Men embrace faith formation at first-ever men’s conference
By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
The first-ever 2014 Men's Conference was a family affair for the Boatmans.
“Last year, all five of us and my dad went to Des Moines to a men’s conference,” Dustin Boatman of Sioux City explained. “We really enjoyed it, so when this event was announced, not everyone could make it, but two of us could with Dad.”
The Boatmans joined more than 260 other men who decided they needed God in their lives rather than a Saturday of chores, leisure or sports.
That was the consensus among the individuals who attended the conference, held April 5 at St. Joseph Church, Le Mars and sponsored by the Diocese of Sioux City.
Both Dustin and his brother, Cody, acknowledged they were under no obligation to attend the men’s conference.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” their father, Curtis, interjected, as his sons laughed out loud.
Guest speakers for the conference were Tony Brandt and Chris Stewart of Casting Nets Ministries of Wichita, Kan., a nonprofit, lay apostolate dedicated to the challenge of the new evangelization. Both expressed enthusiasm for the strong turnout.
“The attendance numbers were impressive and the men were very enthusiastic,” Brandt said. “Most first-time conferences have nowhere near the attendance this one has.”
“I was very impressed with how engaged the men were for everything that was presented today,” Stewart noted.
Justin Frato, assistant director of adult catechesis and family life, attributed the strong turnout and response to the event to God.
“We left it in God’s hands and he touched these men,” he said. “We were hoping this event would light the fire and it certainly has done that.”
Brandt presented a keynote address titled, “Honor Your Mother,” a talk on Marian devotion, as well as honoring women who impact our lives.
“I was very moved with a gentleman who came up to me and told me my talk inspired him to fall in love with his wife all over again,” he said.
Stewart’s keynote presentation, “Honor Your Father,” emphasized the importance of imitating Christ in one’s role as son, husband and father. He also led a breakout session, “Honor Your Brother.”
“One of the guys came up to me after my keynote and said the talk moved him to reach out to his own father and seek reconciliation with him,” he said. “That was very powerful.”
For Dennis Rehan, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish in Sioux City, the conference was an opportunity to enhance his faith.
“I think it was a heavenly message that encouraged me to attend,” he said with a smile. “I found this event to be both spiritual and uplifting.”
At age 27, Rafael Mojica of Christ the King Parish, Sioux Center, was among some of the younger men in attendance.
“I think you can gain strength and courage in coming together at something like this,” he said. “Coming to something like this, you always have the chance to learn more. It’s important that I have Jesus in my heart. It’s very important I have him in my soul.”
Bill Kersting of Sacred Heart Church, Spencer, posed a question during Deacon Rick Roder’s breakout session, “What do we do when we return to our parishes with all we have learned today?”
“I think it’s clear we need to connect with others who think the same way we do about our faith,” he said. “I want them to get excited about Jesus. He can transform our lives if let him.”
“I would encourage all of you to look at forming men’s groups in your parish,” Deacon Roder recommended.
Bishop Walker Nickless celebrated the Mass for the event and stressed the same concept of the men taking what was experienced back to their churches.
“Can we carry this vision of Christ back to our family and friends?” he asked in his homily.
“In each of you, God’s grace will make a difference,” he said. “You can be an inspiration to others. Let God use us to make a difference. I hope you leave today with hearts full of gratitude and hope, as men willing to do whatever God asks.”
Ryan Reedy and Jeff Swift of Holy Family Church in Emmetsburg drove almost two hours to attend the conference.
“I was looking for ideas and inspiration to start a men’s group in our parish,” Swift said. “There really is not much for men in our age group, the 30s, to help with faith formation. I, personally, would like to grow more in a positive way in that area.”
“I think this conference will really help us get the ball rolling in our parish for a younger men’s group,” Reedy said.
“Also, I was really moved by one of the speakers who asked us to pray whatever came into our mind to Jesus,” he added. “I typically don’t pray that way, but I tried it and found it very liberating.”
With the success of their first conference under their belts, Frato reported there will be another next year.
“We are also looking to add a women’s conference and even a family conference,” he said.
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