Wednesday, February 21, 1996
Catholic men warm up to fellowship

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In moments of Christian levity, Catholic men refer to themselves as The Frozen Chosen.

They're poking fun. But they're serious, too.

They watch each other going to Mass every Sunday and they have to laugh. All they do is: Sit. Kneel. Pray.

After an hour of these exercises, they go home to stew in their own juices, keep their troubles to themselves and wait for next Sunday to roll around.

They move. But they're not moved to action.

They're chosen. But they're frozen.

A group of local men is working on a big thaw. The Catholic Men's Fellowship of Greater Cincinnati wants guys to warm to some new ideas. ''We're trying to break the mold,'' says Kevin Lynch, the fellowship's president, ''and get Catholic guys together.''

The retired Procter & Gamble marketing man knows he has a tough sell. Catholic guys and the concept of togetherness, on a level deeper ''than slapping each other on the back and talking about the ballgame we saw the night before'' do not have much of a track record.

''For some reason, Protestant men seem to get together very readily,'' he says. ''They pray together and express themselves with no problems. But with Catholic men, it's foreign to our culture.''

Old-time religion

Protestants, the thinking goes, have that evangelical strain. It gets them out of the house and into small, tell-all, consciousness-raising groups and big-league tent meetings in football stadiums. It gave rise to the hugely successful Promise Keeper movement.

The fellowship - similar to, but not part of, the Promise Keepers - wants Catholic men to slip out of their manly, stiff-upper-lip stereotypes.

''We want them to talk about husbanding, parenting, working and drinking,'' says Tom Young.

An insurance executive, Mr. Young founded the fellowship 10 years ago over a breakfast at the Walnut Hills Frisch's with Mr. Lynch, financial consultant Declan O'Sullivan and Father Ken Sommer.

Members are encouraged to step into the world of expressing their feelings, singing songs, doing good works and giving group hugs.

The last item is still a bit tough to take.

''I hug a little, not a lot,'' Mr. Young says with a slight wince. So far, he admits, ''huggin' men is like huggin' boards.''

Plans call for the fellowship to function on a small scale - in four-man discussion groups - and at rallies attended by thousands. The first large-scale gathering, the ''Answer the Call'' conference, drew a modest crowd of 435 to St. Gertrude's in Madeira in September.

Just six months later, 2,500 men are expected to show up at Thomas More College's Convocation Center for ''Answer the Call II'' on March 16. That estimate is based on a steady increase in newly formed discussion groups and the number of inquiries to the fellowship's 595-9055 hot line.

Should a crowd of that size show up for the daylong conference featuring motivational speeches by former Bengals kicker Jim Breech, former Moeller, Notre Dame and Akron football coach Gerry Faust and Ohio treasurer Ken Blackwell, it will mark the rapid reach of the fellowship's message.

Going national?

This burgeoning Cincinnati movement has had feelers from men in California, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Louisiana, as well as Cleveland and Akron. They want to start their own male-only groups.

The fellowship's founders insist their members are not a Catholic variation of writer Robert Bly's philosophy of better male bonding through beating drums and perspiring in sweat lodges.

''This isn't about beating drums,'' Mr. Lynch declares. ''The center of what we do is Christ.

''They should also know,'' he says as an aside, ''that we've not taken to thumping Bibles on street corners.''

Men are natural-born talkers, Mr. Young says. ''Just give them an opening.''

Given that chance, he believes, men will move beyond talking about TV or football. They'll open up about their lives and the life of their community.

''We can change this idea of us clamming up,'' Mr. Lynch says.

All it takes is for one man to start talking.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax to 768-8340.