By 1987, the Society had a new chaplain, Peter Vaghi (a graduate of the University of Virginia law school and a practicing attorney before his delayed vocation). Vaghi defined the constitutional purpose of the Society as “enhancing” fellowship among the members who were dedicated to the archbishop and engaging in actions that accomplished his purposes. The chaplain understood that an influx of young professionals might well transform the Society into the activist organization sought by the archbishop and the Society’s Board of Governors.
During the eighties, the group concentrated on improving the fellowship at the meetings and considerably improving the quality of the speakers at Society events. Speakers were scheduled three years in advance, permitting top-notch Catholic speakers to fit Society events into their busy calendars.
By 1994, visible progress was evident with membership then topping 800. Meanwhile, Father Vaghi became pastor at the newly renovated and historic St. Patrick’s Church in downtown Washington. Except for the annual Red Mass, Masses as part of Society events were scheduled at this centrally located church, close to several hotels where a brunch usually followed Sunday events.
Other events began to pick up steam also. In 1987, the annual banquet was reinstated with Justice Antonin Scalia as speaker. The Society began to award the John Carroll medal to distinguished professionals and conferred honorary membership on large numbers of distinguished leaders including Pope John Paul II in 1995.
Over time, the Society organized a committee system to designate a specific sponsor for each Society function. The Society achieved fiscal order and stability so that by 1997, even with increased contributions to diocesan causes, the Society had accumulated a reserve of $110,000.
The Society branched out into new areas as it developed. In 1985, Cardinal Hickey called in physician members, Harvey, Pellegrino and Thomas Curtin to discuss the formation of the Archdiocesan Health Care Network. Eventually, this network resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of free health care for the poor.
With the increased prominence of health care professionals in the Society, the first Rose Mass was held at St. Patrick’s in 1991. Held annually now on Laetare Sunday when rose vestments, a color meant to signify life, are worn by the celebrant, the Rose Mass honors physicians, dentists, nurses, medical social workers, administrators and all associated with health care. The Mass with its expert homilists quickly began to rival the Red Mass in prestige and public notice.
In 1988, Cardinal Hickey contacted Father Vaghi and charged the young priest-lawyer with the task of creating a pro-bono legal program in Washington, similar to the Healthcare Network. By 1989, the Archdiocesan Legal Network was founded which, over the years since, has provided millions of dollars of pro-bono legal assistance to the poor.
Spiritual renewal was not neglected in these years. In the late 1980s, the Society began days of recollection, one around the beginning of Lent, at the Washington Retreat House, and another at a regional, spiritual pilgrimage site. Special First Friday programs were instituted at St. Patrick’s with now-Monsignor Vaghi presenting various meditations at sessions dubbed the First Friday Fellowship. Annual pilgrimages commenced with trips to Italy, Ireland, France, Spain, the Holy Land, Greece, Eastern Europe and Canada.
*Much of this historical material is derived from a history of the Society compiled by Dr. John Harvey and written by Morris J. MacGregor.