There is a revolution taking place among men in America. It is strong yet silent, based on prayer, confession and conversion, yet it is destined to have a large impact on the Catholic Church.
I am speaking about the many Catholic men’s conferences that are cropping up in dioceses around the country, with attendance from a few hundred to 2,000 men who are out to deepen their faith or reconnect with it. Boston, Springfield, New York, Newark, Syracuse, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles … the list of cities where these conferences have been held is long and continues to grow.
Over the weekend, I was part of the first Charlotte Catholic Men’s Conference in the North Carolina city. It was a great event, with about 700 men attending, a staggering number that took even the organizers by surprise. They were hoping for 400-500 when they started planning last year. But Charlotte’s Bishop Peter Jugis got behind the event and promoted it in the parishes, and he offered Mass at the event and even spent a few hours hearing confessions.
The conference organizers from the Knights of Columbus Council 770 had contacted me a year earlier to share thoughts on how to stage the event. A core team of young, vibrant and committed Catholic Knights handled the details, publicity and finances of the event. I counted myself fortunate to be consulted in their plans, since they used the Fathers for Good website, which I edit, as an inspiration and a model for the conference. I was privileged to meet the team for the first time on Friday night, and to help them set up tables and chairs the night before at Charlotte Catholic High School.
Council 770 was founded in the early 1900s, the first K of C council in North Carolina, at a time when the South was not too friendly to Catholics. Today, the council has a dynamic mix of young and older Knights who work together and respect each other’s contributions, under the leadership of Grand Knight Jason Murphy, who is 37 years old.
It was also inspiring to see a long line of men waiting at 7:30 on Saturday morning for the doors of the high school to be opened before the scheduled registration time. It was an indication of the hunger and enthusiasm that they brought to the event. And the event justified their excitement.
The theme of the event was "Being a True Catholic Man," and the featured speaker was Father Larry Richards, a Pennsylvania pastor who touches men’s hearts with his direct, no-nonsense style. He challenges men to step up to be the spiritual leaders of their families, to protect and serve their wives and children, and to go to Mass and confession. Spirituality has been softened in recent decades and men have fallen away, he says. Men need to take up their rosaries and look to the masculine examples of Jesus and the Apostles to find their true calling within the Church.
The other featured speaker was Frederick Berretta, who was on the crippled plane that landed safely in the Hudson River two years ago. His book, Flight of Faith, recounts his experience, which he related to the rapt Charlotte audience. He had been returning to his Catholic faith when the fateful flight took place, and now he sees in the experience evidence of God’s love and providence.
Already, the organizers from Council 770 are planning for about 1,500 to attend next year and looking for a larger venue.
All of the men’s conferences have received the same enthusiastic response from the men who attend. At a time when surveys show that a significantly greater number of women than men go to Sunday Mass, and when men get the message from the culture that their unique masculine virtues are not as valued as in the past, conferences like these are greatly needed. Many men leave surprised by just how much they got out of sharing a few hours with other men within the context of the Catholic faith. At Charlotte, a common comment was heard: "When is the next one?"