|Jim O'Day, Chairman of the Georgia Catholic Men's Conference and President of Heroic Media|
This is the fourth article in the
Inside the Apostle series.
December 23, 2011. Some of the best lessons in life
come in the form of a reality check, a slap
in the face that jolts us out of our usual
routine and makes us take a closer look at our
values and priorities.
For Jim O’Day, two powerful “reality
checks” have set him on a path of apostleship to
other Catholic men, with a sense of mission to help
them recover authentic manhood based on fidelity to God, conscience,
O’Day’s first powerful reality check came on his 21st
birthday, when his girlfriend told him, “Jim, I’m pregnant.”
Like many young, unmarried couples facing an unplanned pregnancy,
they were scared and overwhelmed. It was time to face
consequences and make some big decisions. Feeling the need for
male guidance, Jim turned to his dad, whom he had
rarely seen since his parents’ divorce 19 years before. He
also called his uncles.
All of them
without exception told him, “Get an abortion.” And all of
them offered to pay for it.
of that advice, Jim and Kim decided to keep the
baby and get married. Twenty-five years later, they are still
together. Their daughter Jessica, now engaged and a teacher in
a Catholic school, has long been the pride and joy
of her grandfather, who fell in love with her from
the moment he saw her.
A second reality
check came some years later, while O’Day was working as
the Vice-President of Sales and Marketing at a major defense
contractor. He was successful at work, the family seemed to
be doing fine, and he was generally well liked.
One evening, he and his boss Bernie were
celebrating a major deal they had just secured for the
company. Out of the blue, Bernie looked at him and
said, “God is telling me to talk to you.”
“I guarantee, I rolled my eyes,” recalled Jim.
But Bernie’s message was far from warm fuzzies.
It was a slap in the face.
you’re not a good husband, you’re not a good father,
and you’re not a good Catholic,” said Bernie, arguing that
life is about relationships, and that a salesman who is
on the road all the time is not being a
good husband to his wife or a good father to
his children. He may be providing materially for them, but
if he is not connected and attentive, he is not
cultivating the relationships that sustain the marriage and hold the
Likewise, argued Bernie, a Catholic
who never makes time for God in prayer is not
really a friend of God at all. Relationships take time
and effort, and these important relationships are the backbone of
everything important in our lives. Without them, everything becomes hollow.
Shocked, O’Day got defensive and argumentative. But
Bernie didn’t budge. Later that night, in the quiet of
the hotel room, O’Day found a Gideon’s Bible tucked away
in the night table drawer. For the first time since
high school, he flipped it open, looking for some kind
“I read all of Romans,
knelt down, and sobbed for two hours,” he recalled. Although
someone looking in from the outside would not have considered
him a major sinner, he knew in his conscience that
by his choices, he was gradually leading his life and
his family away from God.
home and talked to his wife, and together they decided
to go to attend Sunday Mass again, and O’Day returned
to the sacrament of confession after a long time.
“That was the beginning of the journey we’re
on now,” said O’Day.
Because Bernie cared
about him enough to risk calling him to a higher
standard of godliness, he was given a golden opportunity to
reexamine his priorities and set things right. And having received
that gift from Bernie, he wanted to extend it to
other Catholic men.
men to conversion
After coming back to the
Church, O’Day began to realize how many of his ideas
about manhood were based on the wrong models.
“They weren’t based on the truth or God’s plan
for my life, but on Hollywood characters that are not
real,” he said. “I think many men go through that.”
In fact, observed O’Day, one of the biggest
challenges for men in our times is the lack of
role models to show the way to authentic manhood.
“There has been a huge, gradual demasculinization of
men, to the point that we’re supposed to be exactly
like women and women are supposed to be exactly like
us. God didn’t make us that way,” he said.
Men’s concerns are different from women’s, and there
are not enough all-men’s forums to discuss issues that men
face in a particular way. O’Day’s goal was to provide
those spaces and opportunities, and to let the Holy Spirit
do his work.
“It’s about giving men the
opportunity to get together and address specific men’s issues, like
pornography, ethics in the workplace, being a father and not
just a provider… The speakers really address those issues, and
we try to have a combination of clergy to speak
from the perspective of the Church and then laymen to
say how to put it all into practice,” he said.
Each year’s theme is different, but the overall
purpose is the same from year to year: conversion.
“We all need it,” said O’Day. “As men, we
need it constantly if we are going to lead our
families. If at the end of the day we believe
we have the responsibility to lead those God has given
us to heaven, then we’d better be prepared for continual
conversion, and we need God’s mercy for that.”
The gift of a second chance
The first ever men’s conference was held in Connecticut, where
O’Day was living at the time.
an organizational nightmare. A lot of logistics went haywire and
O’Day was on the point of vowing never to put
himself through that again.
As he stood
by the entrance, he saw an older man sobbing and
hurrying to the door to leave the conference.
Thinking someone had offended the man, he ran after him
and told him, “I’m so sorry you’re upset. If you
want your money back...”
“You don’t understand,” interrupted
the man. “I’m going home to kiss my wife. I’m
He had gone to confession again after
40 years away from the Church and was so elated
that he couldn’t wait to get home and share the
Floored, O’Day decided that that conference
was well worth the logistical hassles. That first year, 1,000
men attended, and 1,300 came back the next year. After
moving to Atlanta, O’Day organized the conference in Georgia for
the first time last year, with 350 men attending. The
organizers are expecting 700 for this year.
“It’s a message that men need to hear,” said Jim.
“We get all focused on making money and taking care
of our families, but this is the most important thing
we can do for our families.”
case, a fallen-away Catholic decided to attend the men’s conference
after receiving a flyer from a Korean woman at the
dry-cleaner’s. He had left the Church 30 years ago and
was serving as a Baptist minister. After going through years
of spiritual dryness, he had been pleading with God for
a sign, praying, “God, I know you exist, but I
don’t feel you anymore. Give me a sign.”
He wasn’t exactly sure why he attended the conference—the
Korean woman had simply handed him the flyer—but he wanted
to be open.
At the conference, he
got the sign: a tremendous call to his conscience to
return to the Catholic Church. While there, he met the
archbishop, who laid hands on him and said, “I can’t
wait to welcome you back.”
“Men don’t like
to cry in front of each other, but there were
a lot of tears,” recalled O’Day.
Atlanta conference, a gentleman approached O’Day with a story about
a new beginning.
your Bernie spoke to me ten years ago and I
didn’t do anything about it. I wasted those ten years,”
said the man. “The only reason you did this conference
was for me, because God is giving me another chance.”
In addition to the conferences, O’Day has also
helped organize a series of one-day events to bring men
together, such as the recent father-son mission trip to the Angola State Prison in Louisiana.
“We try to offer opportunities to step out of
the box because we all get stuck into our normal
routines, and when we get out of those routines, that’s
when God can really speak to us, guide us, and
help us,” he said.
And that, for O’Day,
is what it’s all about: giving men the chance to
hear God’s voice and to know how to respond on
the practical level as Catholics, husbands, fathers, and ultimately, as
In addition to his apostolic
work as Chairman of the Georgia Catholic Men’s Conference, Jim
O’Day works as President of Heroic Media, a faith-based non-profit organization that runs
television, radio, internet, and billboard advertisements to help women in
crisis pregnancies get in touch with local pro-life pregnancy resource