Meet Austin Wright: US Navy veteran, Catholic influencer and entrepreneur

6 mins read
Catholic entrepreneur Austin Wright. (Courtesy MDKeller)

Austin Wright’s diverse background includes a stint as president and chief operating officer of a tech startup with operations in Texas and California, as well as a role as the director of advancement for the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, overseeing regions including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.

A veteran of the U.S. Navy, who served abroad during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Wright won several accolades recognizing his distinguished service. A convert to Catholicism, Wright spent six years in seminary formation, discerning his vocation.

Today Wright is one of America’s most enterprising young Catholics. Along with his friend Harrison Butker, the two-time Super Bowl champion, he has founded a number of companies. One of those companies, MDKeller, has recently partnered with the University of Notre Dame’s Church Property Initiative to grant an annual award for innovative use of Church real estate.

But Austin Wright is perhaps best known among young Catholics for his popular and engaging Instagram account, The Basic Catholic. Wright recently sat down with Our Sunday Visitor to discuss his social media presence, his business ventures, and more.

Our Sunday Visitor: Shortly after you started out on Instagram, you ended up with that account becoming big. You now play a significant role as a Catholic influencer. So, what was it like when you first set up the account? What was your goal?

Austin Wright: Well, it was never a project. It was just my personal account that took off when I was in Rome in the summer of 2018. It was never intentional. It just organically took off.

Our Sunday Visitor: What do you think people value about it? Why do they follow you?

Wright: I think my content. One of the guys on the on the staff here at Shepherds, we met because he followed my account. I speak up about many things that many people are not speaking about. I was willing to discuss topics that were heated. And I was always honest about how I felt about various things. And I think people like the fact that I have always tried to be charitable.

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THE BASIC CATHOLIC (@thebasiccatholic) • Instagram photos and videos

Our Sunday Visitor: What is it that you hope that people take away from your posts? What do you want them to find on your account?

Wright: The biggest thing is that I want to be a Catholic gentleman who was striving for holiness and bringing those in my life along that journey, to that same place. Anybody I know in real life and in person share that same desire and that flowed into the social media world. I try to help people to see the goodness of the Church and others striving for holiness, even in tough times.

Our Sunday Visitor: Among your friends, you’re known to have a genuine desire to connect people, to help them be friends. There are a lot of people that say that that’s not possible on social media. Can you, can you say a few words about that to people that would doubt the value of being on Instagram?

Wright: The irony of social media is the fact that Facebook was supposed to be the thing that connected people. It was supposed to make those connections real, and it didn’t do a good job of it. Instagram, which was supposed to be a place for sharing photos of dinner and vacation ended up becoming a place of real connectivity between people. Specifically, Catholic Instagram is a wonderful place in many ways.

I shared that a desire for holiness is extremely important; people felt a community build up around it and that grew. More people wanted to be engaged. Twitter is just on fire and a hellscape, but Catholic Instagram, I felt was a good place for men and women to meet new people.

A lot of people feel alone in the world, who are politically conservative and Catholic, especially orthodox Catholics. To see that there were other people like that, that was the common thread. People liked to see my friends and the things we were doing; that we were normal people living in the world striving for holiness.

Harrison Butker and Austin Wright. (Courtesy MDKeller)

Our Sunday Visitor: The friendships you’ve built on Instagram and otherwise have led to many interesting entrepreneurial enterprises, particularly those. Can you tell us about how your faith and friendships influence your business ventures?

Wright: A priest of the Institute of Christ the King told me that before I could do anything else I have to first be a gentleman. I try to surround myself with men who are gentlemen first and are striving for holiness.

Harrison and I are very blessed to have each other in the sense that we are able to push one another. We remind each other constantly of that quote that “iron sharpens iron” (Prv 27:17). It is not always easy. But to encounter someone striving for holiness and has the same views on all the most important things makes it easy to be vulnerable and strive to be greater.

I have struggled with weight gain and physical fitness in the past few years of my life. It wasn’t until my friendship with Harrison that he really showed that his love for me was going to lead me to what was going to be best for me. If I’m going to be an example, if I’m going to be a light, then I need to be pushing myself in all kinds of ways, including physically. And that has been huge.

That trust has moved from these things to the business world, like MDKeller, and the other things that we’re doing. It’s all about the people we’re surrounding ourselves with, the people we’re bringing into these various businesses and companies. We are looking for those men who share in the values of being a good and holy man.

Our Sunday Visitor: There are a lot of ways that you and Harrison give back. One of the exciting new initiatives I’ve seen from MDKeller is the new partnership with Notre Dame’s Church Properties Initiative. Can you say a few words about the new award you’ve established?

Wright: It’s one of those things that we have been talking about for a couple of years. We are seeing so many changes in demographics and where people are living. Especially in New England and in the Northeast a lot of places were built up. Now huge populations of Catholics are moving south. Some of that is secularism and a decline in practice of the Faith. Some of it is just a shifting of the demographics of where our people live.

Churches were built, you know, for immigrant communities. You had an Italian parish on one corner and a Polish church on another corner and a German church down the block. We don’t need that anymore; the needs are changing. The Catholic Church is one of the largest landowners in the world (aside from the U.S. government and McDonald’s!) and we need to be working under the mindset that these are assets, not liabilities. We want to be at the forefront.

We will be the tip of the spear in the Church to show the bishops and other Church leaders that there are ways to go about bringing in new resources and revitalizing Church real estate that generations of Catholics past gave their hard-earned money to build. We will reimagine this legacy and not restrict ourselves to selling these resources for a small one-time influx of cash! Innovation will guide us to look at these properties as long-term assets and not liabilities.

The To the Heights award will give a $10,000 prize to individuals or groups that demonstrate real vision and creativity.

Our Sunday Visitor: What would you say to someone who wants to know how to begin to live like a gentleman? What are the first steps that a young man could take to build the friendships and business partnerships you’re describing?

Besides the real estate and everything else we have going on, we are excited about one of our new companies that we co-founded called Shepherds. One of the things that we talk a lot about is being a gentleman. Part of being a man and being a good man is dressing the part. So, we wanted to put our money where our mouth is to create a company that really edifies.

I have seen in my own life that I’m a better person when I’m dressed better. Our society has become so casual in our dress, and it has led to us being casual in our actions. We need to grow. It’s not about returning to old ways; it’s about taking the best of old ways and making them modern, making them relevant to men today.

Today when men go buy a suit, it doesn’t fit great. They cost a lot of money; the service isn’t exceptional. The companies themselves are woke and you can’t go to a store without seeing things that you don’t want to see on the walls. But with Shepherds, we’re not here to push an agenda, except for excellence. We will work with anybody who wants to invest in themselves and their future and show off the fact that they want to be a better man.

Our first location is here in Kansas City, but we’re excited to grow. We want it throughout the country, to grow a business model that can bring in other Catholics into the fold. We’re not a Catholic company, though, we are a virtuous company. We’re a company that’s working on excellence and so. We’re excited about it. Harrison and I have the desire to use the gifts that God has given each of us. Both of us have unique gifts, and we want to use those gifts, not to bury them, but to let them shine.

Father Patrick Briscoe

Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is a Dominican friar and the editor of Our Sunday Visitor. Along with his Dominican brothers, he is host of the podcast Godsplaining and a co-author of "Saint Dominic’s Way of Life: A Path to Knowing and Loving God." He is also the author of the OSV seasonal devotional, "My Daily Visitor."