by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register
(From the April 19, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)
Bishop Cupich, the presenter for the men’s conference, chats with a participant as the day begins. (IR photo by Deacon Eric Meisfjord)
On March 10, over 120 Catholic men from all parts of the Inland Northwest gathered at the student chapel at Gonzaga University for the first of what is hoped to be an annual conference focused on men’s spirituality.
Bishop Blase Cupich was the presenter for a day of thought-provoking reflections on spirituality for Catholic husbands and fathers striving to be faithful to their baptismal call.
The conference grew from a men’s prayer group that gathers every Tuesday morning in downtown Spokane.
The men have been meeting for a couple of years now for prayer, Scripture study, and small talks by various people involved in different ministries in the Spokane area.
Two members, Andrew Rowles and Luke Fridenmaker, are widely credited with planting the seed of hosting a wider gathering for Catholic men. Other members of the group – there are about 12 involved, with six-eight showing up on any given Tuesday, from a number of different parishes – agreed to help with the organization.
The “Hearts on Fire” men’s conference took place in the student chapel at Gonzaga University. (IR photo courtesy of Father Mike Savelesky)
What drove the effort?
“I’m totally with the Holy Spirit,” said Shane O’Doherty, a member of St. Peter Parish in Spokane and one of the conference’s organizers.
After the idea was hatched, “we met pretty quickly after that,” he said.
“My inspiration, my purpose, for the conference was bringing the Catholic men of Spokane together,” said O’Doherty. “To see 120 guys take a Saturday, come together, for no other reason than to better themselves and hear the bishop – that was great,” he said. That fellowship told everyone, “we were not alone.”
The conference was “kind of a step in faith,” said Jim Diehl, from St. Mary Parish in Spokane Valley. As his own prayer life has deepened over the years, he thought, “you see all these women’s conferences. Why not men’s conferences? I think there’s a need, a desire” for this kind of gathering, he said.
That same observation was made over and over again by participants: “There’s a hunger for this. There’s a need for this kind of gathering.”
Luke Fridenmaker, also of St. Peter Parish and another organizer, said that the conference was a natural outgrowth of their own men’s prayer group.
“One of the things we’re always trying to do is increase the fellowship of guys between parishes,” said Fridenmaker. “Trying to figure out how to try and be better Catholic husbands and fathers. We looked at this as an opportunity to start something like that.”
Small group sessions, presentations by Bishop Cupich, and Mass were complemented by opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. All of it helped create a sense that Catholic men, husbands and fathers and grandfathers, are ready and even eager to be of support to one another in the faith journey.
Father Mike Savelesky, pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane, helped guide the planning process for the organizers.
“There is little doubt that there is a spiritual hunger in the hearts of people these days,” he said. “It was clearly manifest in the men who took an entire day away from March Madness to spend time with their bishop” and one another at the conference. “It was certainly manifest in the eagerness of the planning group for the conference, who expressed such a keen desire to lead their peers to a deeper walk with Christ.”
Participants also expressed marked enthusiasm for a repeat of the conference next year.
“We’re already taking ideas for next year,” said Fridenmaker. When asked if he would attend another, his response was concise: “In a heartbeat.”
As he handled registrations, he heard over and over again that the conference was “so needed. And so welcome.”
O’Doherty, who served as master of ceremonies for the day, said that “all day long, people were just thanking me.” The presence of Bishop Cupich and his endorsement for the event had a huge impact. “People thought that was wonderful,” said O’Doherty. “They loved him, they loved everything he had to say.”
“There’s a hunger amongst Catholic men to have something like this available to them,” said Diehl, “to help them in their spiritual walk.”