DUNWOODIE — A baseball hall of famer, a psychologist, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan teamed up on Oct. 23 to urge Catholic men to “man up” for stronger leadership of their families, with godliness and humility.
This call to action highlighted the inaugural “Man Up New York” conference at St. Joseph’s Seminary and College, Dunwoodie, Yonkers.
Former New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza, a 2016 inductee into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, shared his testimony. The keynote was presented by the shepherd of the Archdiocese of New York, which organized the event.
About 400 men filled the Cardinal Spellman Recreational Center for the day-long conference, while others watched remotely via Zoom.
Dr. Greg Bottaro, founder of the CatholicPsych Institute, told the audience that many of today’s men don’t know how to teach and lead their families in the faith. He said this “crisis” fuels soaring rates of depression, addictions, and suicide among adolescents and teens.
Dr. Bottaro recalled that five years ago, parents sought help to wean their children from spending so much time on their phones. But now his office gets more requests to help parents respond to children “who want to kill themselves.’”
“This stuff is getting worse and worse,” Dr. Bottaro cautioned. “We are at an all-time-high crisis of fatherhood in our world because men don’t have solid, clear, holy, and virtuous models, especially in their fathers.”
He continued, “The bigger question is, what are you and I going to do about it?”
Time to Man Up
Founded in 2002 in Philadelphia, Man Up helps men find God’s will for themselves with instruction and inspiration to live their faith and strive to lead their families by godly example. Leading the way since 2002 is Philadelphia businessman and entrepreneur Eustace Mita.
He founded Man Up because, he said, “There is such a thirst.”
The Man Up initiative expanded to New Jersey. Organizers plan to follow the New York launch with programs in Boston and Chicago.
Mita said that, with so many national men’s ministry groups, such as Promise Keepers, Man Up serves a particular niche. First, it’s “like Promise Keepers on steroids for Catholic Men.”
Man Up works with bishops, priests, and laity to incorporate both Catholic teachings and the sacraments. For example, a breakout group at Dunwoodie enlisted numerous priests to hear confessions from participants. The day concluded with Mass.
Conferences like the Dunwoodie event are held biannually.
Participants are encouraged to form Man Up weekly Gospel reflection groups in which they bond through prayers for each other and their families, plus discussion of the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday.
“We’re living in a broken and wounded world,” Mita said. “There is division, dissension, and despair, which clearly are weapons of the enemy.” Men can “arm” themselves, saying the acronym stands for (Eucharistic) adoration, rosary, and Mass.
In an interview, Cardinal Dolan said male leadership has “evaporated a bit” in recent years, in part because of an emerging view that religion “is good for women, and maybe for the sick and for the elderly.”
He explained the pursuit of male spiritual growth is “not seen as anything that a strong, decisive person would cling to. And, of course, the opposite is true: There was no manlier person in the world than Jesus, the only begotten Son of God.”
Cardinal Dolan said he “bristles” when some people say the Catholic Church does not give “rightful place or respect to women.”
“They’re running the Church! They’re the ones in every leadership position in parishes,” he said. “They’re the ones at the Mass with the sacraments. They’re the ones teaching, healing, and preparing. Sometimes it’s our men who feel, ‘Oh, I’ll let the women do it.’ ”
Cardinal Dolan countered that building up an active faith life is necessary for both sexes. “I think that’s part of this providential apostolate—to reclaim the manliness of Christian discipleship.”
Mother’s Guide to Fatherhood
Asserting male leadership is not about barking orders and demanding respect, the speakers told the gathering.
“What is a father?” Dr. Bottaro asked. “Somebody who punishes and disciplines? Somebody who works his butt off all day just to put food on the table? No, a father is a model (who) says to his children, ‘I don’t have all the answers, but let’s get down on our knees, and let’s pray to God. He’ll give us the answer.’”
The speakers said men could do well to mimic the examples set by women like their mothers and Mary, the mother of God.
Piazza shared that, while growing up about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia, his father, Vincent, guided him in baseball. But it was his mother, Veronica, who nurtured the Catholic faith in their five sons.
“Her values and her strength, and the example she set, had an amazing impact on my life,” Piazza said. “And she took us to church every Sunday morning, whether we felt like it or not.”
He recalled misbehaving at Mass as a young boy, which disgusted his mother.
“She said, ‘Is there not one hour of the week that you can’t dedicate to God?’” he said. That question ‘just had a lasting effect, like it was tattooed in my memory.”
Piazza’s performance as a catcher and slugger for the Los Angeles Dodgers earned him the National League’s Rookie of the Year title in 1993. At age 23, he fell into the L.A. party lifestyle, but he felt empty.
“I heard this message from people close to me: ‘You got to party, you got to conquer women, have fun, dude.’ But it was a joyless quest for joy,” he said.
Piazza’s Catholic faith gave him a reset. Later, while on the roster of the New York Mets, he prayed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and rededicated himself to God.
“This incredible sense of peace came over me and said, ‘Just embrace it, man. You’re here for a reason. Embrace it.’ In 1999, we had a great team and almost went to the World Series; in 2000, we went to the World Series.”
That year, the crosstown rival New York Yankees won the title. But Piazza established the distinction of having the best-ever batting record for a catcher. In 2016, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Now he and his wife, Alicia, have three children, and he seeks to serve them with humility.
“The real definition of humility is to live in the truth,” Piazza told the Man Up audience. “And the truth is the sacraments, guys. What we believe as Catholics is that the good Lord, and his Son, and His Spirit, give us the tools to get closer to him.”
He urged a close attachment to the Eucharist, as well as “confession, confession, confession.”
‘My Dad Was an Apostle’
Cardinal Dolan spoke of how his grandmother, Martha, reassured his father, Robert, a laid-off aircraft engineer in the St. Louis area, who feared hard times for his wife and four children.
“I remember my grandma saying, ‘Bobby, we’ve been through it all. God will provide.’ This from a woman whose own grandmother had fled Cavan (Ireland) in the midst of the potato famine, having watched her family starve to death.”
Cardinal Dolan saw a consistent message. “That’s the family wisdom that Jesus imbued from St. Joseph, and his own Blessed Mother.”
Robert Matthew Dolan, his Cardinal son recalled, was a Navy veteran from World War II and a devout Catholic. But he never bragged. The son recalled he had met a sobbing man at his dad’s funeral who said the elder Dolan had saved his life, not in the war but at work.
The man at the funeral said that, when he was drinking heavily and about to lose his family, Robert Dolan gently came beside him, encouraged him to enter a 12-step program, and introduced him to a priest. That man received baptism and confirmation, and he reconciled with his family.
“My dad was an apostle,” Cardinal Dolan concluded. “He was an evangelist. I mean, I knew he took his Catholic faith seriously, but he was pretty humble about it. Instead, he was a man of action.”
Anthony Canale of Eastchester attended the conference with his father, Pasquale, and brother, Cosmo. He praised the conference and said he would eagerly attend another.
“It’s been a real blessing,” Anthony said, “to hear Cardinal Dolan’s stories about his father — very tender, very poignant. It just really brings home the point of how important fatherhood is.”
The attendee summed up his takeaway from the event: “We need more men to step up, man up, be good fathers and husbands. So, anything like this that can encourage — that is a blessing.”