Catholic Free Press

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  • Mar
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Men’s Conference draws 1,000

Posted By March 27, 2015 | 5:58 pm | Lead Story #1
Photo by Michael O'Connell
Patrick Coffin, speaker at the 2015 Men's Conference, talks  with Mark Haran, 40, of Worcester.
Photo by Michael O'Connell Patrick Coffin, speaker at the 2015 Men's Conference, talks with Mark Haran, 40, of Worcester.

By Michael O’Connell and Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – While working on construction jobs, Mike Sullivan shares the Catholic faith. He meets some passionate Catholics, but more often he meets people who have fallen away from the faith or don’t want to discuss it.
“I get a lot of ‘been there, done that,’” Mr. Sullivan, 53, of Billerica said.
But Saturday he was among fellow believers who came to the DCU Center for the 15th Annual Worcester Diocesan Catholic Men’s Conference.



“Just to be with other Catholics is great,” he said. “To know there are other guys out there facing the same struggles. It’s great to listen to the talks, enjoy the camaraderie.…”
The conference, the longest running event of its kind in the United States, draws well-known speakers and a passionate crowd of attendees, about 1,050 this year, according to Msgr. Thomas Sullivan, co-chairman. Priests hear confessions and Bishop McManus celebrates Mass.
This year’s speakers were Patrick Coffin, host of Catholic Answers Live; Dominick Albano, director of Arise Missions; Marian Father Michael Gaitley, a popular author from the Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge; Ron Meyer, Blessed2Play host whose athletic pursuits were halted by muscular dystrophy, and Allen Hunt, a Catholic convert who once pastored a mega church.
Speaking first, Mr. Coffin got listeners’ attention and made points with magic tricks – “reconstructing” a “ripped-up” brochure and making a bottle of wine materialize.
In his talk, “Gentlemen, Christianity is Not for Wimps,” he challenged men to embrace their masculine side and said real men love what’s real.
He described relationships as forming a pyramid; being a son is at the top, then being a husband, then being a father. But a “crisis of fatherhood” sends men looking for substitutes: pornography, perfectionism and passivity.
“Because of the Internet, our children – not to mention us – are one click away from the most foul, terrifying, illegal pornography … a way to escape intimacy with a real woman,” Mr. Coffin said. He said he believed the best cure is eucharistic adoration.
He described perfectionism as being obsessed with canon law, but said laws only point out what people are doing wrong. He suggested confession as a remedy.
Passivity is the idea that “somebody else is going to do it,” Mr. Coffin said. But, he said, “we were not made to be mediocre; we were made to be magnificent.” By surrendering to Christ, the victor, Christians can triumph.
Building on Mr. Coffin’s message, Mr. Albano said he wants to pass the faith on to his young son, but finds many pictures of Jesus don’t depict God’s love the way Scripture and martyrs do.
“There’s an image of biblical love,” he said, showing a bloody Christ embracing the cross.
Mr. Albano also used as an example the Christ figure in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” It was said that that character, Aslan the Lion, “isn’t safe, but he’s good.”
“The faith of our fathers … it’s not tame,” but often men pass on a tame Christ to their sons, Mr. Albano said. They untie him long enough for Mass, but Christ didn’t come to have just an hour of one’s week. A father doesn’t love his son just on Sunday mornings.
But Mr. Albano found it hard believe in a father’s love himself. His parents divorced when he was 9; his father chose another woman and her children, he said. As a result, he believed: you are not loved, you are not chosen by God because you are not good enough, and you are alone. Believing these lies leads to believing you are not God’s son; thus the devil attacks the top of the pyramid that Mr. Coffin described, he explained.
Mr. Albano said that, as a teenager, he experienced God’s love during adoration. And, upon first holding his newborn, he declared, “I love you so much I would … die for you.” How much more God can say that – and he did it – he said.
He noted that Scripture calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and showed a picture of Christ’s crucifixion – not pretty or safe, but wild.
“The men in this room are enough to change the world,” Mr. Albano said, adding that the 12 disciples did that with God’s help. He said the diocese will be on fire if listeners make Sunday a day for Mass and family, give to their church and bring someone to next year’s conference.
In his homily, at the concluding Mass, Bishop McManus said he believed listeners were on the road to becoming missionary disciples, as Pope Francis challenges every Christian to be.
The pope warned about the serious sin of indifference, he said. That could include thinking: “What difference does it make if I don’t believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior … if my children don’t practice the faith … if my grandchildren aren’t baptized?”
“The difference that it makes is eternal salvation,” Bishop McManus said.
He asked listeners to imagine what would happen if everyone present was really committed to the faith. He  said the Church in New England seems to have fallen asleep, while the Church in the South is blossoming.
He held up as examples St. Patrick, who laid the foundation for the conversion of an entire nation, and St. Francis Xavier, who won many to Christ. But, he cautioned, it is impossible to be a missionary without the grace of the sacraments.
Some men were at the conference because of others’ encouragement, and some may help with future conferences.
“I got dragged here seven years ago and I haven’t missed one since,” William Harty, of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge, said. He was referring to the outreach of Larry Bourbeau, who got him to come before he died.
Peter Bruce, 68, a crossing guard from Worcester, said he first attended in the early 2000s and was inspired to return last year when he connected with a group of Catholic men.
“I get inspiration, motivation and the tools to lead a better, more spiritual life,” he said.
He said he participates in initiatives with Protestant and Jewish groups – “trying to understand their theology and help them understand the Catholic theology.” Coming here, he said, “makes me feel like there are Catholics out there, too.”
“Everybody has a different way of seeing things; we all have our own tunnel vision of reality,” said Ray Yusi, 77, of Sherborn. “This … opens your mind to things you haven’t thought of.”

