Second annual men’s conference to be held September 8


By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

EAST TAUNTON, Mass. — Deacon Robert Craig of Holy Family Parish in East Taunton gives all the credit — or maybe it’s more the blame? — to fellow Deacon Rick Varieur of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish in South Attleboro for coming up with the idea for last year’s inaugural men’s conference.

“Deacon Rick had suggested reading a letter by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted from Arizona probably two years ago,” Deacon Craig recently told The Anchor. “Deacon Rick has never steered me wrong in the past, so I read it. The title was ‘Into the Breach.’ In it, he really challenged the men of his diocese to kind of look at where they are with meeting their responsibilities as Catholic, Christian men and their role as leaders in their homes and leaders in the Church and how that priority has kind of been lost over almost a full generation. It was really a great call to arms for men.

“So, that being the inspiration, in talking from time to time, whenever we would see each other at different events, we just kept saying we need to do something — let’s do something!”

It was that initial “call to arms” that sparked the two diocesan deacons into action, resulting in the first-ever Southeastern New England Men’s Conference they spearheaded last year and hosted at Holy Family Parish in East Taunton.

Titled “Into the Breach” in a nod to Bishop Olmsted’s inspirational letter, the day-long conference drew nearly 50 participants together to listen to presentations, celebrate Mass, pray and share a unique camaraderie as fellow Catholic men living out their faith.

“The whole idea of ‘Into the Breach’ is we have to have the willingness to do that as men,” Deacon Craig said. “I guess I hoped it would be impactful for the guys who came. I thought the talks all segued very nicely and it started off in the morning with Deacon Rick’s wife, Karen, actually speaking about what those expectations were for women of faith, what they should be able to expect in their men and in terms of their relationship together and how a man and a woman should be working in unison. I think it was a really neat perspective for the men to hear to start the conference off.”

Given the success of last year’s debut conference and the positive responses they received, it didn’t take long for Deacon Varieur and Deacon Craig to start setting the wheels in motion for this year’s follow-up, sophomore effort, which will take place on Saturday, September 8, once again in the Holy Family Parish Center in East Taunton.

“I would say the people who attended that conference last year ranged from people who were nominal Catholics who were just looking to see and maybe do a little bit more, to some really great men of deep faith,” Deacon Craig said. “And, across the board, they all took away some great fruit from it. Which made us immediately start talking about what we would do in year two.”

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“This year, we have as keynote speaker Father Roger J. Landry, who currently works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations in New York and is the former executive editor and current columnist with The Anchor,” said Deacon Varieur. “He also has a new book, ‘A Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God,’ and it’s a great book and he’s going to be speaking about what Jesus in the New Testament means to us as men. He’ll be excellent for us and we’re very blessed to have him come up that weekend.”

Deacon Varieur said one of the themes of this year’s conference is how popular culture seems to be dictating how men should act and behave and how they are often discouraged from taking on leadership roles.

“When we look at culture, what it does to men is it shames them and guilts them,” Deacon Varieur said. “It makes us feel guilty about things that we think, the way we do stuff, all of that. And what I think the conference is about is actually getting to a place where we start to have a real solid respect for masculinity again. That there is something inherently wonderful and beautiful about masculinity and we need to recover that.

“In a recent study, it was found that 25 percent of children in America are raised without a father. Now that doesn’t sound like much, but that’s without a father period. When you include stepfathers, it’s like 46 percent of the children are not raised with their own father. Those are staggering numbers. Just think about how much fathers provide to the development of their children — both sons and daughters. So we have to get back to the point where men realize that they have a real sense of responsibility to their families.”

“I think it’s clear to me there is really a desperate need in our Church today for men to start reassuming these roles of leadership and accountability in their own faith walk and those of their families,” Deacon Craig agreed.

Deacon Varieur even noted that in a couple of recent listening sessions with Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., more than one person stressed the importance of getting more men involved in the Church if they want it to continue to flourish and succeed.

