NORMAN — The combination of faith and football made for an interesting topic at a recent statewide Catholic men's conference.
About 700 men received a spiritual boost during the 17th annual “In the Father's Footsteps” Catholic Men's Conference held Feb. 16 in Norman.
The one-day conference, sponsored by the Oklahoma Fellowship of Catholic Men, is annually held during Lent. This year's event with the theme “Upon this Rock,” was designed to give men an opportunity to grow in their faith and become better Catholics.
A luncheon geared for young men featured University of Oklahoma football players Gabe Ikard and Blake Bell, who are both Roman Catholic. Ikard, a Bishop McGuinness High School graduate, is an All-American offensive lineman. Bell has earned fame over the past two seasons as “the Belldozer,” the Sooners' quarterback used in short-yardage situations.
The pair spoke to about 100 young men gathered for the luncheon.
“What's most important to me is to be a man of God,” Ikard said. “Your character and your faith are everything.”
Ikard and Bell said they are almost the only Catholics on the team.
The two were asked about what it was like to play last season against Catholic school and traditional football powerhouse Notre Dame.
Both admitted they were recruited by Notre Dame and respected the program. However, each said they were still a bit disappointed by the loss in Norman last October and looked forward to the game at Notre Dame on Sept. 28.
Bell said he and Ikard both attend Mass at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Norman, just south of Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on the OU campus.
And how does Bell feel about his nickname “the Belldozer”?
“It's a name the fans chose and it's fine,” he said.
Ikard said he was pleased to be a part of the Catholic men's conference.
“I've been to one before. This is just awesome,” he said.
Meanwhile, the conference provided a day of fellowship, learning and fun as nationally acclaimed speakers shared wisdom with men gathered from parishes across the state.
The Rev. Richard Fragomeni, a priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., gave the keynote address after a blessing by the Rev. Joseph Jacobi, pastor of St. Eugene Catholic Church in the metro area. Fragomeni said true spiritual growth and enrichment comes when people yielded to God and His will.
“As men we want to be in control,” Fragomeni said. “That's why we invented the GPS so we wouldn't have to ask for directions.”
Good things happen when we give our hearts to Christ, he said.
And when someone gives their life to God, believers become humble, embrace hospitality and become more generous and concerned about justice and charity. People also enrich their prayer life, he said.
He said a faithful life leads to “bedazzlement.”
“Yes, life has its challenges, but life is also beautiful and full of hope,” he said. “Life doesn't have to be just one darn thing after another.”
His message was embraced by conference attendees, such as Dale Moore, of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Edmond.
“I like these conferences because I learn new things,” he said. “Faith is yielding to what you believe. Satan believes, but he doesn't yield to it.”
For other attendees, the event provided many opportunities for spiritual enrichment.
“It gives me a great boost of faith,” Larry King, of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Ponca City, said. “It's like getting a big dose of spiritual B-12 vitamins.”
Of the 700 attendees, about 300 were Knights of Columbus and 100 were middle school and high school youth.
Among the youths was Gabe Volpe, who attends St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Harrah.
“I like the conference. It can be funny at times,” he said.
In another session, the Rev. Josh Wagner, of Ohio, discussed sin and how it led people to be “isolated and alone.”
“Hell is absolute loneliness,” he said. “We are designed to be in relationships. To be alone is not good for human beings.”
Men also were treated to presentations by the Rev. David Dwyer, a national radio host, and William Federer, a historian and defender of religious freedom. Federer pointed out examples in history where leaders, such as President George Washington, were quick to acknowledge the power of God.
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley concluded the day with Mass for attendees and their families.
Conference director Ray Haefele said he was pleased with the day.
“So far I've received nothing but positive feedback,” he said.