Before the start of the fourth annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, held Oct. 22 at St. Dominic Church, Ron Gerlip of Westfield, Mass., said he hoped it would enlighten him and strengthen him in his faith. Eight hours later, he said, “It’s like what all the speakers said: If you walk away with something, your day has been fulfilled. I walk away today with a deeper faith, a chance to go to reconciliation, an attempt to be a better person for Christ.”
Expectations and reactions of other men were similar. Joe Murphy of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Gales Ferry, Conn. said he went “for the experience of fellowship and to enrich my life.” Charlie Nostrand of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown said, “I want to get recharged going into the winter months. ... It’s nice to get a booster shot of spirituality and faith.” And conference veteran Richard Feil of St. John Parish in Old Saybrook said, “There are always so many booths of information where you can pick up so much other information besides the talks. You don’t doze off in here. It’s spectacular.”
Joe Premus, conference director, told the more than 400 men that a Pew Research poll found, “When a child comes to faith in Jesus, there’s a 20 percent chance that his or her family will follow. When a woman comes to faith in Jesus, there’s a 28 percent chance that her family will follow. But when a man comes to faith in Jesus, there’s a 93 percent chance that his family will follow.”
Father John Gatzak, director of the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Radio and Television and emcee of the conference, said the theme of this year’s gathering was “Know Him. Love Him. Serve Him.” He said he was recently stopped for speeding, and the officer told him, “All right, Father, I’m giving you a warning: Slow down.”
Fr. Gatzak advised the men, “Let’s slow down and come to know him, love him and serve him.”
Bishop Paul Chomnycky of the Ukrainian Diocese of Stamford used digital clocks and analog clocks as a metaphor for a disconnected society. Digital clocks show an isolated snapshot in time, but “On an analog clock face, you can see where time has been a minute ago and where it is going.” He said we are all connected with each other and with God. “What really matters when our time is up are not the things we have acquired but the love that we have given away,” he said.
Advertising entrepreneur-turned Catholic evangelist Tom Peterson picked up on this theme. For years, in the stressful but lucrative advertising world, he said, he suffered from the disease of “affluenza” – the desire to accumulate more and more wealth. He came to realize he had to “downsize and simplify” his life. He founded Catholics Come Home Inc. and VirtueMedia Inc., nonprofit apostolates dedicated to promoting Catholic evangelization and the sanctity of life. He announced that Catholic ads he created will air later this year on major television networks coast to coast and in prime time.
Doug Barry, who wowed the men at last year’s conference, returned to remind men that they are made to deal with conflict and that they should channel those energies in healthy ways rather than squelch them. Mr. Barry is founder and director of the Catholic apostolate RADIX and a personality on EWTN.
“The fighting spirit of a man is a gift from God,” he said. “It is essential to the safety of the family.” It’s no accident that soldiers in battle run toward the sound of gunfire – not to cause harm but to heal it, he said.
Randy Raus roused the men to become active in youth ministry. Mr. Raus is president of Life Teen, a parish-based ministry for young Catholics. He astonished the men with the statistic that if young Catholics are not involved in some kind of youth ministry, there is only a 3 percent chance that they will continue in the faith.
“Boys want to hear they have what it takes,” he said. “I make it a point to tell my boys every day that I love them.”
“If this conference helped one person, it was worth it,” said Fr. Gatzak. “What I ask you to do now is to look deep into your hearts and see if you – if you – can be that one person.”
Bruce Wimperis and his son Tony, both of Bridgewater, are members of St. Francis Xavier Parish in New Milford. “This is our first time,” Bruce said. “We felt we would hear some great speakers and meet some great guys, and it’s been great.”
Tony added, “I just came to hear some good wisdom from Doug Barry and some of the other speakers about how to be a man in the community, to live as a man of God and to take a leadership role.”
Jeannot Michaud, a member of the Knights of Columbus of Council 12 in New Britain, has attended all four conferences and was happy this one was held in his home parish. “I think it’s an eye-opening experience, listening to all these speakers,” he said. “It’s a refreshing, uplifting inspiration.”
Fr. John L. Lavorgna, pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in East Haven, accompanied 10 men from his parish. He said, “It’s a great source of strength, a great sense of hope, but also a lot of joy. What you really sense at the outset is that everyone’s real happy to be here, excited to be here, encouraged and affirmed. And we let God work, and he’ll never let us down.”
Fr. Ivan Kaszczak of the Unkrainian Diocese in Stamford, accompanied Bishop Chomnycky. He said, “I like the part about being a man, about taking responsibility, because I do find as a rule that Catholics are sort of timid and even apologetic when we express the faith.”
Tommy Valuckas is a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Watertown. Of his first conference two years ago, he said, “It gave me a lot to think about on how I can become a better Catholic, how I can translate that to other people to have them become better Catholics.”
Doug Barry’s talk made a big impression on Mr. Valuckas this year, he said. “There’s a lot of truth to what he says, and we need to become more the warriors for God. I think we sit back too much and let things happen when we really can cause a lot of change, we can effect a lot of change.”
It’s great to be re-energized, he said, but men need to pass it along to other people and say, “Lookit, you’re Catholic. This is what you should be doing. A lot needs to be done, but we can do it.”
A date and location for next year’s conference have not yet been decided, Mr. Premus said.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Transcript, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.