Before stepping down as Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI (2011) sent the universal Church an Apostolic Letter called Porta Fidei (The Door of Faith), where he announced a Year of Faith (November 2011 – December 2012). The year commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which urged the Church to engage the modern world. Benedict issued a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world” (Porta Fidei, #6). It was a wonderful opportunity to give our hearts once again to Jesus and to participate more fully in the People of God!

During that year, a businessman stepped into a new parish for the first time. He didn’t know that it was the Year of Faith or that his life would change, but that walk through the doors of a new church building rekindled a faith that surprised his family, but most of all himself. His renewed love for Christ and His Church infused every area of his life: from his daily prayer to his professional practice.

Brian Odelli

Brian Odelli is a financial advisor in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He is also a member of Queen of the Universe Parish in Levittown, PA.

Brian Odelli is a financial advisor and vice-president of an investment banking and wealth management firm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A lifelong Catholic and native New Yorker, many readers can probably relate to his story. He describes himself prior to his faith’s reinvigoration as a “going-through-the-motions Catholic,” despite 12 years of Catholic schooling and a bachelor’s degree from a Catholic university. In his formative years, Brian served at the altar, read at the ambo, and joined a Catholic youth group, yet his faith waned in early adulthood. However, metaphorical and literal storms of life gave new direction to his journey with the Lord.

Recently, I sat down with Brian and heard about his joys and challenges as he embraces his role in the Great Commission. “Why are we here?” asked Brian, “We’re trying to invite people to a relationship with Christ.” And while we can’t make people love Jesus, we can share our personal experiences of His love. “That love and mercy,” he went on to say, “is contagious!”

The Growing Fire and the Gathering Storm

Early in 2012, Brian felt called to deepen his spiritual life, a summons which he calls his “awakening moment.” At the time, his wife Christine was the sole wellspring of his Catholic life. Growing up, her family insisted on attending Mass each Sunday, and so he continued to join her throughout their married life. Sensing that he was missing something in his walk with God, he decided to leave his local church to worship at a neighboring parish: Queen of the Universe in Levittown, PA. That single move, Brian believes, made all the difference toward nourishing his faith.

It was difficult for him to say precisely what was different about his new parish. The church décor and liturgical music were mostly similar. They had the same reverence for the Eucharist. Perhaps it was the enthusiastic preaching of the pastor, Fr. Michael Hennelly, or the increased opportunities to participate in parish life. In any case, Brian experienced a deep feeling of peace each Sunday at Queen of the Universe. At the same time, he began to join the parish’s various faith formation activities. Brian’s spiritual roots, which had formed since his childhood, began to sprout forth, but Brian claims that his true breakthrough arrived amidst tragedy and destruction.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy made an improbable left hook into the East Coast of the United States, wreaking ruin along its storm track. Brian’s church in Pennsylvania lost power for several days, but his friends in New York suffered far worse during the hurricane. Storm surges destroyed houses and businesses along the coast, including a home belonging to one of Brian’s fraternity brothers. Yet Brian and his wife were thousands of miles from the storm’s devastation.

“We spent five days in paradise during Sandy,” Brian related. While the hurricane barreled into the Northeastern US, they were vacationing at a brand-new resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. In fact, because of the magnitude of the destruction back home, Philadelphia International Airport was shut down, which meant that Brian and Christine had to extend their trip by another day. As they were celebrating his recent business success, Brian realized how blessed he was to be shielded from the storm’s path.

When they returned on Sunday, Brian and his family attended mass at Queen of the Universe. After receiving communion, he raised his most honest prayer of gratitude to God for his family’s protection from Hurricane Sandy. In response, he claims, God put a two-fold call on Brian’s heart. First, he understood that his faith must translate into action. He now knew that there was more to authentic Christian living than church on Sunday and praying each day, worthy though both practices might be. Second, his action-oriented faith now had a destination: his college friend’s devastated community.

Sacred Scripture contains many stories about holy men and women who initially hesitate before taking the first step on their God-given missions. Brian’s case was also similar. On reflection, he said, “Clearly God knows that I’m stubborn, so He communicated repeatedly to me. I remember thinking, ‘Lord, if it is You, I’m one guy! What could I possibly do?’” By Thursday, though, the Lord’s call grew insistent, and had reached a crescendo by the weekend.

