IGNITE Catholic men’s conference returns for fifth year
By Pat Shea
It may seem unusual to some and to others it may be downright strange, but for those men who have gone to an IGNITE Catholic men’s conference and experienced worshiping in faith alongside other men, attending this conference is anything but peculiar: it’s phenomenal.
On March 23, IGNITE 2013, the fifth annual faith-filled men’s conference designed to “inspire men… to ignite their Catholic faith in every day life,” will be held at the SRC Arena at the Onondaga Community College Campus in Syracuse from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Judging by the success and record attendance of more than 1,000 men last year, organizers of IGNITE 2013 are anticipating even greater numbers this year.
“The toughest guy to get in a seat for a Catholic conference is the guy who thinks, ‘No way am I giving up a whole day to do that,’” said Patrick James, IGNITE Parish Regional Captain for Oneida, Madison and Eastern Onondaga Counties. “The funny thing is as guys, we never think about giving up a whole day to watch a football game.”
James and other men within the diocese are encouraging all Catholic men to attend the conference and take time to talk about their faith. But even James knows it can be a hard sell for some. James himself was a bit unsure of what to expect when he attended the first IGNITE Conference in 2009, but, according to James, he “got an offer he couldn’t refuse” from his parish priest.
“I got involved with IGNITE five years ago. My parish priest from St. Joseph’s [Church in Oneida] asked if I’d like to attend the conference and maybe convince a few other guys to go too. How could I refuse an invitation like that?” laughed James.
James was pleasantly surprised by the conference and how spiritually uplifted he felt by the Mass, the speakers, and also in talking with other men on the challenges facing Catholic men today. It was no surprise that James, when asked to serve on the IGNITE planning committee, jumped at the chance and has been an integral part of the organization ever since.
Now, in his role as IGNITE’s Regional Parish Captain for Oneida, Madison and Eastern Onondaga Counties, James continually motivates new participants to attend the yearly conference. James also works closely with other parish regional captains for Oswego, Cortland and Western Onondaga Counties and Broome and Chenango Counties to help Catholic men understand the need for fellowship and discover new ways to embrace their faith.
“There are 12 guys on the committee and two priests,” explained James. “We each have our gift and we work hard to make the conference interesting as well as inspiring. My gift is being a talker: I speak to as many men as I can about the conference, whenever I can. It doesn’t matter where I am. If I’m at a Knights of Columbus meeting I might grab someone’s arm and say, ‘Oh, by the way, have you heard about the IGNITE conference?’ I know once I can get a guy there, they won’t look at their watch, not even once,” said James. “That’s how completely sure I am that they will enjoy the event and that it can change their life.”
Men with a mission
Putting such a monumental event together each year takes teamwork and dedication. The planning committee volunteers throughout the year to help select guest speakers, coordinate vendors and agendas and promote the conference to parishes throughout the diocese. “Each year we work on making it better,” said James.
The idea for an IGNITE conference began in 2008 when Father Larry Richards from the Erie, Pa. Diocese came to Holy Family Church in Syracuse to conduct a men’s mission. The event had such a strong impact on those who attended, the idea of creating an annual all-men’s conference began to take shape.
Members of Holy Family Church who had attended the men’s mission approached Father Richard Prior and Father Joe O’Connor to ask for their help in launching this new event. Both priests agreed to help, knowing there was a great need throughout the diocese for men to connect and share their faith. The priests formed a planning committee of individuals committed to the idea of creating a Catholic men’s conference that would not only inspire attendees, but also encourage them to take back to their own parishes what they learned at the event.
In fact the IGNITE conference is credited with being the launch vehicle for several men’s fellowship and prayer groups throughout the diocese (See page 7 for more information on men’s fellowship groups).
The IGNITE planning committee is understandably proud of what has been accomplished to date and works hard to ensure that each conference, although offering the same basic structure, is different and unique from the year before.
“Each year we have a theme and this year’s is ‘Learn it. Love it. Live it,’ and it all has to do with faith,” stated IGNITE Regional Parish Captain for Oswego, Cortland and Western Onondaga Counties Bill Strott. “This conference is just the start of a man’s journey to become stronger in his faith.”
Strott believes the quality of speakers also helps draw more attendees and helps men of all ages view their faith in a new and interesting way.
“We try and find speakers that appeal to a wide range of men,” said Strott. “We look for someone that can speak to spirituality in different parts of life. We try and find someone in sports, someone in business and someone who can speak to spirituality in just living life itself.”
This year’s speakers will be Joe Lombardi, a coach for the 2009 Super Bowl winners the New Orleans Saints and grandson of football legend Vince Lombardi; Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, director of post-noviate formation for the Franciscan province in Washington D.C., a well-known speaker and published author of two books Spiritual Freedom: God’s Changing Gift and Hiking the Camino: 500 Miles with Jesus; and Patrick Madrid, radio host of “Right Here, Right Now,” on the EWTN Global Radio Network, prolific author and the director of the Envoy Institute, dedicated to teaching Catholics how to explain, defend and share their faith more effectively, intelligently and charitably.
To round out the event, a variety of vendors and organizations will be on hand to assist men in furthering their spiritual journey. And of course there will be food, and lots of it.
“Following the conference last year we handed out a feedback form to the attendees and we made changes based on it,” explained John Brusa, a member of this year’s IGNITE planning committee.
“We heard that last year there were long lines for the food and the plates were too small. This year we worked hard to make sure we not only offered more food lines, but bigger plates so no one goes hungry,” laughed Brusa. “We really try to bend over backwards to do anything we can to make the men happy and allow them the chance to create a deeper relationship with Christ.”
The IGNITE conference also offers attendees the opportunity not to just go to Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Cunningham, but to also go to confession.
“Last year we had 20 priests [for confessions] for about 500 men. It was really amazing,” said Strott. “I think what made it so successful is that we worked hard to make confession convenient and easy for everyone.”
Brusa agrees that convenience is important, but offering an opportunity for men to discuss their faith with their peers is integral to the conference’s success.
“Men are hurting in this day and age, stated Brusa. “They are basically under siege and many are having a difficult time at work and at raising a family. These men need to develop a personal relationship with Christ,” explained Brusa. “This conference and the small groups that form as a result of the conference change lives. Men become closer to God and that makes them better fathers, better husbands, better neighbors, better relatives and just better men.”
IGNITE 2013 will be held March 23 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the SRC Arena on the Onondaga Community College Campus in Syracuse. Tickets are $60 in advance and $65 at the door. Visit www.ignitecatholicmen.org for more information.