Men’s conference becomes annual tradition

Overcoming pandemic-sized obstacles, a small prayer group organized a major gathering to inspire Catholic men in southern Missouri.

The challenges facing men today can seem overwhelming. Many guys spend so much time working on their finances, their careers, their families, and other obligations that spiritual growth can take a backseat. But on Feb. 26, 2022, men from across the diocese will gather to hear life-changing presentations and make life-long friendships.

Ideas become actions

In September of 2019, a small group of laymen were searching YouTube for inspirational talks for the monthly men’s prayer meeting at their parish. As the search went on, it became apparent that most of the talks came from Catholic Men’s Conferences held by other dioceses around the country.

It was also apparent that the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau did not have a Catholic Men’s Conference. So the men decided such a conference was needed.

They met with their pastor who agreed on the need for a conference and suggested they consult Bp. Edward Rice. Meeting at a local pizza place, Bp. Rice liked the idea of a conference and gave the men good advice on how to proceed.

The planning committee of laymen immediately targeted March 7, a Saturday during Lent 2020, only six months away. More than one skeptic thought the timetable was unrealistic, saying a conference would take two years to plan. But the Holy Spirit helped remove obstacles.

Pieces fall into place

A connection in Kansas City helped recruit Lamar Hunt, Jr., as keynote speaker.  Hunt is a member of the founding family of the Kansas City Chiefs and owner of the Kansas City Mavericks hockey team. He donated his time and travel alleviating the need for a large sum of seed money.

Additional speakers volunteered: Bp. Rice, Fr. Patrick Nwokoye, Deacon Kevin Carroll, Bob Carlew, Micheal Ciaccio, and Chris Ellman from the Center for Healing, LLC. Craig Henley served as Master of Ceremonies.

The inaugural event at Holy Trinity Parish, in Springfield, attracted approximately 300 men. The day included Mass, talks, opportunities for Reconciliation, lunch, prayer, and fellowship. As one might expect, there were a few logistical problems. But overall, the attendees were very complimentary of the conference and promised to return the following year.

The conference was free of charge and free will contributions covered most of the expenses.

The timing of the first event also demonstrated the work of the Holy Spirit, because if the conference had been a week or two later, it would have been canceled due to the pandemic.

Keep the momentum going

Soon after the 2020 conference ended, planning began for 2021. Lessons were learned from the first conference and changes were made. The diocese and the committee developed the following the three-fold purpose of the conference:

  1. To equip men to effectively engage in spiritual warfare through intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth by providing fellowship, talks, and prayer.
  2. Offer men faith formation and spiritual support opportunities outside of the conference.
  3. Inspire men to concrete acts of evangelization and service in the family, workplace, and parish.

It became apparent early on that the biggest challenge in 2021 would be the many unknowns and obstacles associated with COVID-19. Even with precautions in place, the possibility of the conference being canceled was very real. Trusting in the Lord, the planning proceeded with a conference date of Feb. 20, 2021.

Once again, the Kansas City connection came through and the committee was able to secure Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker as the keynote speaker. Other speakers included Bp. Rice, Fr. Allen Kirchner, Craig Henley, and Fr. Joseph Kelly. Once again, all of the speakers donated their time and travel expenses.

To allow for more social distancing, the conference was moved to Springfield Catholic High School’s basketball arena. Upon arrival, temperatures were checked and face masks were worn. The COVID restrictions did not negatively affect either the number of men attending (around 300) or their enthusiasm.

Once again the conference was free and contributions covered the expenses.

However, lunch presented a major obstacle that turned into a blessing. Because of social distancing guidelines, the men could not eat together in the cafeteria. The committee arranged for them to split into lots of small groups in classrooms throughout the school to allow socially distancing. Lunch was waiting in the classrooms and so was a volunteer whose job was to spawn faith-based conversation among the small lunch groups. Comments after the conference revealed the fellowship at lunch was one of the most valuable parts of the day.

Returning in 2022

Some generous benefactors have already contributed funds for the 2022 conference. Because of this, the committee was blessed to secure the services of Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, an extremely dynamic speaker from Portland, OR, to be the keynote speaker.

The 2022 event will be better than ever, with a new-and-improved schedule and shorter, more digestible presentations. Each man will leave refreshed, inspired, and motivated to be the best he can be.

by Bruce Horine

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