Faith of our Fathers
BY DANIELLE KOLENIAK
If you are crazy enough to Google “How to become a better man”… brace yourself. According to Askmen.com, the “Top 10: Ways to Become a Better Man” included (#10) Identify your social status, (#6) Stop projecting your weaknesses onto others, and (#1) Stop idealizing women. But if you ask parishioners Mark Bir, George Szymanski and Marc St. Martin to put together a “Top 10,” you’ll likely see: Real men pray: together, alone, and with your wife; have dinner as a family every night; and don’t be afraid to share with other men. Their responses are far different from society’s mindset, but all part of what has changed each of their lives and made them better men.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
That’s what makes Men’s Gospel Forum so real and so important to Mark Bir, George Szymanski and Marc St. Martin. The Monday morning group gets together every week to read the gospel, voice their thoughts and even share their weaknesses while building each other up. In five years the group has grown from three to fi ve attendees to 20 to 40. As you’ll read in the interview, the men admit, they all come from different backgrounds, but together share the same mission—the desire to become better Catholic men.
Danielle Koleniak: For those who may not know you all personally, you are fathers and grandfathers. Tell me about this time in your life right now. I’m sure all of you have very different stories on Fatherhood and life in general.
George Szymanski: I’m a father and grandfather. I adopted two boys from Korea when I was 39 years old. My son, Mike, is in Washington D.C. and my son, John, stays with us. He suffers from Schizophrenia. They are both wonderful boys. As a father, I always followed my religion, but when I left the workforce, I’ve been able to concentrate more on my faith. Men’s Gospel Forum has really been a wonderful gift to me. It’s not easy for men to share and talk about personal things, but in this group there is trust. I learn something every week. You feel comfortable to speak up and share on a weekly basis with fellow parishioners, men of faith. Marc St. Martin: I have two children, a son and a daughter and three grandchildren. My granddaughter attends Stonehill College, a Catholic college in Massachusetts. My son and his two boys are involved in church. It’s sad for me that it’s not a Catholic church, but at least they are going to church. I keep praying that the Lord will touch them and lead them back home. Recently, I’ve been talking to my son and daughter about my faith. In Men’s Gospel Forum, we often talk about how we evangelize. We often say we would like to start to evangelize in our own families. I’ve learned it’s much about how you live your faith every day. I’ve learned how to trust God with my own life in my struggle with cancer and being an alcoholic. I haven’t had a drink in 17 years. Praise God. I’ve been told by my friends and family that I’m an inspiration. That’s how I evangelize. Mark Bir: I have three children- two daughters and a son and four grandsons. One of the crosses that I bear is that they’ve left the church. I take responsibility for some of that because I wasn’t the best role model. I’ve come back to the church and I’m following Christ the best I can. It’s difficult being the only Catholic in my family, but I’m trying to lead by example. Men’s Gospel Forum has been a God-send to me. A group of 20 to 40 men get together every Monday morning at 7:00 to discuss the Gospel and how we can apply it to our lives.
MSM: There’s something missing when you miss a week! We often make the joke, if you don’t believe in God, how did we all get up at 5:30am to be here?! Haha! That’s how powerful it is. It draws you in.
DK: Why is it so important for men in the faith to come together every week?
MB: I think the role of men has diminished in our society. If you look at television today, the fathers are buffoons. It’s a long way from the older programs where the father was the sage of the family and head of the household. So, it’s important to learn all over again what it is to be a man, a father and a husband. GS: It’s also trying to figure out together where we fi t in today’s society. We take on different roles today now that women work. And they are taking on different rolls. We’re in the kitchen and helping around in the household so our wives can also can pursue their dreams as a mother and in the workforce. We’re learning to be flexible in our role, but that doesn’t mean our identity is diminished. What’s really important in keeping a strong family is coming together every night and sharing a meal. That includes holding hands and giving thanks in prayer. It’s so important that we all have to be part of that sharing. If not there is a breakdown in the family structure.
MB: One thing I’ve learned from Men’s Gospel Forum is that real men pray. My prayer life has changed dramatically. I see men where prayer is a big part of their life and seeing it make a difference in their lives. Now, I pray with my wife every night and it has been a wonderful thing for my marriage. My wife isn’t Catholic, so I didn’t know I could do that. MSM: Men’s Gospel Forum has become so powerful in our lives. I’ve become a better person, father and Catholic. When I was in the hospital in Connecticut for 8 months, every Monday morning I knew these guys were praying for me. I get emotional thinking about it.
MB: A parishioner in our group, Patrick Nacol, was in the hospital receiving a lung transplant. We all got together and took a picture with health masks on and sent it to him to let him know we were praying for him. It’s a good group of guys. We all come from different backgrounds, but we’re there for each other.
Whether you’re a father, grandfather, or single man, I encourage you to join us for Men’s Gospel Forum on Monday mornings at 7:00am. Men need this and it’s a great way to start the week and build new friendships.