By Claudia Mathis
Larry Hagan can’t imagine life without his involvement in the Men’s Fraternal Fellowship Group at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Utica. He said he relishes the opportunity to worship and enjoys the fellowship of other men as they discuss many topics, including sports and religion.
“To worship and have fellowship with others is strengthening,” said Hagan.
The group meets the first Saturday of each month for the 8 a.m. Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in New Hartford and then proceeds to Casab’s Restaurant in New Hartford for breakfast and fellowship.
The group, which is known as the Knights of Casab, was established eight years ago with a membership of two. Today, it boasts 19 members. “We’ve really increased our membership,” said Hagan. “We even have a member who is Jewish.”
Hagan believes that the men have been longing for the fellowship provided by the gathering. “The guys tell me that they look forward to it, myself included,” he said. “Last week I had to miss the meeting because I was in Las Vegas and I had to call someone to find out what was going on.”
Hagan gave another example of someone who greatly benefits from the group. As part of Hagan’s involvement in Our Lady of Lourdes’ outreach ministry, he regularly visits a 59-year-old quadriplegic man in a nearby nursing home. Now the man has begun to attend the men’s group meetings, which enables him to be around others who are his own age. “It’s life-giving to him,” commented Hagan.
As group facilitator of the Liverpool Catholic Men’s Fellowship Group, Len Gass enjoys giving men the opportunity to experience a spiritual awareness of their daily lives. “It gives them a chance to come together as men of faith and work to overcome difficult circumstances in life, such as overcoming being distracted while praying, for example,” said Gass. “It gives one a sense of fulfillment.”
The group has 15 active members, but Gass emails 57 men every week to keep them informed of Saturday’s 7 a.m. meeting at Pope John XXIII Church in Liverpool. The men range in age from 30 to 70. The group will be celebrating its third anniversary in March.
Their meeting begins with an offering of coffee, tea, hot chocolate and sandwiches from a local bagel shop. After that, a guitar player leads the men in song before they participate in the opening prayer. Then the men read from the bible and reflect on and discuss the passages. After special intentions, they share in a closing prayer.
Gass’ faith, he said, has grown by “leaps and bounds.” He has been particularly inspired by one of the group members, an ex-seminarian who holds a wealth of knowledge about the bible and the saints. “Now I’m into the saints,” he added.
Gass also cited his attendance at the IGNITE Catholic Men’s Conferences held every year since 2009 as a jumpstart to his faith experience. “Listening to the speakers share their faith and stories,” Gass explained, “and the adoration and benediction — it was powerful.”
At the conference in 2010, Gass said a priest who challenged the men to “take out their bibles” inspired him.
“Now I read Scriptures first thing in the morning and the last thing at night,” said Gass. “This is how I serve the Lord. When you start the day like that and then reflect and pray, you thirst for more.”
The Liverpool men’s group also serves the community through various activities. One weekend each month, five or six men help out at Assumption Church’s food pantry in Syracuse. In addition, every fifth Saturday, their members serve meals at the Oxford Inn, a homeless shelter for men in Syracuse.
They also serve the youth group at Pope John XXIII. “It’s the most important aspect of our men’s group,” said Gass. “It’s so important to share our faith with the kids. Eventually, some of the men will minister as altar servers.”
The men share the kitchen duties and assist the youth group leader in directing the teens during the youth group’s annual pancake breakfasts. They also set up the tent and fire pit for the teen’s outdoor movie night.
Gass said that the men’s groups throughout the diocese provide a much-needed connection for men to talk about their faith. “Men are hungry and they’re searching for something to work through things,” he said. “Knowing that we can talk to other guys about it, it’s a really nice thing. I want as many guys as possible throughout the diocese to know that they can come to the meetings.”