Catcher, boxer, police chief to speak about faith

By Jim Gauger
Special to the CS&T

The second Men’s Spirituality Conference, sponsored by the Archdiocese, will be held Saturday, March 13, at Archbishop Ryan High School, 11201 Academy Road in Northeast Philadelphia.

Keynote speakers will be former major league baseball catcher Mike Piazza and Jesse Romero, a Catholic evangelist and a former three-time World Police Boxing champion.

The conference, which will be held from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m., will finish with Mass celebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali at 4 p.m. Throughout the day there will be breakout sessions with noted speakers. At 10:30 a.m., in keeping with the conference theme, “Be Reconciled to the Lord,” there will be an introduction and invitation to the sacrament of reconciliation. Confessions will be heard in the chapel and the library and continue until 3 p.m.

The first conference, held last year at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, Delaware County, attracted 1,200 men.

“It was crowded with 1,200 so that is why we went to Ryan,” said Dominic Lombardi, director of the archdiocesan Family Life Office. “We needed an auditorium that can accommodate 2,000. As we go forward, we will have to look for a larger facility.”

Last year, said Lombardi, the bulk of registrations came in the final two weeks. “Two weeks before last year’s conference we had a few hundred, and we got over 1,000 in the final two weeks.”

The parishes play a major role in publicizing the Men’s Spirituality Conference through the weekly bulletins. “The priests in the Archdiocese have been very supportive,” Lombardi said. “We’ve also been on some Catholic radio stations.”

The conference’s theme, “Be Reconciled to the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:20), is in the spirit of Lent, Lombardi said. “One of the essential aspects of the conference is the sacrament of reconciliation,” he said. “Last year we had 40 priests hearing confessions and the lines were 10 to 15 deep. It gives you an idea of the power of spiritual renewal.”

Lombardi said this year’s speakers will talk about how “all aspects of their lives have been turned over to the Lord.”

Piazza, a 12-time all-star, holds the record for most home runs by a catcher at 396. Although he was drafted in the 62nd round (the 1,390th player taken) by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988 he became one of the game’s top hitting catchers and a probable selectee to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

After leaving baseball, Piazza, who grew up in St. Ann Parish in Phoenixville, became active as an advisory board member of Catholic Athletes for Christ. The theme of his address is “The Impact of the Virgin Mary in my Journey of Faith.” Piazza will describe how his devotion to the Mass and the rosary affected his professional and personal life.

“He is a deeply committed Catholic,” Lombardi said. “He will be a powerful witness.”

The theme of Romero’s address is “Thank God I am Forgiven.” Romero, who will emphasize the power of God’s forgiveness and mercy, is considered “a well-versed speaker on all Catholic issues,” according to conference promotional material.

A bilingual speaker, Romero’s biography says he “specializes in youth events, apologetic seminars and on the topic of evangelization to conferences of all sizes and to Bible study groups.” He will also be one of the main speakers in the conference’s Spanish program.

Among the breakout session speakers will be Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey. Ramsey, a native of Chicago, served in the Chicago Police Department for nearly three decades before being appointed chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. After nearly a decade in Washington, he became Philadelphia Police Commissioner in 2008.

Ramsey’s theme will be, “Faith Leadership and the Common Good.” He will discuss how he has drawn strength from his Catholic faith and how it guides his work.

“We were lucky to get a hold of him back in the fall,” Lombardi said. “The opportunity is something he wanted to take advantage of.”

Lombardi said the conference is an example of a new movement “for renewal through the Holy Spirit for Catholic men, women and families throughout the country.”

How should men prepare for the conference?

“They should look forward to experience the community of other men,” Lombardi said. “They will come and receive, and the Lord will send them forward to give the gift of faith.”

Registration before the Feb. 19 deadline is $35 per person and includes lunch. Family group rate (3 or more) is $30.

For a complete list of speakers, registration forms and more information call 215-587-5639, e-mail or visit the Archdiocese’s web site at and click on the Men’s Spirituality Conference icon.

Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.