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Men’s conference: Declan O’Sullivan looks back

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Conference co-founder reflects on men’s fellowship

By Walt Schaefer

After a six-year hiatus, the Cincinnati Men’s Conference has been reborn and co-founder Declan O’Sullivan couldn’t be happier.

“The first men’s conference was in 1995,” O’Sullivan said, and grew rapidly to attendance of nearly 10,000. “Then in 2011, it was placed on hiatus.”

The first Catholic Men’s conference in the country, it inspired similar events around the nation that continue today. Initially fueled by the growth of the Catholic Men’s Fellowship movement, by 2011 “the numbers attending were starting to decline and the number of volunteers did, too,” O’Sullivan said. “The last conference had maybe 1,200 men” — an enviable number for many event organizers, but a shadow of  1998, when some 10,000 men filled UC’s Shoemaker Center (now Fifth Third Arena).

O’Sullivan founded the Men’s Fellowship Movement in 1986 with Kevin Lynch, Father Ken Sommer, and Tom Young, all of whom will be recognized at the revived event in April.

“We developed a fellowship idea at the parish level,” O’Sullivan said. “Men were meeting in fellowship in parishes all over the city. There were a number of chapters — 10 to 20 in 1995. There were dozens and dozens of guys with great enthusiasm all over the city, and from that the men’s conference was born.” Held at St. Gertrude Parish in Madeira, it drew about 500 men.

For his part, O’Sullivan said he’s excited about the return of the conference he spent so many years with, and that prompted him to write a book on evangelization. “I think men are in need of this annual get-together,” he said. “Men are looking for a new role in society, and the spirituality of men is looking for someplace to find something firm. We have that in the Catholic Church and
we need to come together and listen to each other.”

For more on the Cincinnati Men’s Conference, search “Bas Rutten to headline Men’s Conference” and “The book the Men’s Conference inspired.”

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