Catholic men’s conferences mark a major milestone March 20.
On that day, the annual Diocesan Catholic Men’s Conference in Worcester, Mass., celebrates its 10th anniversary.
As the first diocesan men’s conference in the United States, it became the model for similar conferences that spread nationwide.
More than 1,000 men, confirmation age and up, are expected to fill the DCU Center in downtown Worcester. The landmark event will feature speakers Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa and Matthew Kelly. Worcester Bishop Robert McManus will preside at the closing Mass.
“It’s a remarkable experience,” said Msgr. Tom Sullivan, conference co-founder and chancellor of the diocese. He attributed the conference’s success over the years to not only the exceptional speakers, but primarily the Mass and the 50 priests (including the bishop) who offer the sacrament of penance.
So strong is word of mouth that Msgr. Sullivan said he has seen “the conferences become younger, from a sea of gray hair to now a lot of men in their 40s, 30s and 20s.”
Fathers are bringing their sons. Young high school and college-age men attend. “That’s how you build the future,” he added.
“There’s such a spirit of camaraderie and spirit of shared Christian life among the men,” said Msgr. Sullivan. “They are empowered by other brothers in Christ at a conference like this, and that is a powerful motivating force. We don’t see that typically in other venues.”
Fruits are abundant. Msgr. Sullivan said the men leave the conference and get more involved in their parishes or take the steps to improve their marriages or develop a stronger relationship with their kids.
“How can you improve on that?” he asked.
Moreover, the conference inspires men to live their faith more in the public square and show the courage to stand up in the culture of death against abortion, gay “marriage” and bioethical issues that contradict Church teaching.
From Worcester, the phenomenon of Catholic men’s conferences has spread to more than 60 dioceses across the country.
“The formula took off and was replicated over and over again at each local diocese with men wanting to get together,” said Angelo Guadagno, Worcester conference coordinator and president of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men (NFCMUSA.org). “This whole conference phenomenon has taken off.”
Kevin O’Brien, a past Worcester organizer, co-founded the Men of Christ conference in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. The 2010 Milwaukee conference drew nearly 3,000 men Feb. 20.
“We took what we learned from Worcester and created this from scratch, and have been blessed and continue to grow over the years,” O’Brien said. “The conference is a bridge to bring men back home to the Catholic faith. It re-evangelizes them.”
He pointed out it also catechizes and unifies men.
These successes prompted Guadagno to co-found the National Fellowship of Catholic Men to provide resources, networking and training for leaders anywhere. It also helps about 460 faith-based groups that grew out of these conferences; many conference attendees want to meet throughout the year.
No wonder Msgr. Sullivan calls the Worcester Men’s Conference and others inspired by it “a great new movement in the life of the Church in the United States.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
INFORMATION For more information on the Worcester event, go to FirstMensConf.org or call (508) 929-4345.