Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., shakes hand with a young man as the CAC retreat comes to a close. Jeff Bruno photo
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., shakes hand with a young man as the CAC retreat comes to a close. Jeff Bruno photo
During the inaugural diocesan Catholic Athletes for Christ father-son retreat, the biggest impact may have been made by the Diocese’s shepherd, who spoke openly and emotionally about the complexities of being a son. 

After a weekend of activities focused on father-son bonding and faith-sharing, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated the closing Mass for the Jan. 25-26 retreat held in Hotel LBI, Ship Bottom. 

Photo Gallery: Catholic Athletes for Christ Father-Son Retreat

“This weekend has been about fathers and sons, about you,” the Bishop said in his homily. “For several weeks now, I have been thinking and praying about what I would say to you. I thought about my own father, long gone from this world but not from my memory. He and my mother had four sons, each very different, but a little piece of dad is in each of us, part of our make-up.” 

He continued, “He was and remains the man in my life who taught me the most. Dad taught me how to be, how to live and how not to be, how not to live. Both are important. Every father should remember that a son will follow his example more than his advice.” 

Ryan Monaco, who plays football for Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, found those words to be powerful. 

“The Bishop had a lot of emotion when he spoke about his relationship with his father and the importance of the bond between father and son. This was a special side of the Bishop that we rarely get to see,” said Monaco, a member of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square.  

Tom McCaffrey, whose son Dominic plays baseball and football for St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, noted that at the end of the homily, memorabilia coins were given out to each father and son, and that when the Bishop received his, he looked toward heaven and said, “This one’s for you, thank you so much.” 

“That impacted me a little bit, because I know I’m not going to have my dad forever,” Dominic McCaffrey said. “So it made me think about how I have to treat every day like it is our last, because you never know when it could all end.”  

The Mass culminated a weekend full of activities and conferences, featuring speakers such as Christian singer-songwriter Steve Angrisano; former Philadelphia Eagles football player and broadcaster Kevin Reilly, who lost his left arm and five ribs to cancer, and retired U.S. Marine Capt. Mike Walsh.  

Around 175 fathers and sons gathered to forge a stronger relationship or just enjoy spending time with each other while sharing their faith with others.   

The two-day retreat was organized by Father Jason M. Parzynski, CAC chaplain and diocesan vocations director, and Coach John McKenna of Notre Dame High School, who is the diocesan CAC moderator. The two spent six months planning the event at the glistening new hotel, which is owned by Notre Dame High School alumnus Chris Vernon. The Bishop praised all three for making the retreat possible and the attendees welcomed the opportunity.  

“I was intrigued by the fact I could just have alone time with my kid – it’s a really a big thing,” said Ken Monaco, Ryan’s father, explaining that sometimes “society and people are so busy [that] you don’t get to sit and spend time and ask those questions and listen about what’s really important in his [your son’s] life, and where are your values and where are your morals? What can I do to help you be better, and what can you do to help me be better?” 

He continued: “You put your technology away for a few days; you’re not on your cell phone all the time. You’re listening to good speakers – some people who made a difference in other people’s lives.” 

Tom McCaffrey, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish, Spotswood, is already planning to return next year with Dominic.  

“I think any father who has a teenage son should do something like this with them at least once, he said. “You really get to know your son, like you never thought you did before. You find your son really opens up to you, and you as well with them. I'm still overwhelmed by it.” 

The sons had similar feelings.  

Notre Dame football player Ryan McCabe, who is a St. Gregory the Great parishioner but also attends Assumption Church of St. Isidore the Farmer Parish, New Egypt, said, “This experience strengthened my relationship with my father because it was a good time to relax, slow down, enjoy life and each other's company.”

He also enjoyed a stronger relationship with his Lord.

“I learned that you can have a spiritual life and strengthen a relationship with God by doing the small good deeds first,” McCabe said.  

Ryan Monaco noted that a high school senior can get so overwhelmed between school, sports and college applications, that sometimes the relationship with his father may suffer. 

“This retreat reminded me of how important it is to set aside time to spend with my dad,” he said. “Getting to play games like dodge ball between fathers and sons was so great. It really made me happy to see my dad having fun. You always know your dad is there for you, but the retreat reminded me of how much love there is between fathers and sons.” 

Dominic McCaffrey felt that a 45-minute question-and-answer between each father and his son made an impact. “I took away the importance of having a good father figure in your life.”

The speakers also made their presence felt. Dom McCaffrey was impressed by Capt. Walsh, who “taught me to not take the little things for granted.”

McCabe and the Monacos said they were touched by Reilly’s cancer story and witness.

“When he spoke about his life journey, his ups and downs, and stories of others who shared similar struggles, it set in my mind that the only limits in life are those set by ourselves, and we can always exceed the expectations of others,” McCabe said.