For 15 years, men from all over the Diocese of Buffalo have gathered together to celebrate their spirituality at the Catholic Men's Fellowship of Western New York Conference. For those 15 years, Deacon Jim Jaworski has led from a place where he is least visible among those involved, but after serving dutifully for years, he has decided to quietly step down.
At the end of the 2017 conference, held April 1 at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Tonawanda, Deacon Jaworski handed the reins over to fellow Deacon Michael Ficorilli. "Deacon Mike Ficorilli is going to take over, and I see a continuation of the conference with no radical changes in the format. It was time, after 15 conferences, to get a new set of eyes and to make sure they keep going on the track," Deacon Jaworski said.
As the conference's leader, Deacon Jaworski coordinated speakers for the annual conference, actively making an effort to select men from all walks of life. He also acted as the focal point for the committee of 15 men that plan it each year. Deacon Ficorilli has attended 13 conferences and is a member of the core group.
"He's a real man of God, a gentle, loving soul, and passionate about faith and how God is working in our lives," Deacon Ficorilli said of his predecessor.
Deacon Jaworski initially got the idea to bring the men's conference to Buffalo after attending a Promise Keepers event in Syracuse in 1996. After noting how inspired he felt by what he had experienced, he came away from it asking, "What do Catholic men do?" After some searching, he found that local men seemed to be looking around for a Catholic men's ministry. "Where Catholics get together specifically for male spirituality, there were no organizations, that we knew of," he said.
From there, the Promise Keepers event was a starting point for Deacon Jaworski's journey to bring the conference home. "I was blown away," he commented, recalling seeing 40,000 men at the Syracuse Carrier Dome praising Christ. Deacon Jaworski asked himself, "What do Catholic men do? How much more powerful this could be from a Catholic perspective if we incorporated the sacrament of reconciliation and celebrated the Mass?" Before 2003, there were ecumenical type ministries in existence, but not active Catholic men ministries. He looked into changing this.
At a men's retreat at Franciscan University at Steubenville, Ohio, Deacon Jaworski met with some people from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and found that the archdiocese had a men's conference for years. As Deacon Jaworski learned their vision and concept, he brought it to Buffalo. The outcome was the Catholic Men's Fellowship of Western New York, a non-profit organization made up entirely of volunteers ranging in age from 9 to 99, coming from all walks of life.
"Our thrust at the very beginning was, 'Hey, let's try to make this multigenerational so that grandfathers bring their sons and grandsons, and grandsons would bring their fathers and grandfathers,'" Deacon Jaworski commented of his initial intentions for the organization. "That's our future, and a blessing for me."
When asked for his favorite memory or moment from past conferences he attended, Deacon Jaworski had a hard time picking just one. "There have been so many moments," he said, recalling one memory from the first conference at the Agri Center in Hamburg. During that conference, a man approached him at the end. The man had decided to go to confession for the first time in 35 years, and he talked to Deacon Jaworski about his experience. "You could not believe the load that was lifted off of him after that day," Deacon Jaworski said of this individual.
In his absence, Deacon Jaworski felt that the conference will be able to continue to create servant leaders under Deacon Ficorilli's careful guidance and new leadership. He wants those who attend to be able to accomplish something specific.
"(I want them to) go back to their families, go back to their communities and their parishes and, you know, get up off their duff and do something. Become servant leaders," Deacon Jaworski said. "Don't wait for somebody to come and ask you to help, step forward and do something."
Deacon Jaworski will continue to minister at Annunciation Parish in Elma.