to stay faith-based but expand to include other Christians and people of other faiths. In recent years, SGI has accepted membership from investment firms who share their goals.
The coalition has vowed to continue in the footsteps of Crosby, with Sherman at the helm joined by new associate director Chris Cox. Member representatives have taken on more responsibilities for doing their own research, leading dialogues with companies, and when necessary, filing shareholder resolutions, as well as recruitment of new members throughout the Midwest.
Members celebrated the 45th Anniversary this year as a tribute to “Fr. Mike,” as everyone called him. The theme chosen was “Inspired by Faith, Committed to Action.” Marquette University’s Alumni Memorial Union was reserved, a high-powered panel of leaders assembled to discuss the faith-based impact of socially responsible investing, followed by a reception and keynote tribute by Fr. Mike’s brother and fellow Capuchin Fr. Dan Crosby. Among the attendees were representatives of the coalition’s 29 member organizations, investment managers, prospective members and others interested in learning how SGI can serve them in making the investments in their portfolios work to create a better world.
The panel discussion was facilitated by Rev. David Schilling, Senior Program Director at ICCR, who suggested that our starting assumption be that “public corporations exist to help build the common good.” Panel members included Miguel Coleta, Sustainability Officer for Philip Morris International, Ken Gustavsen of the Office of Corporate Responsibility for Merck Pharmaceuticals, Doug Nystrom, Director of Human Rights in Responsible Sourcing for Walmart, Cathy Rowan, Director of Socially Responsible Investments for Trinity Health, and Duane Roberts, Director of Equities for Dana Investment Advisers, an SGI member.
To a person, the company representatives agreed that while it’s not easy to listen to critics of your practices, it is worth it because it “makes you better,” as Schilling said an exec at McDonald’s told him once. Said Dana’s Roberts about investors: “We’ve learned that you can “do good AND do well.” He noted that a short-term view sees only costs, whereas the benefits are usually long-term.
Philip Morris’ Coleta spoke of the bond of mutual respect that developed between him and Crosby on a trip to Malawi. He believes “Companies have a tremendous potential for bringing about change for good. And it starts with dialogue.” Walmart’s Nystrom and Merck’s Gustavsen agreed, and emphasized the value of collaboration between companies and advocates. Nystrom encouraged advocates to continue to “speak the truth in love.”
The reception program was emceed by Dan Tretow, SGI’s Board President, and featured a presentation by SGI’s Sherman on SGI’s history and current engagements with companies around issues like climate change, human and worker rights, and safeguards for food and water supplies.
The event concluded with Fr. Dan Crosby, who spoke movingly of Fr. Mike’s conviction that his whole mission and life was about “trying to live the Gospel,” and his belief in the Gospel’s message that we will be judged as Christians by how we treated “the least among us.” Reminding all that “change is inevitable, growth is optional,” he left SGI members with four virtues essential to their work: Collaboration, courage, solidarity, and hope.”
SGI offers special thanks to Fr. Dan Crosby for his keynote address, to our panelists for their participation, to professors Doug Fisher and Kelly Wesolowski of the Center for Supply Chain Management at Marquette University, and Julie Kuligowski and the rest of the events and catering crew at Marquette. We could not have done this without all of you! As well, we thank our sponsors for this event:
Capuchin Province of St. Joseph
Champlain Investment Partners
Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother
Chicago Equity Partners L.L.C.
Fiduciary Management, Inc.
School Sisters of Notre Dame, Central Pacific Province
Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Aberdeen, SD)
Boston Common Asset Management
Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes
Dana Investment Advisors , Inc.
Dominicans of Sinsinawa
Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration
The James Company
Reinhart Partners, Inc.
The Ryan Group
School Sisters of St. Francis (US & Int)
Servants of Mary (Ladysmith, WI)
Trillium Asset Management, LLC