By Tanya Connor

Learning that Father Michael Gaitley was scheduled to speak at the Diocesan Men’s Conference in Worcester Saturday, local Catholics who’ve been promoting his retreats stepped up their efforts.
Mary Wood, who has been leading retreats using Father Gaitley’s books at St. Joseph Parish in Auburn, said she figured conference-goers would want to do a retreat after hearing him.
The retreat is said to offer participants the “quickest, surest, easiest” way to sainthood. That way to sainthood is a concept that initially attracted him, Father Gaitley said in his conference talk. He spoke about the development of his faith, vocation and devotion to Divine Mercy.
He is a member of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception who hails from their National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge.
The Divine Mercy message comes from apparitions of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s. It includes asking for and sharing God’s mercy and trusting in Jesus. Pope Francis recently announced a Holy Year of Mercy, to begin Dec. 8, 2015 and close Nov. 20, 2016.
Father Gaitley said that, as a youth, he told a priest he dropped out of confirmation class because it was boring. The priest got him reading about theology and saints and asked if he thought God might be calling him to priesthood. He protested that he planned to marry.
The priest’s Plan B? He should attend Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Father Gaitley said he did so unwillingly, and met students he felt he couldn’t compete with in pursuing sainthood.
Someone gave him St. Louis de Montfort’s book “True Devotion to Mary.” He was attracted to the claim that the quickest way to sainthood was through a total consecration to Jesus through Mary. He did the 33 days of preparation and made the consecration.
He tried to pursue a call to priesthood, dated, then returned to priestly pursuits. His girlfriend said she would pray for him and later became a religious sister and did just that.
Father Gaitley said that, struggling with his call, he told God he needed super grace. He found help by reading a Divine Mercy pamphlet.
On Divine Mercy Sunday he prayed a lot for his father, who had cancer, then learned his father had gone to confession. Later his father said he felt warmth touching him from the Divine Mercy image, which shows red and pale rays streaming from Jesus’ chest. Later his father learned the cancer was gone.
Now, for the first time in 20 years, the tumor is back, Father Gaitley said, asking listeners to pray for his father, who hopes to attend Divine Mercy Sunday celebrations.
Father Gaitley told listeners they can tap into God’s grace through the consecration to Jesus through Mary.
To help people do that, he updated St. Louis de Montfort’s 17th century consecration, drawing on wisdom from SS. John Paul II and Maximilian Kolbe and Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. His book is called “33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-it-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration.”
The book is used for a parish-based program he and his evangelization team developed. Mrs. Woods has led retreats at St. Joseph’s for the first two parts of that program: “33 Days” and “Consoling the Heart of Jesus.” The latter is about Divine Mercy.
Using “33 Days,” participants read and write in a workbook on their own and meet weekly for discussion and Father Gaitley’s DVD presentation, Mrs. Wood said. At the end they make the consecration together on a Marian feast day, by saying a special prayer entrusting themselves to Mary, and asking her help to love Jesus and others.
In anticipation of the men’s conference she worked with people in three parishes, St. Joseph’s in Charlton, St. Roch’s in Oxford and St. Anne and St. Patrick in Sturbridge. They arranged to offer a “33 Days” retreat in each parish in May and June and hold a joint consecration June 13, the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Auburn.

– Those seeking more information can contact Mary Wood at or 508-832-6683.

