Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Men’s parish prayer groups foster community, spiritual growth

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Jan. 12, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

It’s still dark in Walla Walla as five men gather at Clarette’s, a homey café not far from Whitman College. Four men of various ages – Dave Opbroek, a civil engineer; Bill Musick, a dentist; Don Hunerlach, a retired postal worker; and Antonio Caso, an oral surgeon – all rolled out of their beds early this morning for one reason: to join a weekly gathering of Catholic men to share coffee, breakfast, conversation, and prayer.

This group of men is one of three in Walla Walla which exist to give Catholic men an opportunity to gather with other Catholic men, to share their faith and related issues and interests.

In Walla Walla, two of the groups consist of Anglo men who either have experienced a Cursillo weekend or may plan to do so when the opportunity presents itself. Cursillo is a spiritual renewal weekend that tends to awaken in both men and women a faith that may be somewhat dormant. The third Walla Walla group is made up of Hispanic men with Cursillo connections. Occasionally, these Walla Walla groups attract – and warmly welcome – participants who are not Catholic.

“We talk about personal issues that are important to us,” said Dave Opbroek, “and I’m amazed at how good everyone’s memory is. We’ll ask, ‘How are you doing?’ with regard to this or that, or ‘Did you do what you said you were going to do?’

“For example, my parents are from the Midwest, and they came out to visit last week, and I told this group that there were some things I wanted to share with my folks because they’re in their mid-80s and their health is failing, and I don’t know how long I’m going to have them. My dad and I have a hard time sharing things, and I was quite sure, all week, that this group was going to be asking me this morning about this, and that prompted me to do what I wanted to do. My dad and I had some very good conversations where we touched areas where we hadn’t gone before. And partly it’s because we’re holding each other accountable, to not just stand still but to move forward. We really have become a little community.”

It’s common to find church-related groups for Catholic women, but Catholic men’s groups are fewer and more difficult to locate. Some of the reasons for that scarcity may be cultural. For example, American men often feel considerable cultural pressure to go it alone. Other reasons may come from the ingrained attitude among some – though certainly not all – Catholic men that serious religion is for women, children and the elderly. As far as the dominant popular culture is concerned, “real men” don’t become too religious.

Catholic men’s groups in the Diocese of Spokane would have it otherwise, and the men who participate gather regularly to be there for one another and to give Catholic men a faith-based men’s group to join when they are ready to do so.

Spokane’s Assumption Parish is home to one of the Spokane area’s two Catholic men’s prayer and faith-sharing groups. They meet Saturdays, from 7-8 a.m. Parishioner Bob Pringle has been a part of his parish’s men’s Bible study group for some 19 years. He describes the group as “a men’s support group in the form of a Bible study.”

“Average attendance is 15 to 20 men,” says Pringle. “We advertise a couple of times a year in the parish bulletin, and we have a listing in the bulletin each week. We started out using study guides, but the group is stable enough and comfortable enough with the process now that we don’t use any study resources.”

The Assumption men’s group follows a simple process. They open with a song, sung a capella. “We have a couple of guys who sing well enough to get us going, but if they can’t be there for some reason it sounds pretty ragged,” Bob Pringle says with a smile. The Assumption group also includes men from other parishes.

The group reads one to three chapters in the Bible each week, alternating Old Testament and New Testament books from one week to the next. The next step in the process is to discuss the Bible chapter(s) the group read, and the men ask, “How does this apply to us as Catholics?”

“For us, this is the most important part,” Bob Pringle says.

The Assumption group also hosts an annual men’s retreat, held at various places over the years. “This year we’re going to be at St. Joseph Family Center,” Bob Pringle says. The theme for this retreat will be forgiveness.

In years past, Father Michael Savelesky, Assumption’s pastor, has led the retreat, as has Bishop William Skylstad.

Back when the Catechism of the Catholic Church was still fairly new, the Assumption men’s group read and discussed it over a period of several months. “We had one member,” said Pringle, “who said that he changed his views on capital punishment as a result of our reading and discussing the Catechism.”

Once the discussion concludes, the men stand and anyone who wishes mentions a prayer intention. Then the men pray together the Our Father to bring the weekly gathering to a close.

Over the years, the Assumption group has also welcomed as guest speakers non-Catholic men, including one man whom Pringle describes as “a pretty fundamentalist Christian pastor.” The group has also invited representatives of Judaism and Islam to speak.

At St. Patrick Parish, in Pasco, there are men’s groups for both Hispanic and Anglo men. Miguel Delamora belongs to the exceptionally active Hispanic men’s group, which began in March of 2005 and took up where any earlier group left off when it dissolved. “We have Bible study,” Delamora says, “and we visit people in their homes. We pray for others. There are eight or nine men in our group, and we meet every Saturday at 11 a.m. We also meet Wednesdays at 6 p.m. for three hours of prayer and discussion. On Fridays we meet from 7-9 p.m. for prayer.”

This Hispanic men’s group also meets occasionally, with their families, for potluck dinners. The men also gather for an annual weekend retreat.

The Anglo men’s group at St. Patrick meets weekly for Bible study and prayer, said Jesuit Father Thomas Bunnell, parochial vicar for the parish.

According to Bill Merk, who has been part of the group since its inception abouit five years ago, between three and eight men meet Friday mornings at 6:30.

Spokane’s St. Augustine Parish men’s group traces its origins back to about 1990. In 1997 the original group divided into five smaller groups.

Deacon Scott Brockway said that two of the groups, including the one he belongs to, meet at the parish – his on Thursdays at 6:30 a.m. – while the other three groups meet in one another’s homes. The process for each gathering is based upon Scripture and discussion. “We read three times through the Gospel for the upcoming Sunday,” Deacon Brockway says, “then we ask, ‘Which word or phrase struck you?’ and each one responds.”

The men also gather at other times, such as Thanksgiving Day. “We meet in the church and pray the Rosary,” Deacon Brockway said. “We have eight men in our group, and the typical attendance at any given meeting is five or six.

“One of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had was at the meeting of our group the Thursday before my ordination,” said Deacon Brockway. “Each guy talked about me and said good things about their recollections of my years in the group while going through the deacon formation program. It was really something.”

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