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Men’s conference again features all-star lineup

By Gene Fadness


True to form, this year’s Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference features nationally known speakers to the annual gathering, themed this year, “Be A Saint.”

Speakers at the Saturday, Feb. 4 event at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Nampa, include Monsignor James Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., who, when he was installed as president at St. Mary’s in 2009 at age 34, was the youngest university or college president in the United States.

Also speaking will be Mike Sweeney, a five-time AllStar first baseman who was inducted

into the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame in 2015. He currently works as a special assistant to the general manager for the Royals.

This conference will be the eighth annual such conference, presented by Salt & Light Radio under the direction of the two men who started the conference, Johnny Horn and Travis Wingo.

Several years ago, Wingo and Horn attended a men’s conference out of state and wondered why something similar couldn’t happen in Idaho.

They started contacting speakers and, in the process, learned that another group of men, led by Russ Biaggne at St. John’s Cathedral, were planning a similar conference. The two groups of men joined forces, and with the help of Salt & Light Radio, the first Idaho Catholic Men’s Conference in 2016 attracted more than 800 men.

Past conference have included speakers such as Father Don Calloway, Father Larry Richards, FOCUS president Dr. Curtis Martin, Patrick Coffin, Father Bill Casey, Father Mike Schmitz and Tim Staples.

While the numbers attending and the speakers are impressive, organizers are more interested in the number of lives transformed as a result of the conference.

“Over the past few years, we’ve received extraordinary feedback from men who have been deeply impacted,” Johnny Horn said in an earlier article in the Idaho Catholic Register. “We’ve heard many stories of conversions, of men coming back to their faith after being away for many years. We’ve heard stories of how the men’s conference helped save marriages and brought families back together. We’ve been humbled to see in both big and small ways by the fruits that have come when men step up to be the spiritual leaders that they are called to be.”

Travis Wingo said the timing of Monsignor Shea’s visit to the conference this year is providential. “He is freed up just enough time for him to slip into our conference, as he

has events the day before and the day after,” Wingo said. He also said Monisgnor Shea’s recent book, “From Christendom to the Apostolic Age,” fits in well with the conference’s theme of “Being A Saint,” in a post-Christian society.

“Instead of constantly griping about what’s going on in the culture and in the news, we need to recognize that we are no longer living in the Christian era, but in an apostolic age, in which we need to be evangelizing, just like the apostles,” Wingo said. “The Saints were well aware of what was required of them,” and we need to be doing the same, he said.

Mike Sweeney, Bishop Peter Christensen, and Monsignor James Shea

Monsignor Shea was ordained for the Diocese of Bismarck in 2002. He was inaugurated as president of the University of Mary at Bismarck in 2009. His academic studies and work include the Catholic University of America, the University of Texas at Austin, the Vatican’s North American College, the University of Chicago and Harvard University.

He has worked with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity at the Gift of Peace AIDS Hospice while teaching religion at two inner-city elementary schools in Washington, D.C. In Rome, he served as chaplain for the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital and also at the Rome campus of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of Saint Thomas. He has also served as associate pastor and pastor for parishes in his diocese.

Monsignor Shea is a Knight Commander of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and serves on the Board of Directors for FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. He has served on the National Advisory Council to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Governor’s Commission on Education Improvement for the State of North Dakota. He is also a trustee of Saint John Vianney Seminary in Denver and a member of the executive commit-tee of the board for the Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities.

Baseball star Sweeney is also a good addition to the conference lineup. He emphasizes, Wingo said, that God has not called us to be successful, but to be faithful. “It’s neat to have somebody of his caliber and success with baseball and talking about his faith; being in the arena where he encountered many in-stances of where he had to be faithful.” Sweeney will take time to do a special event during the lunch hour for young athletes.

Sweeney is a five-time Major League Baseball All-Star first baseman who was inducted into Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame in 2015 and is now special assistant to the general manager for the Royals. He is the founder of Catholic Baseball Camps and the San Diego Saints Baseball Academy where he “uses the greatest game ever played to share the Greatest Story ever told.”

Sweeney was still in high school when he was drafted by the Royals as a catcher in 1991, making his major league debut four years later. Although he spent most of his time with the Royals, he also played for the Oakland A’s, Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies.

On his final day with the Royals, Sept. 30, 2007, Sweeney took the field against the Cleveland Indians in front of 19,104 fans at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Sweeney’s first at bat was interrupted by a standing ovation. His second at bat was delayed, as well, due to applause. Sweeney was removed from first base in the 7th inning and was given a third standing ovation. Since leaving the Royals his Number 29 has been left out of circulation leading some to believe the Royals might end up retiring his number one day.

Sweeney and his wife of over 20 years, Shara, have six children.

Different to this year’s conference is more time allowed for men to socialize. “One of the criticisms we’ve received from past conferences is that we were always rushing them from one event to the next,” Wingo said. This year’s conference will include longer time for a catered barbecue lunch and a social wine-and-cheese event at the end of the day. The day begins with an 8 a.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop Peter Christensen.

Due to fire code, attendance is limited to about 750 and registrations are coming in at a rapid pace, Wingo said. Watch parties to view the conference online are also planned.

The early deadline for $49 registration is through Jan. 15. After that, the registration fee goes up to $60. The registration fee is $29 students, clergy members, active military, and for online attendance. To register, go to or call Salt & Light Radio at 208-344-4774.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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