The Father Chester P. Smith National Black Catholic Men’s Conference drew 200 men to downtown Louisville for worship, fellowship, workshops and renewal Oct. 12-15.
Hosted by the Bowman-Francis Ministry and held yearly in different cities around the country, the conference has spent two decades offering Black men a sense of renewal and a plan of action to help lead their parishes, according to one of the founders.
Society of the Divine Word Father Ken Hamilton, a co-founder who gave the keynote speech on Friday, said the conference’s “real message is to evangelize, especially the young men.”
“You still have a place and home in this church.”Marc Guess, presenter and investment advisor
His presentation focused on five points: “telling our stories, upping our education, returning authority to Black fathers in the parish, centralizing our ministries and creating a local chapter of men.”
“We want to have a plan of action in local parishes” to promote the involvement of Black men and families in their faith, he said during an interview after his presentation.
Deacon James Turner, who serves at St. Martin de Porres Church in Louisville, said the conference is “very important for the Black males, to inspire, lift us up and remind us of our roles in the church and our families,” he said.
“It’s always a great joy to be together with these men because we share a common vision,” said Deacon Turner, who participated in a panel discussion on healthy church environments.
That was one of dozens of topics explored during the conference. Each year, the event offers presentations on a variety of issues. One that’s always on the agenda is personal finance.
Marc Guess, an investment advisor from Indianapolis, led a Friday afternoon workshop on the four pillars of financial success.
“Why have a presentation on finances at a Black men’s conference?” Guess asked. As men of faith, “we’re called to lead our families and we need to understand overall how finances affect the trajectory of our families.”
Guess said he aimed to start a conversation around generational wealth and how to handle finances now to give future generations a leg up.
“This is an aspect of leading our families,” he said. “Making sure you pass along good financial habits to your children. Passing on good generational wealth starts with where you are.”
For Guess, the conference also serves as a reminder to Black men that “you still have a place and home in this church.”
“The conference itself is vital for Black Catholic men, even more so now than before because our Black parishes are going away,” he said. “Having something like this, coming here and … getting this annual renewal and reminder to be contributing members of your parish” is invaluable.
Another presentation centered around mental health in African American males.
Father Sidney Speaks, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Church in Marrero, La., said although he’s not clinically trained or educated, “I’m coming at it as your spiritual health is directly related to your mental health.”
The “beauty of this conference,” he said, is that it provides “an oasis to refresh, renew and remember that … there’s strength in our own numbering, spirit and culture.”
The conference theme, “The least of these,” derived from Matthew 25:40, is a reminder that “the sense of serving one another is always to those who don’t have enough,” Father Speaks said. “It reminds me to be constantly aware of my brother, Black and white.”
Josephite Father Anthony Bozeman, who gave a presentation called “Ugly Trust” about trusting in the Lord, said the conference is a reminder that “America’s not a melting pot but a gumbo made up of the people of God.”
“We must bring our whole selves as Catholic Christians,” he said. “It’s about spirituality and a call to discipleship to continue to build up our church. God is calling us all.”
Dr. Cameron Beatty, a member of the conference’s organizing committee and speaker, said he appreciates the collaborative nature of the annual conference.
“It reminds us that there is a community,” he said. “Sometimes you feel like you’re navigating within a silo. But so many times someone from the only Black family in their church will stand up and talk about an issue and people who belong to a Black parish have faced the same issue, so they can collaborate.”
Overall, the conference is about “Black Catholicism and brotherhood,” he said, noting that some of the participants have come every year.
“We’re able to think about it collectively as Black Catholic men. It offers renewal, there’s space for that here.”