A Christian in commerce

First slide

It's not always easy to live a Christian life in a secular workplace. Issues from balancing work and family to shady business ethics are a constant threat to any hope for recognizing Christ's presence on the job.

Bill Dalgetty has spent a lifetime working to help Christians live their faith at home and at work.

Dalgetty, 75, was born in Mason City, Iowa, to a Catholic mother and Baptist father. Although baptized in a Catholic church, he was raised Baptist. But early in life he had an epiphany.

"At about 13 or 14, I became curious about Mom's church," he said.

He liked the sense of holiness and the special reverence that people displayed during Mass at Holy Family Church in Mason City. With the help of a parish priest, he began a path to conversion. At 14, he became a Catholic --much to the chagrin of his father.

Dalgetty said that his mother felt isolated in the family because of her faith, and he converted, in part, to show respect and to support her.

"That's what God had in mind for me," he said.

In 1961, Dalgetty earned a bachelor's in business administration from Iowa State University in Ames. After graduation, he went to work in the marketing division of the Mobil Corp. Eventually he realized that marketing was not for him. He wanted to go to law school, something that Mobil supported. They paid for him to attend the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

After law school, he worked as a law clerk at Mobil for several years. That early legal experience allowed him to rise through the ranks of corporate law at Mobil, working in New York and Fairfax.

Dalgetty, a parishioner of St. Mark Church in Vienna, tells a story of his conflict between family and work. When he was in his 40s and working in Fairfax, he was offered a senior legal position at Mobil's international marketing and refining operation in New York.

He and his wife, Marilynn, had left New York five years earlier with their young family.

The new job would have been a career-enhancing move, but it would have been a major disruption for his family. They had three teenage daughters who were settled into a routine at school and a 2-year-old son. They had many friends in the neighborhood. He agonized over the decision for days.

"I prayed earnestly, asking the Lord what He wanted me to do. I consulted Christian friends, drew up lists of pros and cons and talked at length with Marilynn. It was the most difficult decision I had ever faced," he wrote in his book, Hope for the Workplace.

He turned down the job. The decision did affect his career. The man who took the position eventually became Exxon Mobil's general counsel, he said.

He does not regret the decision and says the company has been good to him and his family. He retired as senior attorney for Exxon Mobil Corp. in 1999.

Since 1985, Dalgetty has been involved in Christians in Commerce, whose mission is to bring Christ to offices, schools, factories and hospitals and to change workplaces for the better. They offer Challenge Weekends where Christian men and women work to bring love, integrity and excellence to the workplace. Challenge Groups meet periodically to talk of ways to accomplish the goals of Christians in Commerce. Seminars and newsletters help members keep Christ in the workplace. And Dalgetty believes all these efforts bear fruit.

"I've seen so many lives changed," said Dalgetty of Christians in Commerce. "The spark gets lit."

When Dalgetty retired from Exxon Mobil, he was asked to become president of Christians in Commerce. It is an ecumenical group, but most members are Catholic. Dalgetty said the group is not designed for networking, people don't exchange business cards and all types of workers are represented.

"Work is a part of God's plan," he said. "It's important to God."

Dalgetty is working to keep Christ in families too.

Since 1982, Bill and Marilynn, who have been married for 51 years, have been involved with People of Praise Ministry, a charismatic renewal Christian group founded in South Bend, Ind., in 1971.

There are about 3,000 members nationwide, with between 300 and 400 members in Northern Virginia.

"(People of Praise) helps you to be a better Catholic or Protestant," said Dalgetty.

It's a family movement where local groups meet regularly to discuss issues of interest.

Dalgetty said the group has developed a Christ in Marriage Seminar that will be held at St. Michael Church in Annandale next month.

In addition to all he does, he and Marilynn are caretakers of their daughter, Emily, who was born with Down syndrome. While she was a student at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Emily was in the Options Program, a special education program for students with moderate intellectual or cognitive disabilities.

Dalgetty is active in Porto Caravan No. 104 of the International Order of Alhambra, a group that works to raise funds and support education and socialization opportunities for the intellectually disabled.

Dalgetty left Christians in Commerce in 2012, but still works closely with the group, and he continues to bring Christ to the workplace and the home.

As Dalgetty wrote in his book, "This is the hope for the workplace - Christ in you, living in you, working through you."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015