Matt Bureau, right, and Brian Hartley, members of the Catholic rock group eXaudio, riff at the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference Oct. 23 at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford. (See Photo Gallery by Jack Sheedy)
WALLINGFORD – The bright, sunny Saturday, Oct. 23, was a perfect day for men to tackle important projects: rake leaves, clean rain gutters, install storm windows, deepen their faith.
Deepen their faith? Yes, that’s what more than 800 men did by attending the third annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, an all-day event held at the Oakdale Theatre.
“This is just good Catholic men getting together,” said David Craig, national director for Adoration for Vocation and this year’s conference organizer. “There’s a void, there’s a hunger in men to grow in spirituality and grow with other men.”
A roster of motivational speakers was a major reason men chose to spend a Saturday away from their families. For Jeannot Michaud, who has attended all three yearly conferences, it’s more than that. “It’s about your faith,” said Mr. Michaud, a member of Bristol Palos Council 35, Knights of Columbus. “It’s in eye-opener in a lot of different areas. All the guys should get involved and increase their faith.”
Marian Father Donald Calloway, a convert to Catholicism, delivered an address that he described as “a divine two-by-four across the face, a divine kick in the pants.” In sometimes earthy language, the 38-year-old Father Calloway told of his dissolute youth, a life of alcohol, drugs, sex and criminality, and of his miraculous conversion. Before turning his life around, he ran away from his military family in Japan, ran drugs and money for the Japanese Mafia, was a wanted criminal in Japan at age 15, and was institutionalized twice.
When he hit rock bottom, he found himself alone in his room. “Brothers, the silence was so loud, it was screaming at me,” he said. He wanted to commit suicide but didn’t want to feel the pain of dying, so he looked around for something to read, to occupy his mind. He chanced upon a book about a Marian apparition at Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and it changed his life. He wanted to become a Catholic.
After months of study, he was confirmed in the Catholic faith and pursued the priesthood, studying at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio; the Dominican House of Studies in Washington; and the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, Ohio. He was ordained at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., in 2003. He has written several books, including No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy, which he offered for sale at the conference.
John Kuzia, a parishioner at St. Ann Parish in Avon, said, “The message [of Father Calloway] is terrific. I have three sons who are between 35 and 42, and they would relate exactly to his language and what he talks about.”
Tom Wilk, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Rockville, said, “There’s nothing like hearing it from someone who’s lived it. You know, you can only read so much.”
Doug Barry, founder and director of the Catholic apostolate Radix, delivered a macho address to the men, telling them to take charge of their families’ spirituality and show the way by example.
“Gentlemen, we’ve got to look at where our treasures are, because that’s where our heart is,” he said. “Don’t take yourself off the battlefield,” he urged them. Be men; stay strong, “so we can do our job well. We as men are the front line of defense for our families.”
Back by popular demand was Michael Cumbie, who last year told the conference about his conversion to Catholicism in 2001 after being a Southern Baptist minister for 23 years. “When you pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’ get ready, ’cause your life’s gonna change,” he said, underscoring the theme of this year’s conference, “Come Holy Spirit, Fill the Hearts of Your Faithful.”
In his homily at the vigil Mass that ended the conference, Archbishop Henry J. Mansell told the men to be on guard against government policies that undermine Catholic teaching. “Compassion is missing in much of government,” he said.
Concelebrants included Norwich Bishop Michael R. Cote, who had spoken earlier about the need to find God before we can find ourselves. Like the father who waited for his prodigal son to return, in the famous parable, “God is waiting for us,” Bishop Cote said. “We are sons of a common father.”
Also concelebrating were Stamford Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky, former Hartford Auxiliary Bishop Peter A. Rosazza and Hartford Auxiliary Bishop Christie A. Macaluso.
“It gives you a shot in the arm,” said his friend Tony Conte of St. Raphael Parish in Bridgeport. “It’s about camaraderie.”
Mr. Kuzia of Avon said that all he expects every year is to get one or two nuggets from one or two speakers. “I have found that every speaker I’ve heard is terrific,” he said. “They’re edge-of-your-seat kind of guys. I guess I want to get my faith a little deeper, as most of us do, and rather than say it, do it.”
As Eric Borbely, of Church of the Resurrection in Wallingford, said, “I really liked the speakers, but most of all it’s seeing all the men of Connecticut around here and committed to this, and it really makes you feel like you’re not alone, that in a sense, you know, we’re everywhere. We just have to kind of set that example for our families.”