In 2009, Matthew James Christoff and Phil Roeser sat down for dinner with their bishop, the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis’ auxiliary, Bishop Lee Piché. Also at the dinner table were several other Catholic men, all close friends, who gathered together regularly to talk about faith and life.
Some at the dinner were converts, others cradle Catholics. To a man, however, each had realized, as Christoff had in the wake of his conversion, that they were “hungry for guidance and authentic friendship.”
In their “man nights,” Christoff and his friends found the fraternity they needed. They lit fires, cooked meat and talked about “the most important things.” Near the top of that list was why more Catholic men didn’t seem engaged in their faith. At the 2009 dinner with the bishop, the men raised that question again, asking Bishop Piché why he thought many men were so casual about their Catholicism.
“Because they don’t know Jesus Christ,” the bishop replied. “You can’t be casual in your faith if you know Jesus Christ in a deep and meaningful way.”
Bishop Piché then posed a question of his own to the men.
“So, what are you going to do about it?”
Planting the seed
After looking at the data from the likes of Gallup, the Pew Research Center and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which consistently show Catholic men both engaging in the sacraments less regularly and valuing their faith less than women, the men came up with a plan: a parish-based program within the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis that would focus on drawing men to Christ and building Christian brotherhood. That plan also incorporated many of the elements that made the friends’ own “man nights” so successful: fellowship, food and beer.
They called the new program Catholic Man Night.
With the help of Bishop Piché and several archdiocesan priests, Christoff organized the first Catholic Man Night in 2010. Since then, 21 different parishes have hosted approximately 80 more gatherings. Some parish clusters offer as many as one monthly. Attendance steadily averages around 50-60 men, with some gatherings attracting close to 250.
“The turnout, over time, is what has really surprised me,” said Father John Gallas, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Loretto, Minnesota, and St. Thomas the Apostle in Corcoran, Minnesota, both of which host regular Catholic Man Nights. “A lot of things start with fireworks and fanfare, but then they fizzle out. Not this.”
Focus on Christ
The schedule for the evenings is always the same. During the first hour, men gather at a local parish and the priest exposes the Blessed Sacrament. During adoration, either the host priest or a guest priest delivers a 10-15 minute reflection on Jesus Christ. While he talks and the men pray, other priests hear confession. After adoration and Benediction, the men share a “manly meal,” with plenty of meat and beer (recent menus have included ribs, giant Italian hoagies and chocolate-covered bacon). During the dinner, the men socialize, and afterward, they have a guided catechetical discussion related to the person of Jesus.
None of the evening’s activities matter more, however, than Eucharistic adoration.
“Too many men haven’t been impressed by Jesus,” Christoff said. “They have a conceptual or historical idea of him, but they don’t know him as a man. Solid catechesis is critical but insufficient. Men need a personal encounter with Christ. And when a man kneels in front of Jesus Christ in adoration, whether he understands it or not, something happens.”
The opportunity to go to confession also attracts men, Christoff said, as does the opportunity to eat good food, drink decent beer and just be with other men.
“Men want to be around other men,” he explained. “There’s a real crisis of loneliness among men, and younger generations are falling away to virtual worlds that aren’t real. Men need more events that allow them to spend time together.”
The differences between men and women, in part, account for the nature of the discussions during Man Nights, which focus on different aspects of Jesus and his life.
“Men need to gather around a leader, one they can admire and want to emulate,” Father Gallas said. “So, we look to Christ in that fashion, talking about what’s admirable and inspiring in him.”
With five years of Catholic Man Nights under his belt, Christoff sees the size and commitment level of the events filling an important niche in Catholic men’s ministry.
“We often think either too narrowly or too broadly,” he explained. “Small groups and Bible studies are great, but only a small percentage of men will do that. Men’s conferences are good too, but they happen only once a year. If we want to attract more men, we have to hold events that draw broad numbers of men together on a regular basis and have low barriers for entry.”
It’s not only the men, however, of whom the event organizers are thinking. Recognizing how busy most pastors and parishes are, they’ve designed the program to require little to no financial commitment from the parish and only a minimal amount of time from the priest.
“It’s really turnkey,” Father Gallas said. “As a pastor, it’s been easy for me to implement. If a priest wants to replicate it in his parish, he would be able to do that.”
And many are, especially as the fruits of the evenings multiply, with men returning to confession and increasing numbers becoming involved in parish life.
“One night, a man came up to thank us,” Roeser recalled. “He told us he never would have come if a friend hadn’t convinced him, but that night he went to confession for the first time in 50 years. That man alone made all the work worth it for us.”
To learn more about starting a Man Night in your parish or diocese, and to see the 35 different talks available for the nights, visit www.catholicmannight.com.
Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributing editor.