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Fellowship is ‘men ministering to men’

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

By David Eck

ARCHDIOCESE — Each month Catholic men meet in dozens of small groups across the archdiocese to pray, sing and talk from the heart.

A mix of social hour, prayer service and counseling session, the meetings — the basis of the Catholic Men’s Fellowship — energize men to share their own relationship with Christ while bolstering their relationships with the people in their lives. They share their feelings and personal experiences, both good and bad. There are no women and the discussions are kept within the group.

“We’re talking subjectively,” said Declan O’Sullivan, who helped found Catholic Men’s Fellowship of Greater Cincinnati in the mid-1980s. “Nobody is judging you.”

The meetings offer a safe place for men to share how they experience Jesus in both the emotional and seemingly unimportant moments in their lives. Confidentiality is key, and a person’s stature in the community is unimportant.

 Catholic Men’s Conference
More than 2,000 men attended the daylong Catholic Men’s Conference at Music Hall. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

Well known for its annual daylong conference, which attracts thousands of men, the fellowship is rooted in the small groups. The conference is intended to motivate men to form additional fellowship groups, which have now been formed across the country.

About 2,000 men from across the archdiocese filled Cincinnati’s Music Hall March 20 for the 2010 Catholic Men’s Conference. They sang, prayed and listened to speakers give witness to their faith. The conference also offered opportunities for reconciliation and a closing Mass.

Former Reds manager Jack McKeon used lively baseball tales to explain the role prayer has played in his life.

In a favorite story, McKeon said that after being fired from the Reds following the 2000 season, he prayed to St. Therese of Lisieux for another chance at managing a major league team and making it to the World Series.

The call came early in the 2003 season when he was asked to take over the struggling Florida Marlins. The team came together under McKeon, ended up making the playoffs and beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

When asked who his Most Valuable Player was that year, McKeon named St. Therese.

“I think God was with me, directing me, guiding me through that entire season,” McKeon said. “I think it was His plan to help me win that World Series so that I could come out in the community, around the country, reach souls, set examples, spread His good word and tell the people how strong and how powerful prayer is.”

Brian Rooney, a retired Marine captain, national champion college football player and Iraq war veteran, explained how his faith helped him during sobering moments in Iraq. He prayed for the martyrs he saw in Iraq and said the rosary multiple times a day.

“It was really a source of comfort for me,” he said. “You really had a lot time to think out there about what’s really important.”

Other speakers this year included lay pastoral minister Jim Gruden and Marianist Father Kenneth Sommer. Past conference speakers have included football coaches Lou Holtz, Brian Kelly and Steve Specht, Archbishop of Baltimore Edwin O’Brien, U.S. Navy Admiral Jeremiah Denton and Father Mark Burger, pastor of St. John Parish in West Chester.
The Catholic Men’s Fellowship began simply as an outgrowth of a Lenten series Father Sommer held at St. Xavier Church in Cincinnati. A few of the men who attended the series began meeting monthly to share their faith and relationship with Jesus and with each other.

The concept was modeled on Father Joseph Chaminade’s approach to renewing the church after the French Revolution in the late 18th century by engaging the laity in small communities of faith.

“I think one of the things that was in me was a vision. It’s not your vision. It’s not my vision. It’s God’s vision,” Father Sommer said. “That vision is important, the vision of a call to holiness.”

Eventually the group began meeting bi-monthly. It wasn’t until a decade later that the first conference was held and fellowship groups started blossoming.

“It was about sharing our relationship with God and with Jesus Christ with others,” O’Sullivan said. “We started it here. We were inspired to do it. It was completely in God’s hands.”

Typically held early Saturday mornings, the 90-minute meetings include hymns, praise, Scripture, sharing, witness and prayer. Meetings vary but feature similar elements. An empty chair in the middle of the group signifies Jesus’ presence.

“In that meeting it’s not arguing, we’re not theological,” Father Sommer said. “It’s fellowship.”

After attending hundreds of meetings, O’Sullivan said he still comes away from each one with a better knowledge of himself and some aspect of his life.

“Guys come to meetings because they are getting something out of it,” O’Sullivan said. “It makes you more optimistic.”

Kent Linnemann became active in the movement’s early days after being invited to a meeting.

“The Holy Spirit led me there,” Linnemann said. “It seemed like something that could be interesting or helpful. I kept going back.”

The fellowship has helped him through difficult times in his life.

“What it really comes down to, it’s men ministering to men,” Linnemann said. “What I’ve taken away is the support and help that’s been there. It’s really deepened my relationship with Jesus, the church and the sacraments. It’s really called me to a better appreciation of what’s available to me as a Catholic.”

For more information on the Catholic Men’s Fellowship or to find a meeting, visit www.thecall.org.

David Eck can be reached at [email protected].

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