Marshaling the necessary resources, Brian filled four truckloads of tools, blankets, clothes, generators, water and other supplies to try and get victims back on their feet. Brian’s wife and children were able to salvage photo albums and other items from the ruined home. “We learn during times of great trial that the most valuable things in life are the memories made with loved ones,” Brian said.

While preparing to leave on the last Sunday, Brian found a box of blankets, sweatshirts, sweatpants and socks in his vehicle and asked his friend if he needed them.  The man told him that clothing was the only things they had not lost, so Brian called on the brother’s elderly next-door neighbor and her son, who had been hospitalized during the storm. There, he found strangers who had truly lost everything. Everything, including their clothing, was wet and began to mold as the November temperatures rapidly dropped.  When Brian handed them the supplies, the mother hugged him and said, “I don’t know why God sent you to us, but I’m thankful He did!”  As he drove home, Brian recognized the confirmation of the Lord’s message and he began to trust that small, still voice.

A Hunger for Spiritual Growth

Later, Brian spoke with his pastor about the experience, and admitted to him that he had a steep learning curve if he were to be effective at ministry. Up to that point, he had not heard about the Great Commission, nor did he even know the word “evangelization.” At Fr. Hennelly’s suggestion, Brian went to the Parish Center’s chapel to pray on God’s next plan for him. It was in that place where he first met the Parish Services Coordinator and the Director of Faith Formation, both of whom welcomed him to the Center and invited him to share his story. When Brian described his hunger to read more Scripture, they informed him that they had just formed a Men’s Gospel Group and their first meeting was that Friday. This chance meeting proved Providential, according to Brian.

As Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl (2012) teaches us, the Bible is far more than a literary or historical document. Rather, it’s “a means of our spiritual development and pastoral guidance” (p. 18). Through that group, Brian met other gentlemen who thirsted for deeper understanding of Sacred Scripture. The first meeting had only three men, but soon grew to seven, then 12. In just over three years, the Men’s Gospel Group at Queen of the Universe gained over 20 regular attendees, and Brian is known for inviting as many others as he can.  The parish now has vibrant Women’s and Young-Adult Gospel Groups flourishing on campus.

However, Brian experienced yet another breakthrough when Fr. Hennelly unexpectedly invited Brian to a meeting at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The presenters explained ChristLife (2016), a Baltimore-based evangelizing ministry focusing on parish-level fellowship, teaching, and outreach. Soon after, the pastor tapped Brian to lead the ChristLife ministry. The call once again shifted Brian’s focus in his faith journey. First, he renewed his baptismal call to the Gospel by discovering the Lord Jesus through a vibrant church community. Then, he lived out that Gospel call through intentional discipleship by helping New Yorkers in desperate need. Now, he was learning how to share the Gospel with his neighbors.

Brian explains that ChristLife starts with one of the most important existential questions: What is the meaning of life?

“People go through their whole lives trying to find happiness through relationships, through their vocations and through the accumulation of material items, only to find that these “things” do not bring them peace.  The problem is that people are not looking for something; they’re looking for someone!”

That One, of course, is Jesus Christ. The key to sharing the Gospel, according to Brian, is the focus on personal relationship: “Evangelization is sharing that relationship [with Christ] with others, and then inviting them to ‘come and see’ for themselves” (cf. John 1:38-39). Queen of the Universe has completed two of three 7-week ChristLife encounters, and is preparing for the third stage. To date, their ChristLife series has reached over 130 parishioners.

Throughout the planning, Brian relates that the Lord was inviting him into deeper relationship with Him. Feeling a sense of unworthiness for the task, Brian said the “main challenge was trying to quiet my mind as we prayed over all the details [of ChristLife].” And Brian found that serenity during his first-ever spiritual retreat, which he took at scenic Saint-Joseph-in-the-Hills in Malvern, Pennsylvania. While meditating in solitude, Brian came to four unshakable conclusions:

“I know that God is real. I know that Jesus is alive. I know that the Holy Spirit is working overtime to call His people back to Him, and I know what God has done for me, to me, and through me.”

From early development to plan execution, Brian’s leadership role in ChristLife also dovetailed appropriately with his professional abilities in personal and business financial planning and portfolio management. His skill sets include strategic planning, team building, and finding key personnel. Such an undertaking requires collective effort, from hospitality and childcare to music ministry and faithful speakers. “Discovering the proper role for each person was vital to ChristLife’s success at Queen,” he said.