By Michael O’Connell

WORCESTER – When Allen Hunt was in second grade, his dying grandfather had him and his brother write down his last words: “Always remember who you are.”
Some 40 years later, Mr. Hunt still carries the paper on which he wrote that message. He pulled it out Saturday when he addressed 1,000-some attendees at the Worcester Diocesan Catholic Men’s Conference.
“I carry it with me every time I make a speech,” he said. “It’s something I’ll always remember.”
Mr. Hunt, an author and radio talk show host, told the story to illustrate a point about Catholics in general and fallen-away Catholics in particular.
Catholics, he said, need to always remember that they are part of the Church that houses, feeds, educates and clothes more people than any other group on earth. More importantly, Hunt stressed, Catholics are the group that possesses something that others don’t: belief in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.
“The reason why one out of every 10 adults is an ex-Catholic is what I call ‘spiritual amnesia,’” Hunt told the crowd, closing out the last of five speaker sessions in the day-long conference at the DCU Center. “They’ve forgotten who they are.
“We are,” he said, pausing for emphasis, “the people of the Eucharist.”
Ironically, Mr. Hunt didn’t start out as a Catholic. He grew up in a small hill town in North Carolina as a Methodist. His father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were all Methodist pastors, so he felt at the time that he would follow suit.
Mr. Hunt told the story of how he came to Catholicism. The conversion started during his days as a graduate student at Yale, when he befriended a Dominican friar. His friend, Father Steve, convinced him to help him give presentations to cloistered nuns just outside of New Haven, and one of the sisters there challenged him to explain away a Bible passage about Jesus telling his followers: “Take and eat, this is my Body.”
“That planted a seed,” that “ultimately grew, and I realized I had to come to the church,” Hunt said.
Years later, when thought he was ready to convert, Mr. Hunt called Father Steve, who asked if he truly believed in the Eucharist – for Catholics it all rides on the Eucharist. He was encouraged to read the catechism and visit an adoration chapel.
Eventually, Mr. Hunt said, “I realized, ‘Lord, I do believe; help my unbelief.’”
Hunt converted in 2008. Today he is telling his story on 150 radio stations and at conferences nationwide.
“Guys,” he told the crowd in the DCU Center main hall, “that’s who we are: We are the people of the Eucharist.”

By Michael O’Connell

WORCESTER – At age 20, Ron Meyer was on the fast track to success. He was a star on his junior college baseball team with a chance to go pro. He had the confidence and the good looks to make it as an actor, and he was in the process of auditioning for a series of parts.
Then Mr. Meyer’s plans changed – abruptly. He started experiencing blurred vision and puffy eyes. His batting average suffered, and he had to cancel some auditions when his face started to swell. Mr. Meyer was suffering from a rare form of muscular dystrophy called myasthenia gravis. Doctors told him the disease likely would spread to his vital organs and could kill him.
Mr. Meyer put the athletic and acting plans on hold and turned to God.
“One thing it showed me, on this path to having this condition, is that we need to turn to God for everything in our lives,” he told 1,000-plus attendees at the 15th Annual Worcester Diocesan Catholic Men’s Conference Saturday. “Sometimes we’re afraid to draw close to him because it’s mysterious: What is he going to do with us? I can tell you, if we let him direct us, he will not lead us astray. He will lead us right to where we belong.”
Mr. Meyer’s muscular dystrophy did not spread, and he later returned to competitive athletics. He went back to college, to Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, played baseball and was named team MVP in 1993. He became a proficient racquetball player, winning five state divisional singles and doubles titles in West Virginia and Ohio. He also finished four half marathons.
Mr. Meyer’s story has been featured on EWTN, Yahoo Sports and radio programs across America. He often talks about his journey on his own radio show, Blessed2Play on EWTN, where he interviews coaches, athletes and sports professionals about faith in sports.
Meyer shared his story at this year’s men’s conference. His talk seemed to strike a chord with the men in the audience, many of whom likely have played competitive sports and continue to follow the local teams on TV.
During his talk, Mr. Meyer moved fluidly across the stage and looked every bit like the star athlete he hoped he’d be before he was diagnosed with his disease. He’s thankful for his second chance at life and his chance to enlighten audiences.
“I have decided to do God’s will,” he said. “I was open to whatever he had in mind.”
He told the young people they can learn virtue by playing sports, which teach them much about themselves and how they handle things. St. John Paul II, known for his athletic ability, encouraged the building of virtue and strength of will and soul, doing one’s best, being a good teammate and learning to sacrifice, he said.
“You can be an athlete of sport, but also be an athlete of spirit,” Mr. Meyer told listeners. “The spiritual life is numero uno.” Those pursuing such a life will fall, but can get back up, he said.
“It’s tough living out the Big 10,” he said of the Commandments. “The worst thing we could do is what Judas did – despair. God’s mercy is always there.”
He challenged the audience to follow St. John Paul II’s credo – to “be not afraid” – and to send a message of hope to others in their lives.

“You are here because you believe in sending a message,” he said. “You can be a voice – a voice of truth that people aren’t getting in a lot of the world today.”