Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
James Thurman, an Army veteran and coordinator of adult faith formation at St. Joseph in Salem, is planning a Catholic men’s conference Dec. 16-17.
Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
James Thurman, an Army veteran and coordinator of adult faith formation at St. Joseph in Salem, is planning a Catholic men’s conference Dec. 16-17.
SALEM — St. Joseph Parish here has become an Oregon hub of a Catholic men’s spirituality.

One evening per month for the last year, scores of men have gathered in a darkened church to sing hymns, pray the rosary, adore Jesus in the Eucharist and hear a sermon geared toward males. When they head out the door, they feel ready to be faith leaders at home and workplace.

Abraham Mudrick, of St. Paul Parish in Silverton, says Holy League evenings inspire him to help his family toward heaven.

Mudrick, a fuel truck driver, abandoned his Catholic faith as a teen, but his wife started the process of bringing him back. He attended a men’s retreat led by Father Peter O’Brien of St. Edward Parish in Lebanon and learned that sin was “driving a wedge” between him and other people. He decided to try confession for the first time in decades. What did he have to lose?

“What I had to lose was a million ropes anchored down that were holding me back,” Mudrick says. “The Holy Spirit hit me like a hurricane. I came to know Jesus personally for the first time in my life.”

He realized God had a plan for him. Holy League, he explains, helps him carry out the plan, strengthened by a community of Catholic men.

“What does the Bible say?” Mudrick asks. “‘Iron sharpens iron.’”

One of Oregon’s busiest parishes, St. Joseph goes quiet for Holy League 7:30 to 9 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month.

In one corner, candles flicker. A man, rosary in hand, kneels to pray and lights one. Chant sounds softly through the big church. Men line up for confession.

Soon, a team of eight altar servers and a priest processes in as organ music fills the night. The Eucharist is placed on the altar.

On this night, Father Rory Pitstick of Mount Angel Seminary preaches on the Book of Joshua, in which Moses’ right-hand man fights battles and leads the people into the Promised Land. He tells the men that, like Joshua, they need to lead people away from false gods.

“Be a man. Live up to your vocation,” the priest says, a large crucifix behind him. “Trust in the Lord. Take his law upon your heart and live it out in your life and in your family’s life. That’s what your God asks of you. When you do that you will be successful. There will be nothing that can resist the power of God living through you.”

James Thurman, adult faith formation coordinator at St. Joseph Parish, began Holy League a year ago, modeling it on a Wisconsin program.

“I know men are hungry,” Thurman says. “We need to step up and be that holy father, husband, son, grandfather and grandson God calls us to be.”

Using an image common among Holy League members, Thurman says men need to wage “spiritual combat” in a hostile world.

Christian Spencer, director of faith formation at St. Joseph, comes to Holy League for his own benefit, even after a long day of work at the parish.

Without prayer and spiritual life with others, men tend to stray from their mission and become addicted to all kinds of things, including pornography, Spencer says.

“We will be tempted to be cowards and really fail at marriage and family life,” he explains.  

“If the New Evangelization of our culture is to take place, men cannot be left on the sidelines anymore.”

Aurelio Castillo, a member of St. Paul Parish in Silverton and a longtime worker for Georgia Pacific paper, says Holy League has shown him that he can let the Holy Spirit guide him to do greater things.

“We men really dropped the ball in being the spiritual leaders of our families,” Castillo says. “I think we are losing the battle for souls.”