440 Catholic men make a stand for faith, family, priesthood

By: By Jennifer Willems

Editor’s note: Dozen’s of photographs from this event may be viewed at Daryl Wilson Photography


With manhood and fatherhood under attack from the media, mass culture and even the state’s elected officials, it is more important than ever for Catholic men to pass on the story of faith “no matter what the cost or how fierce the competition.”

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, offered the challenge to men from throughout central Illinois who filled St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria on May 14 as part of “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith.”

As it has for eight years, the gathering started at Liberty Park on the Peoria riverfront with a rally that drew 440 men of all ages and included a talk by Father Joseph Donton, pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Washington.
The weather didn’t cooperate, but participants still took advantage of the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation under large umbrella “confessionals.”

A prayerful march through the city streets followed, with seminarians carrying statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, and Father Donton carrying a first class relic of St. Andre Bessette from Bishop Jenky’s private collection. When they reached St. Mary’s Cathedral, the men had another opportunity to go to confession and prayed the rosary before Mass started.

Lunch was available at the Spalding Pastoral Center after Mass.

Established as a stand “in defense of faith, family and the priesthood,” the march and rally are held on or near the May 1 Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Both Bishop Jenky and Father Donton pointed to the saint’s life to inspire the modern-day fathers, sons and brothers who attended.

“The intrepid faith of Joseph was clearly unshakeable and guided every decision he made,” Bishop Jenky said in his homily. “In the perfect oblation of his life, Joseph placed himself and all of his great abilities entirely at God’s command.”

The bishop said that throughout all the challenges the Holy Family faced, including the flight into Egypt after Jesus’ birth and their eventual return to Nazareth, “Joseph was clearly the head of his family, who made difficult decisions and took prudent steps.”

Not only was Joseph a just man, but he was devout, pious and upright, Bishop Jenky said, adding that Joseph “was manifestly a man of
tremendous love.”

He encouraged the men of faith sitting before him to bring these same traits to a world that needs them so badly.

“As you know, this year in the lame duck session of the Illinois State Legislature, our politicians endeavored to overthrow both natural law and the accumulation of millennia of human experience. They redefined man and woman contrary to nature as they redefined what makes a marriage and what constitutes a human family,” Bishop Jenky said, referring to the passage of legislation that recognizes civil unions for same-sex couples.

“The truth is children need both a mother and a father,” he told them. “When a father is absent, weak, distant, when there has been little connection, conversation, challenge or even play between a father and his children, children become insecure. They lack vigor. They tend to fear life and avoid taking responsibility.”

While masculinity is denigrated in society, it must be remembered that the genders complete and complement each other, he explained.

“The Scriptures rightly teach it takes generations of human genealogy, ancestral husbands and wives, to create our families and give us our human story — especially the truest story of all, the story of our faith,” Bishop Jenky said.

“I challenge you at this holy Mass and then in your homes to pass that story of faith undiminished to your children and your children’s children, no matter what the cost or how fierce the competition.”

Father Donton started his remarks by noting that not all of the men present were fathers or even brothers, “but we are all sons of our almighty God.”

From this family of faith he singled out a father and brother for special mention. “Both of them were ordinary men who were called to do extraordinary things,” he told them.

The father was St. Joseph and Father Donton pointed out the ways his listeners and the saint were alike, calling both hard working, humble and holy men.

“He was, in just a couple of words, a silent servant,” Father Donton said. Their brother, St. Andre Bessette, was another “silent servant.”

“While he lived to be 91 years of age, he was a man of few words. But when he spoke, his words were powerful. His words could heal,” he said of the Holy Cross Brother who was canonized last October.

Father Donton said he was introduced to St. Andre when he visited the Oratory of St. Joseph, where the saint ministered in Montreal, Canada.

“I was drawn to him because of his deep devotion to my namesake, St. Joseph. It was through St. Andre that my devotion to St. Joseph began to grow even more deeply,” Father Donton explained. “The more I learned about Brother Andre, the more I fell in love with my patron.”

He said St. Andre has been a friend throughout his priestly ministry and “has helped me bring peace and comfort to the many people whom I have been called to serve.”

One of them was a woman he met while serving as rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral. Diagnosed with cancer, she asked him to anoint her. In praying for her he entrusted her to the care and protection of St. Andre.

As her cancer progressed she started talking to “Joseph” and calling out for “Father Andre.” Her daughter became concerned and talked to Father Donton. When he explained what he had done many months before “she knew what I knew — that it was indeed Brother Andre that had been taking care of her mother throughout this difficult and trying time.”

“When I look at his life, I’m reminded that God chooses those who often seem the most unlikely to do his work,” Father Donton said.

He asked the men to consider something as they marched forth from Liberty Park: “Is God choosing you — perhaps you might think one of the most unlikely people — to do his will, to be his follower, to be his disciple and to do his work in the world?”

Dominic Hakes might have been a bit young to do that just yet, but his father, David Hakes of Brimfield, said these are things he wants his 20-month-old son to learn as soon as possible.

“I wanted to come and stand up for my faith, and I want to get him started early — to nourish that,” said David, who is a member of St. Jude’s in Peoria. “I’ve come every year; this is his second year.”

He added that it’s good to be around other men of faith because “it builds me up.”

John Lawrence of Sacred Heart in Farmer City came the first time to support Bishop Jenky, but found that he also likes the fellowship of other Catholic men he knows in the Diocese of Peoria. He has attended the march and Mass for five years with members of his Cursillo reunion group and was accompanied this year by his son, Andrew, and grandson, James, who will be 2 in August.

While some might have been deterred by the rain, “weather is not going to stop us from doing this,” John Lawrence told The Catholic Post. Their witness is important not just for the men in their parishes, but for the whole diocese, he said.

Andrew Lawrence, a member of Epiphany Parish in Normal and a sixth grade teacher at St. Mary’s in Pontiac, has been part of St. Mary’s delegation to the Chrism Mass and said that being at the cathedral is like “coming home.”

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