Building on a foundation of faith

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"Our job is not to tear down the things we hate. Our job is to build up the things we love."

That quote, from an Irish revolutionary dating back to the 1920s, is the motto that Frank O'Reilly, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Parish in Front Royal, says he has tried to live by since first reading the words as a student at Christendom College in Front Royal almost 30 years ago.

"Evil is not as real as good, even though it seems more present," O'Reilly said. "Build up the things you love and that you agree with and the bad things will eventually go away."

In the years since he first encountered the quote, O'Reily has made a career of building up the things he loves as the owner of Petrine Construction. For the last 20 years, his company has specialized in residential and commercial projects throughout Northern Virginia.

O'Reilly's strong Catholic Faith shines through his business in many ways. Petrine Construction has been responsible for many Catholic structures in the Shenandoah Valley, including the Human Life International headquarters, St. John the Baptist Parish and every major project at Christendom College since 1987.

Even the name "Petrine" is a reference to St. Peter, who Jesus named the rock of the Church.

"We wear our identity on our sleeves, let's put it that way," O'Reilly said. "If I go to church in this county, it's in a building I built, which is a real gift."

O'Reilly credits his strong faith to his father, an Irish immigrant who worked as the chairman of the department of neurology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. A very intelligent man, his father wrote two books on the Church - one on bioethics and another about Pope Paul VI.

"He is probably the most important role model of my entire life - he was just a profoundly Catholic man," O'Reilly said. "He was in many ways one of the most priestly men I've ever met."

O'Reilly grew up in McLean and graduated in 1979 from Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington. As a teenager, he worked at St. John the Beloved Church in McLean in a job he called "God's houseboy," cutting grass and cleaning floors. He attended Christendom, which his father had helped start only two years earlier.

While at Christendom, O'Reilly met and fell in love with his wife, Angélique, as well as the Shenandoah Valley. After college, he stayed in the area to marry and start a family. Now, 30 years and 13 kids later, O'Reilly has not left.

"I fell in love with the valley when I came here and it's just beautiful," O'Reilly said. "The quality of life out here is amazing and we have 13 children - seven boys and six girls - and it's just been a wonderful place to raise a family."

Over the years, O'Reilly's company, St. Joseph's Group, which includes Petrine Construction, has grown tremendously to include several other business ventures, such as Express Fitness - a family health club O'Reilly built and runs, Rolling River Farm - a vacation property, and Happy Creek Storage, a storage facility.

"We've seen the area change dramatically over the last 30 years and we've been able to play a part in it and it's been pretty neat," he said.

These successes led to O'Reilly becoming involved with Legatus, an organization for Catholic business leaders started by Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza. O'Reilly was invited to join when the Northern Virginia chapter was being formed in 2002.

The group appealed to him because it was something he could do with his wife - a way to get out of the house, away from the children, to be together and attend Mass, confession and dinner with a guest speaker once a month.

"Going to an event like that is a beautiful thing for your marriage and for your faith," O'Reilly said. "I said yes right then and I laugh now because I never even consulted my wife and, as you know, if you have a big family, you have to consult the wife, she's like the commander in chief."

Now, as chapter president, O'Reilly loves Legatus because of the support and camaraderie it gives him.

"I like the experience of being around really good people who are doing interesting things," O'Reilly said. "When you are an entrepreneur or business leader, you benefit so tremendously when you interact with other people experiencing the same struggles of how to be a faithful Catholic in the business community."

O'Reilly says the organization is important because it helps Catholics cope with the ethical challenges that come with being successful in the secular world.

"The Gospel passages are pretty haunting if you're a businessman or building up any amount of wealth," O'Reilly said. "We talk about how money is a tool and how it should be used for good things. It doesn't need to be hoarded."

Legatus also has helped O'Reilly develop a stronger prayer life, something he views as vital in business.

"The most important tool in my business kit is prayer," he said. "It sounds crazy, but it's true. If you can't be faithful, you can't know what to do.

"When you're a businessman or an entrepreneur, especially in these hard economic times, the specter of failure is quite real. It's lurking around every corner, but you can't be afraid of it. You have to be afraid of not trying."

That's something O'Reilly has had to learn firsthand. And though he's had struggles, his work has paid off.

"I went from being 'God's houseboy' to 'God's builder' and I've built all these dwelling places for the Lord now," he said. "That's kind of a neat symmetry in my life."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009