The bishop of Worcester, Mass., who is an occasional consultant to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, recently attracted 600 men to a conference on fatherhood. He spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.

The bishop of Worcester, Mass., who is an occasional consultant to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, recently attracted 600 men to a conference on father-hood. He spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.

Drake: Tell me about your family.

I was born in Providence, R.I., and was one of nine children. My father had a stroke and died when I was 9 years old, and so my mother had to be both mother and father.

Faith was an enormous part of our life and the home was really sacred.

I was born in the same bed that my father died in. My mother had the soul of a priest and passed it on. When I told her that I would like to become a priest, she could have told me that I was too young, or that it was too expensive, or that she needed me at home, but she didn't. She must have known that there was something there.

The inspiration for becoming a priest came from seeing priests in the parish, but the support came from my mother.

What do you remember about your father?

I remember us running to greet him when he came home from work, and gathering for a meal. On pay day, he might give us each a few pennies. I also remember attending Mass with him and holding his hand. He was a very mild and kind person and hardworking.

How did you first become involved in the fatherhood movement?

During my studies in France, as a seminarian for the Diocese of Providence, I remember helping out as a deacon during a funeral.

The body would be placed upon a carriage and there would be a big procession of men and women to the church. When everyone arrived, the women would go into the church, while the men would go behind the church to smoke. What happens to a country when the men stop practicing their faith?

We need to have men paying attention to their faith and being energized by it.

I can recall my father participating in Holy Name Celebration Days. Men would gather wearing purple ribbons with gold Holy Name badges and they would process through the streets of Providence. What do we have for men today? In what ways can men express their faith? We no longer have many men's societies so we have to find ways to bring men together.

Is this what led you to host a men's conferences?

Yes. For a couple of years we gathered with other dioceses to host such an event. Two years ago it was held in Worcester and more than 200 men from the diocese attended, so we decided to try hosting a conference on our own.

A successful businessman who wanted to do something for the Church was sent to the chancery by his pastor. As a former vice president of sales we asked him to help us to make sales pitches to men encouraging them to attend the conference. He would visit various parishes and speak to the men. He pulled together a group of parish leaders who I then met with over breakfast.

We encouraged each of them to find seven-nine men from their parish to attend the conference. In the end, more than 600 men attended. We had 35 priests hearing confessions and at least 400 men went to confession.

Conferences such as this help men to identify with others. They attend and say, “Hey, I'm not the only person that is interested in this.”

How do you respond to the opposition that says that a men's spiritual movement is somehow threatening to women's spirituality?

I do not see what the threat is. Those who see such a gathering as a threat are mixing spirituality and secularity somehow.

In what ways does being a spiritual “father” help you in ministering to fathers?

Being a priest is a fatherly relationship. You're there to be a leader, to nourish, to be an example, and to be supportive.

I remember as a young priest being asked to help out in a small town where the pastor was sick. I recall driving into that town one night just as the lights were starting to come on in the homes, and I remember my heart beating fast because I was going to get to know all these people. As a priest you form a remarkable relationship with people.

To be the father of a family — I have never doubted that this is the role of a priest or a bishop. I try to do that on a diocesan level. If we lose sight of that, it becomes just a job. To be a father you have to be there where the action is; you can't sit on the sidelines saying, “I don't do those sort of things.”

God is a father that loves us and will never take that love from us. It's important to receive that love and bring that love out to others. That's what I think fathering is about.