Homebuilder Bill Pulte was an invisible philanthropist who built the kingdom of God

The charter members of the weekly Prayer for World Peace group, which Bill Pulte (back right) helped start, are pictured during a 2015 reunion at The Cedars in Arlington, Va. Front row (left to right) is Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Clark Durant, Suhail Khan, Padma Coram. Janie Jeffers; back row is Doug Coe, Renee Michael, David Michael, A. Larry Ross and Bill Pulte. (Courtesy photo)

A. Larry Ross

Lifelong Michigan resident and faithful Catholic layman William J. “Bill” Pulte, 85, passed peacefully in his Naples, Fla., winter home on March 7. Pulte’s funeral Mass was March 16 at Holy Name Parish in Birmingham.

Pulte, a carpenter who built his first house near Detroit City Airport with five friends in 1950, which they sold for $10,000, went on to create an eponymous publicly held company and become the nation’s largest home builder, responsible for more than 500,000 residences in a career spanning more than 60 years.

According to his obituary in the Wall Street Journal on the day of his death, as the founder, president and CEO of what is now known as PulteGroup, Inc., Bill Pulte helped transform the primarily local business of homebuilding into a large-scale national industry.

His Eminence Adam Cardinal Maida presided at the funeral; Fr. John J. Ludden, from Pulte’s Naples parish, was the celebrant; and Msgr. John Zenz and Fr. Don Vettese, SJ, were co-celebrants. Comments by family, friends and clergy during his memorial at Lynch & Sons funeral home and the following day at Holy Name reflected the counter-intuitive principles of Jesus, whom he faithfully served throughout his life and reflected Pulte’s significant spiritual impact and his Catholic legacy of faith.

Consider:

  • Bill Pulte was a true believer — in JESUS, and in people.
  • He was an ordinary man, who did extraordinary things.
  • He was an example in many ways, including going to Mass and receiving Communion daily, through which he was re-invigorated in the Holy Spirit and went out and lived his life the way God would want him to.
  • Despite all the accomplishments listed in his obituary, he was the simplest, most humble man you ever met.
  • He was a homebuilding giant, who built a tremendous empire; but more importantly he also worked tirelessly to build the Kingdom of God.
  • He spent his first half of career creating and distributing wealth; in the second, he emphasized praying for world peace.
  • His lifelong mantra was “God first, family second, business third — don’t ever give too much time to the third at the expense of the first and second.”
  • He was not only a great businessman who trusted his decisions, but also a man of action, who cared about humanity.
  • He was passionate about his business, his wife and family; and as an “invisible philanthropist,” about giving away money.
  • He taught us how to trust in God, how to do our best — and then let Him do the rest.
  • He knew how to love and allowed himself time and again to journey into the heart of God.
  • The most important thing in his life was faith, and the thing of which he was most proud, was that he was a child of God and a disciple of Jesus.
  • He was a billionaire, who achieved the impossible — a rich man, who entered the Kingdom of God (Matt. 24).

Bill Pulte and Clark Durant talk to more than 1,000 people about the World Prayer for Peace at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Bakersfield, Calif. (Courtesy photo)

These reflections about Bill Pulte reinforced many of the things I have observed in the years I have known and worked with him. We were first introduced shortly after his retirement more than eight years ago by our mutual friend, Clark Durant of Grosse Pointe, with whom he partnered in developing the Cornerstone Schools in Detroit. Clark enlisted me to assist Bill in his vision for a worldwide movement of prayer for world peace, to which Bill dedicated over eight years.

Clark and I were privileged to be among eight individuals in the charter group that convened weekly by phone, to pray for leadership and laborers for the harvest in every country by name. We are now on our ninth intercessory trip around the globe, lifting up five countries each week, centered on a prayer that Bill himself wrote:

“Dear God, thank You for all creation. In the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth and all teachers of peace who inspire the many faith traditions, help me, and all the people of the world, learn how to replace hate, war, oppression, and division with love, forgiveness, freedom, and reconciliation. Help me to embody Your love in my relationships with my family and friends, strangers – even my enemies. I commit myself to this sacred task throughout my live. So let it be.”

Bill knew that the world was created in love, but is now riddled with hate, war, oppression and division; he saw the resulting lack of peace among both men and nations as the biggest problem we face today. He knew that the solution was not diplomacy or more war, but rather turning to the Prince of Peace, who is the only One who can bring true and lasting peace — in our hearts, and in the world, as we learn how to better love God, ourselves and others.

During this time, I found Bill to be an intuitive, lifelong learner, who modeled a “childlike wonder” in his approach to faith and a straightforward trust in Jesus. He was the most generous person I’ve ever known, who gave away most of his considerable fortune to help the inner-city poor.

Bill Pulte, a carpenter who built his first house after graduating high school and became the largest homebuilder in America, was welcomed by the Master Carpenter to his eternal home, where he will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).

Well done, Bill; thank you for showing us all what it means to be a good and faithful servant.

Larry Ross is president of A. Larry Ross Communications, a Dallas-based media/public relations agency founded in 1994 to provide cross-over media liaison at the intersection of faith and culture. For more than 33 years, he served as personal media spokesperson for evangelist Billy Graham.