By Tim Drake
For The Visitor
Men from across the St. Cloud Diocese and neighboring dioceses eager to hear about the topic “Men of Integrity: Men of Life, Men for Life” gathered March 4 at St. John’s University in Collegeville for the 20th Annual Diocesan Men’s Conference.
The conference, hosted by the diocese’s Office of Marriage and Family, attracted men from as far as Battle Lake, Breckenridge, Fergus Falls, Morris and Pelican Rapids.
For the first time, a bishop served as the morning keynote speaker. Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis told the approximately 500 men gathered that “Jesus wants us to be men of life — men who nurture life both physical and spiritual.”
With humor and insight he encouraged men to live deeply spiritual lives through humility and imitating St. Joseph by understanding their identity as adopted sons of the Father.
Bishop Cozzens repeatedly stressed the importance of recognizing that we are sinners who are infinitely loved by God and that we stand in need of Christ, especially in the sacrament of confession.
“I’m often asked, ‘How often should I go to confession?’” Bishop Cozzens said. “I always tell people: ‘More often.’” Going to confession, he added, helps people to grow in humility. “Humility,” he added, “is the starting point for men of God.”
At least 25 confessors heard confessions from a majority of the attendees after lunch in the lower Abbey Church.
Bishop Cozzens told attendees that they must “dethrone themselves from the center of their lives, and place Jesus at the center.”
It was a message that resonated with the men.
Dan Pfannenstein, of St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, said he appreciated Bishop Cozzens’ message.
“As a man, it can be hard to be humble. We’re called to be leaders,” said Pfannenstein, who works in sales at Coldspring Company. “To be rooted in prayer and humility is where we’ll see growth in our lives.”
Education and fellowship
Many attendees return to the conference annually. Donald Christen, a member of St. Paul Parish in Sauk Centre, has been attending the conference since the beginning.
“The reason I come is for education in the faith,” Christen said. “You don’t get that anywhere. I like being able to learn and ask questions.”
Christen also said he appreciates the fellowship with other Catholic men.
“It’s great to be able to go to a place where you can meet other men who share your faith,” he said. “There’s lots of sharing that goes on.”
Many attendees come as fathers and sons. The conference has become an annual multi-generational opportunity to gather together as a kickoff to Lent.
Steve Pfannenstein of Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Rockville has been attending for the past 17 years. He’s brought his son, Dan, for 16 of those.
“That first year Dan was preparing for confirmation, so it was a good thing to do as a father and son,” explained Steve. “It’s nice to be in an assembly of men who share your beliefs and values, and to see that you’re not alone.”
Dan, who is now married with a 17-month-old son, continues to attend the conference with his father.
“It’s a nice retreat to get away and start Lent off,” Dan said. “I like learning and I like the time with Dad.”
They weren’t the only multi-generational family in attendance.
Mike Heroux, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in St. Anna, attended with his sons Nathan and Andrew, his father-in-law, and his son-in-law Tristan Cox of Northfield, Minnesota.
“Mike invited me and I thought it would be a good opportunity to spend time with my in-laws and experience some spiritual growth and expand my horizons,” said Cox, who grew up in the United Church of Christ. He said that he’s been more involved with the Catholic Church since marrying Beth Heroux five years ago.
Cox said he appreciated both the morning and afternoon sessions.
“One takeaway for me was when Bishop Cozzens described Pope Francis’ response to a question about who he was, and the pope answered ‘a sinner,’” explained Cox. “If the pope is saying that he’s a sinner, then there’s hope for all of us.”
Cox said an afternoon session by Joel Nathe on how men grieve was also helpful on a practical level. Cox’s father has been battling terminal cancer for seven years.
“That session was very relevant to me,” Cox said. “I know that I’ll be going through grief and it was important to understand how men grieve differently. I shared what I learned with my wife and used the whole conference as an opportunity to reflect on mortality.”
Afternoon workshop sessions included topics such as immigration, marriage, vocations and a hands-on, practical session for fathers and sons put on by Phil Polipnick of Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Sauk Centre, and his sons Richard, Philip, Gabe and Christopher. They stressed the importance of developing unique family traditions, prayers and devotions.
Father Aaron Kuhn, pastor of St. Ann Parish in Wadena and St. John the Baptist Parish in Bluffton, presented on “Ten Things Men Can Do to Promote Life.” He addressed the culture wars, saying that men need to recognize who the real enemy is.
“The enemy isn’t a political party or even a person,” Father Kuhn said. “The enemy is sin, the devil and demons. We need to fight sin, not the person.”
During breaks, men used the opportunity to talk and visit the 12 ministry booths that included organizations such as 40 Days for Life, AM 1180 KYES Catholic talk radio, Ecclesia Domestica, the Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of St. Cloud, and others.
The day concluded with Mass concelebrated by Bishop Cozzens, Bishop Donald Kettler and seven other priests. In keeping with the conference theme, the collection was taken for the Catholic Foundation’s Mother Mary’s Fund for Life, a fund established to assist 14 crisis pregnancy centers throughout the diocese.