by Dean Backes
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — It was at the 1996 Promise Keepers rally in Minneapolis that Msgr. Tom Tank, then-pastor of Church of the Nativity in Overland Park, was inspired to consider developing a conference for Catholic men in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
While still in Minneapolis, Msgr. Tank pitched his vision to other area men in attendance as they visited after Mass. Together, they began to organize what is now known as Men Under Construction (MUC), an annual conference that brings men together for encouragement and common prayer as they continue in their walk with Christ.
Over the years, men of all ages and from both sides of the state line have converged on various parishes in Kansas City to attend Mass, listen to select speakers and receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Fathers have brought their sons to the conference and sons have brought their fathers.
“Construction is kind of looked at as being a manly profession,” said Msgr. Tank, while he was explaining how his inspiration received its name. “But, as men, we also realize that we are a work in progress. We’re not finished — therefore, we’re under construction. It seemed like a good name for what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Msgr. Tank has stepped away from the planning committee now but still attends each conference to offer his support and hear confessions during the conference’s lunch break.
He is encouraged, he said, to see that men are serious about their spirituality and their relationship with Christ — and have the desire to share it.
“And it’s good for me to listen to some of the speakers and hear their perspectives,” said Msgr. Tank. “That’s helpful to me.”
Prodded by several of his co-workers at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park to be part of the organizing team 10 years ago, current MUC president Russ Engel agreed to work his first conference. Like so many other men over the years, he has been hooked ever since.
Along with having a day set aside to recharge spiritually, Engel said the organizers of the event want men to walk away with a greater passion for their faith and with concrete ways they can put that faith into action in their families and in their communities.
“I’ve always enjoyed the speakers that we’ve brought in,” Engel said. “They’ve been very inspirational in their message. I have a passion to work with men and to build their faith. Most of the things that I do personally are centered around promoting faith with men in the community.”
Bob Burns, who was also nudged by a co-worker and gently elbowed by his wife to join MUC 12 years ago, has been placed in charge of rounding up enough priests to hear confessions.
With the addition of “The Passion of the Christ” actor Jim Caviezel to the speaking lineup this year, Burns’ role is crucial as he searches for enough priests to hear the confessions of what could be one of the largest conferences in MUC history.
Burns said that some of his best days are when he is sitting in a pew with his grown sons listening to the presentations.
“Something else that I’ve drawn from the conference is that it is generally held on the first Saturday of Lent,” Burns said. “It is a great way to begin my Lenten preparation for Easter, especially since confessions are so readily available.”
Men Under Construction offers big-name speakers
Men Under Construction will host its 25th conference at Church of the Ascension Parish in Overland Park on March 5.
The day will begin with a 7:15 a.m. Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, followed by breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and the opportunity to check out vendors in the church basement. A welcome and introduction by MUC president Russ Engel will follow at 9 a.m. in the sanctuary, with longtime MUC leader and organizer Dan Spencer as emcee.
Then, author and national speaker Jim Blackburn will jump-start the lineup of speakers — highlighted by “The Passion of the Christ” actor Jim Caviezel — at 9:15 a.m. Also scheduled to speak on the conference’s theme of “A Passion for Fatherhood” are author and entrepreneur Tyler Rowley; author and national speaker Devin Schadt; and retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Dave Prather.
Lunch, during which confessions will available, will start at 11:15 a.m.
“It’s always a tremendous sight to see 1,000 men line up for confessions with the priests,” said Engel. “We truly put 45 priests to work.”
“I think the witness of the speakers is always very powerful,” said Father Tom Tank, senior associate of Holy Spirit Church in Overland Park. “But it’s primarily been about men themselves coming together and sharing.”
Tickets for the event cost $40 for adults and $20 for students under the age of 18. All are welcome. Men can register online for the event at: menunderconstruction.org/tickets. Registration will be permitted up to and including the morning of the conference.
Anyone with questions about the conference can send an email to: Hello@MenUnderConstruction.org. Church of the Ascension is located at 9510 W. 127th St. in Overland Park.