As he continued working with the ministry team, another thought began to percolate in Brian’s mind. The Gospels teach that we ought to love God with all our “heart, mind, soul, and strength” (cf. Mark 12:30). In other words, faith animates every dimension of our being: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Now, Brian had a further, troubling challenge. How can he infuse the Gospel’s values into his professional life as a financial steward, when wealth is often seen as allergic to the Kingdom of God?

Faith Forms and Informs Our Daily Work

When Christians read scriptural teachings about wealth, they might be tempted to emphasize Deuteronomy’s promises, which assure rich blessings upon faithful believers (e.g., Deut 30:15). However, this focus ignores Wisdom texts like the one about saintly Job, who lost everything. Ben Sira promises: “When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials… for in fire gold is tested, and the chosen in the crucible of humiliation” (Sirach 2:1-5). Jesus teaches that we should pray even for our enemies, because the Father “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matt 5:44-45).

Moreover, God’s Kingdom especially welcomes the poor. Jesus’ invitation to the Rich Man went unanswered because he was attached to many possessions (Matt 19:16-30). Our Lord complained that while the widow gave all she had to the Temple, the wealthy gave lavishly from their abundance (Mark 12:41-44). How do these biblical lessons square with Brian’s investment work?

“The more I read from Sacred Scripture, the greater understanding I gain about the material world,” said Brian. He briefly considered a ministerial life away from finance and even prayed about the diaconate. After 18 months of discernment, he realized that nothing gives him greater joy than ministering to others. Nevertheless, he decided that he could do much good in his current position. “I’m a new creation in the Lord, and now I must serve Him in the marketplace,” he explained. Realizing that he couldn’t separate the professional and spiritual parts of his life, he explored questions about what kinds of investments could be worthy of a Christian lifestyle.

To accomplish that goal, Brian developed a portfolio of morally sound investments. For over 25 years, he helped individual professionals and business owners save for retirement. While he still serves these longstanding clients, he now works with non-profit and religious organizations and helps them defray expenses on their employees’ retirement plans. Due to modest financial capacity and limited investment savvy, such groups often miss significant cost savings that larger enterprises enjoy.

Brian’s welcoming attitude toward smaller investors is also significant; anyone can participate, and everyone should participate. “We’re not made to be homeless,” he explains. Instead, God offers abundant life here and hereafter (cf. John 10:10). Brian strives to achieve four chief aims: First, he educates clients about investments because Americans generally aren’t saving enough for retirement. Second, he offers lower administrative and investment expenses to combat rising healthcare costs. Third, decreased expenditures offer an automatic rise in cash flow. Finally, positive cash flow frees organizations to add employees and fund key initiatives.

More importantly, Brian hopes that clients will use their wealth for giving. Inspired by the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30), he believes that all will be held accountable to what was entrusted to them. He firmly believes Christ’s promise that the netherworld cannot prevail against the Church (Matt 16:18), but it does not mean that the Church shouldn’t strive to be fruitful. He connects the story to both evangelization and investing: “If Jesus can do so much with 12 ordinary men, what could he do with a billion faithful Catholics?” Brian has already begun to share his faith story and financial strategies on local Catholic radio in Bucks County.

In his own way, Brian also evangelizes in the domestic church (i.e., the family). “I want to let my children know whom their father serves,” he explains. So, his family helps to feed the poor one Friday each month. He explains that when we give our time to serve the poor we affirm their dignity, “and everyone we meet, whether it is an affluent investor or a homeless family, deserves our love and respect.”

As our conversation concluded, Brian said that the gratitude from the poor often surpasses that of his wealthier clients. He shared one last story:]

“While we were cleaning up from serving dinner to the homeless, I was taking the trash to the dumpster. When I turned back to the kitchen, one of the guests stood there, waiting for me. He took my hand and shook it firmly. He simply said, ‘Thank you. It’s nice to know that there are people out there who see us as human beings.’”

Brian said that regardless of whether we are serving the needs of the less fortunate, “those who serve them or those blessed with abundance, it’s all for the glory of our Lord Jesus, make life worth living every day.”

To hear more about Brian Odelli’s faith journey or investing services, contact him via emailodellib@stifel.com.

References

1 Benedict XVI. (11 October 2011). Apostolic Letter: Porta fidei.
2 ChristLife: Catholic ministry for evangelization. (2016).
3 Wuerl, D. C. (2012). The new evangelization and the Word of God. Seat of Wisdom 4, pp. 13-23.