Unsurprisingly, Rev. Robert Sirico, a Roman Catholic priest and president of the Michigan-based Acton Institute, believes charity is morally incumbent upon mankind. Perhaps less predictably, Sirico asserts that charity is not a solution to poverty.


Dolly Clement, daughter of Robert W. Plaster, sits with Dr. Dan Sem of Concordia University Wisconsin during the Liberty, Virtue, and Economics Summit.
Dolly Clement, daughter of Robert W. Plaster, sits with Dr. Dan Sem of Concordia University Wisconsin during the Liberty, Virtue, and Economics Summit.

He laid out his case on Thursday, Sept. 19, in front of an audience of some 400 students, employees, and community members in Concordia’s Todd Wehr Auditorium.

“It’s not enough to have good intentions and a heart for the poor; it’s not enough to say ‘let there be bread.’ It’s more important that we know how to build bakeries,” Sirico told those gathered.

“Let us not think that the way people rise out of poverty is because of our charity,” he continued. “People rise out of poverty because they have access to work, and they have access to work when there are businesses, and there are businesses when men can make use of their reason to create.”

It’s one of the many points Sirico made as the opening keynote speaker of Concordia’s Liberty, Virtue, and Economics Summit. The two-day conference began yesterday with a slate of speakers addressing how entrepreneurialism and capitalism address poverty with dignity.

Today’s speakers will set out to address “The Pros and Cons of Limits to Free Markets—Tariffs vs. Free Trade” and “Biblical and Moral Foundations for Business and Free Markets.”

Participants interact between sessions at the Liberty, Virtue, and Economics Summit.
Participants interact between sessions at the Liberty, Virtue, and Economics Summit.

The event, hosted by Concordia’s Batterman School of Business, set out to inform how liberty, when coupled with virtue, produces a flourishing society, and how business and free markets can be a positive force for empowering people and addressing social needs.

The summit is one of the first major events to take place in Concordia’s brand-new Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center. The building project received generous support from the philanthropic foundation of its namesake, Robert W. Plaster. Plaster, who grew up during the Great Depression, rose in economic status at the helm of his company, Empire Gas, which, in 1996, became one of the largest retail LP gas distributors in the United States and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Plaster believed fervently in the free enterprise system because of the equality of opportunity it provided, his daughter Dolly Clement shared Thursday. She kicked off the Liberty, Virtue, and Economics Summit on Thursday by providing opening remarks ahead of Sirico.

“Dad would want you to know that the American Dream is still alive in this country,” Clement said. “And he’d want you to remember that hard work always pays off and that ‘can’t never could.’”

— Kali Thiel is director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at kali.thiel@cuw.edu or 262-243-2149.

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