Michael Jones, a member of St Columbkille Parish in Papillion, said he came to the third annual Heartland Catholic Men’s Conference on August 4 in Omaha to meet others in fellowship and learn more about the faith of the church.
Such opportunities for inspiration and formation were lacking when he was raising children, said Jones, 63, noting that although ages of participants varied widely at the conference, many who had gathered there were about his age.
“Maybe we just all got hungry (for spiritual growth) at the same time,” Jones said.
Similar sentiment – a strong desire for sharing in faith formation – appears to have been the spark that more than a dozen years ago ignited what has become a growing Catholic men’s movement in the United States, said Peter Kennedy, administrator of adult faith formation in the Omaha Archdiocese’s Office of Evangelisation and Catechesis.
And the movement is being fuelled in part by concerns about a loss of male spiritual leadership in the midst of declining morals and a secularisation of society, he said.
“There’s a genuine spiritual hunger,” Kennedy told the Catholic Voice, Omaha’s archdiocesan newspaper.
Many men now being schooled through men’s groups that concentrate on spirituality and teachings of the church say things like “I never heard this before,” Kennedy said.
Some aspects of Catholicism – the centrality of the Eucharist and the church’s insistence on social justice – were taught well over the past 40 years, he said.
But other aspects of catechesis often were insufficient, such as Church teaching on baptism and penance, the dangers of contraception and the importance of marriage and family life, Kennedy said.
Men’s groups organised around Bible study and spirituality have sprung up in parishes for decades, and some have been established over the past 20 or 30 years at a diocesan or regional level.
But new men’s groups are helping feed men’s hunger for spirituality and encouraging them to take on faith-filled, leadership roles, Kennedy said. Two of those are the Houston-based “That Man is You!” and “The King’s Men,” which began in Philadelphia.
Both were founded in 2004 and are growing across the country through small, parish-based groups.
Other nationally known efforts include “St Joseph’s Covenant Keepers” and weekend retreats designed separately for men and women, such as “Christians Encounter Christ” in the Archdiocese of Omaha.
The call of Pope Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II for a “new evangelisation” of Catholics and non-Catholics in the midst of a heightened secularisation also is being heard across the US, and men are among those responding, Kennedy said.
The Archdiocese’s response to the movement includes the Heartland Catholic Men’s Conference in Omaha, which this year drew about 600 men from as far away as Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota, Kennedy said.
The Archdiocese also has encouraged participation in “That Man is You!” and it has established a site on its website – www.archomaha.org/mensministry – that includes a list of men’s groups and resources.
The conference included talks by theology professor Scott Hahn of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, Deacon Alex Jones, who serves in the Archdiocese of Detroit, and Deacon Ralph Poyo of the Diocese of Raleigh, NC.
The men’s movement is not a phenomenon unique to Catholics.
A ministry based at a Baptist church in Albany, Georgia, made the widely known films Courageous (2011) and Fireproof (2008), which call men to stand up for their faith.
And the evangelical, ecumenical, Colorado-based “Promise Keepers,” founded in 1990, drew many Catholics – and was one impetus for Catholics to form similar groups.
Mark Houck, president and founder of “The King’s Men,” said his group encourages weekly meetings that include reciting the rosary and holding 45 minutes of catechesis.
Its ministries include helping battle abortion and pornography and defending traditional marriage, he said.
Even as “The King’s Men” was organising eight years ago, “That Man is You!” was founded, driven in part by noting that a Protestant men’s group was drawing a lot of attention in Houston, and Catholics were among those joining the group, said Jamie Gonzales, a program co-ordinator for the group.
That acted as a prompt for “That Man is You!” founder Steve Bollman to design the organisation’s three-year men’s program, which combines the teachings of the Catholic Church and inspiration drawn from its saints with social science research demonstrating the importance of faith to society, Gonzales said.