By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 17, 2011
What’s a 16th-century martyr have to teach 21st century fathers?
A lot, it turns out.
Leave it to Msgr. Richard Lopez to lead a cafeteria of men at St. Pius X High School through the life and times of St. Thomas More and find nuggets of wisdom for them.
Try writing a letter to their kids about what it was like to hold them as newborns.
Try praying together.
Try talking about routine, daily life.
Msgr. Lopez has led the men’s day of reflection at the high school for 20 years now. He got involved to give fathers time to reflect on what they do, which otherwise they often do without a second thought.
“I think fathers are more holy than priests. I think they can be. I really do. They sacrifice on a daily basis,” said the high school teacher and school chaplain.
The school cafeteria on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 29, feels like a high school reunion as some 160 men wander in. There’s a lot of backslapping, men catching up with each other’s lives. There’s a light breakfast and coffee. In groups, they stream to the school auditorium for Mass. Later, they return to the cafeteria where Msgr. Lopez takes the floor. He’ll recruit others to read letters, use old-fashioned overhead slides and crack jokes to get his points across.
“It’s a spiritual recharge. It’s peer support. And Father Lopez, of course, is just a wonderful, encouraging, wonderful priest and preacher. Every time I’ve come, I’ve gone away with some ideas, practically but also spiritually recharged to be that heavenly father on earth for my children,” said Jim Miles, 51, who works in IT. He has had three children attend Pius.
Joe Conboy, 51, works in the media industry and is attending his 11th or 12th dads event. He cannot remember which.
“I would describe it as one of the best presents I get each year. Msgr. Lopez is so special, the community of Catholic dads is special and celebrating fatherhood and Catholicism is something I just don’t get to do. The St. Pius community is extraordinary in the familial Christian love that is present in its DNA,” said the father of five daughters.
The four-hour gathering is put together long before the first dad pulls into the parking lot. It takes Msgr. Lopez months to find gems to pass on to these fathers of high school students.
“It is very hard work. I don’t sleep the night before. By the last talk, I am almost incoherent,” he said.
He turns 67 in March, and he doesn’t see a reason to step back from the annual tradition.
“The dads seemed very grateful for it,” he said. “I just pray it is a real time of grace. I am amazed that good men would give up a morning.”
He wants more people to know about the holiness of family life. “I think it’s built into the structure of parenthood, and fatherhood, and marriage, to give constantly to another person who is in front of you all the time. John Paul II was very eager to canonize more family saints than in the past. Canonization is the tip of the iceberg. There are many more saints in heaven than are canonized on earth. I think most of our parents deserve to be in that role.”