“People were saying, essentially, if you don’t get the men on board, it’s not happening,” Deacon Varieur said. “There’s very little pushback to what’s going on in our culture. Some of the Evangelical churches push back, but the only other one is the Catholic Church. We try to maintain these standards and I think things like this can help draw people in, and get more people at work to say, ‘Yeah, you know, I was at this thing this weekend and a guy was talking about the fact that my wife really needs me’ and you know, there’ll be a little discussion and the truth always rips at our heart. Sometimes, you hear it and you never can tell what will happen.”

Both deacons agreed that it is critical to get more men and youth involved in the Church moving forward. For too long, it seemed that Church remained the sole purview of the matriarch of the family.

“I can draw on my own development and faith experience, and for a long time I was completely content to have my wife do everything: all things Church-related were her department,” Deacon Craig said. “I’d go to work, I’d earn the money. But I wasn’t there to teach prayers or (Faith Formation). That was her job and it was a humbling experience when I kind of had that epiphany that, you know, I’m really supposed to be doing more of this stuff. I’m really kind of responsible for this stuff.”

Deacon Craig said it was amazing to witness some men at last year’s conference finally come to this realization.

“I watched and saw that some of the lights were going off, you know? The men were realizing that they not only had the responsibility, but it was something they should want to do,” he said. “It should be something they are striving for. And it was a real positive thing to see some of these guys who I’ve known for a long time come to this realization. They were probably a lot like me, just going to Mass every weekend but that was it. It was one and done and the rest of the week they were on their own.”

In addition to Father Landry, this year’s conference will feature presentations from Deacon Varieur’s aforementioned wife, Karen, and Danielle Cohn, who will jointly discuss “Complementarily: As Wife and Mother.”

“Karen is a clinician, and Danielle used to work in the office of evangelization,” Deacon Varieur said. “The world presents something that feminists want from men and some of that may be accurate, but some of it is perhaps less than accurate. Danielle just spoke recently at a Theology on Tap (event) on complementarity and what it means between men and women, in that we’re not complete by ourselves. Marriage isn’t an option if we want to complement each other — if we want to be complete, we have to have the other sex with us. So that’s what they’re going to be chatting about from a woman’s point of view.”

Michael Lavigne will also present “Life Long Journey of Fatherhood,” and Deacon Varieur’s son, John, will discuss “Complementarily: As Husband and Father.”

Pre-registration for the second annual Southeastern New England Men’s Conference is open through September 7 and costs $20. But participants can register on the day of the event for $25. A lunch will be provided as part of the registration cost.

“Last year we didn’t charge anything, I remember it was just a freewill offering to attend,” Deacon Craig said. “But this year we’re charging a nominal fee because we have some expenses we have to cover. And we’re going to provide lunch, so I think $25 is a pretty good price for a full-day conference. Hopefully, I don’t think anyone would be turned away by the cost.”

The conference will once again be held in the Holy Family Parish Center, 438 Middleboro Avenue in East Taunton, and will kick off at 8:30 a.m. with registration and refreshments. It’s set to conclude by 3:45 p.m., as Deacon Craig noted there is a 4 p.m. vigil Mass that day at Holy Family Church.

“If there’s one thing I would like to say to the men coming to the conference: if you’re going to get anything at all out of this, it would be to move away from the shame and get back to a sense of respect for your masculinity,” Deacon Varieur said. “It’s absolutely necessary to provide what is needed and to engage in a serious complementary relationship with a woman. But they first need to feel respectful of themselves.”

“I just hope they give themselves the opportunity to experience it without feeling that this isn’t what the rest of the guys are doing on a Saturday,” Deacon Craig added. “That they take the chance to give themselves the opportunity to come and learn a little bit about maybe what they’re doing right, what they could do better perhaps in their own homes, with their own families, and just enjoy being around other like-minded men. When you get into a community of guys who are all seeking the same thing, I think that’s kind of empowering to allow them to move forward in their faith walk.”

The second annual Southeastern New England Men’s Conference will be held on Saturday, September 8 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Holy Family Parish Center, 438 Middleboro Avenue, East Taunton. For more information, contact Deacon Robert Craig at 508-824-5707 or email imagodeihfp@gmail.com


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