A formidable “presence”: 600 Catholic men focus on fatherhood

Photo Caption: A throng of Catholic men makes its way across the O’Rourke Mall at the Spalding Pastoral Center enroute to St. Mary’s Cathedral during “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith” on April 18.

By: By Tom Dermody

Father’s Day came two months early for the nearly 600 Catholic men attending the annual “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith” march and Mass on April 18. But this event celebrating fatherhood wasn’t about presents given to dads.

It was all about fathers’ presence in the lives of their families.

“Pay attention to your children, pay attention to your wives,” said Father Chase Hilgenbrinck in a passionate challenge to the men as they assembled last Saturday morning on the banks of the Illinois River. Moments later they would walk together in a public stand for faith and family through downtown Peoria to St. Mary’s Cathedral for a Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC.

“All we have to do is show up,” he told the men. “Be present.” Father Hilgenbrinck, ordained a year ago, recalled the advice of a priest in his seminary years who said that wives and children spell love “t-i-m-e.”

“They want nothing but our presence,” said Father Hilgenbrinck, who is parochial vicar of parishes in East Moline and Silvis as well as St. Mary in Moline.

As the church prepares to celebrate a Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, Father Hilgenbrinck — who also serves on the chaplain team of Alleman High School — repeatedly linked presence with mercy.

He asked the men to consider the familiar story of the Prodigal Son, and how different the outcome would have been had the wayward-but-repentant son returned and found his father not present and waiting, or simply indifferent and uncaring. He called Catholic men to be “the image of God the Father in the world today.”

For strength, he urged them to turn to the Eucharist, “the ultimate mercy of God’s presence among us that sustains us.”

They did just that later in the morning, filling St. Mary’s Cathedral for the Mass with Bishop Jenky. And the challenges to Christian fatherhood continued.
“You are called to be spiritual leaders in your own families,” Bishop Jenky told the men in his homily, “and to give good witness to everyone you meet. That’s what Christian fatherhood his all about.”

Bishop Jenky returned to themes he raised in a homily 13 years ago that led to a grassroots movement of Catholic men coming together for an annual public witness of faith, family and the priesthood.

“As Catholic men we all need to stand up for the Catholic faith, for Jesus as our Lord, for the truth of the Scriptures in season and out of season, even in the face of opposition, even in the face of hatred and ridicule, even in the face of real persecution,” said Bishop Jenky.

He called to mind Christians facing martyrdom for their belief in Christ in the Near East and Africa in calling the men to witness to Christ in a world that “is becoming more sinful, more dangerous, more corrupt.”

“If we honor God, if we confess our sins, if we have Christ in our hearts, if we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and if we remain faithful to those people God has given us to love and protect, ultimately we have nothing to fear,” said Bishop Jenky.

In opening remarks, Bishop Jenky noted the scaffolding throughout the cathedral as a yearlong restoration project begins. “It strikes me this time together is a bit of a restoration for all of us,” he told the men.

Helping to provide music were members of the “Men of Faith” chorus from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton. At the close of Mass, Bishop Jenky blessed commemorative medallions featuring an image of St. Joseph, the patron of the men’s march, holding the Child Jesus and bearing the words “Fatherhood — St. Joseph, Pray for Us.” The medallions were distributed as the men left the cathedral for lunch and fellowship at the nearby Spalding Pastoral Center.

Mike Frietsch, a member of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Orion, said he has only missed a couple of the 12 annual marches. This year he came with sons Anselm, John and Thomas. Next year he’ll also bring his youngest son, Charlie, who will soon turn 1.

“It’s good for the boys to have the experience of being at a cathedral Mass with the bishop,” said Frietsch. “It’s good to establish a pattern and show them what really has meaning in life.”

Before the march, Justin Cody of St. Patrick Parish in Washington introduced his 2-year-old son, Jude, to Bishop Jenky. Jude came dressed with a cape and a Batman shirt. It was his father’s second time at the march.

“I enjoy the Catholic fellowship, being with men of the Catholic faith,” he told The Catholic Post.

“It’s inspirational,” agreed Brian Wellner, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island who brought sons David and Christian. “It’s great to be in fellowship with other men — sons, dads, grandfathers — and to experience our faith together.”

The morning opened with opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation. A half-dozen priests welcomed penitents at picnic tables under the Murray Baker Bridge on the banks of the Illinois River.

Prior to the walk to the cathedral, Father Jerry Logan — chaplain of the men’s march — led the men in prayers to St. Joseph the Worker and in prayers for fathers. He then invited fathers with children present to place their hands on them as he led a blessing.

“I always find this event especially moving,” said Father Logan, who is administrator of St. Mary and Sacred Heart parishes in Rock Island. He said its importance is underscored because “the crisis of our culture today hinges upon the crisis of the family, and the crisis of the family hinges on the crisis of fatherhood.”

Serving as master of ceremonies this year was Deacon Mike Schallmoser of St. Philomena Parish, Peoria. He thanked Bishop Jenky for his “bold leadership” and the men “for making the decision t come out from the comfort zone of your homes today to stand in witness to the love and dedication you have for our Lord Jesus Christ” and for the Catholic Church.

Father Hilgenbrinck said the men’s participation in the march and Mass was the perfect start to an increased witness to Christ in their families and parishes.

“Your presence here today is your mercy to me, to your families, to your sons and daughters, to your wives, your spouses, to your flocks,” he said.

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