When you picture a group of lay people gathered to pray or discuss matters of faith and if your experiences are similar to mine, you may picture a group with more women than men. I have attended quite a few prayer/scripture study groups where I was the only man present.
It's not surprising. Women tend to be very good at gathering and communicating. Book clubs, wedding showers and baby showers are clear evidence of that. It only makes sense that women might show up in greater numbers to talk about faith as well.
But what about the men? Do they have something to say? It's true that men gather more often to do things (like hunting, fishing, or golf) than just to talk. But they still make up an important part of a faith community, and, if asked, they too have a story to tell.
That assumption was the genesis for this article. Two men from St. Mary's--David Arcand and Brian Bonin--recently took time to share stories about their faith in Jesus Christ. Chances are, you have seen them around church, serving in various special ministries or simply in attendance at mass. They do a lot for the parish, usually without saying a word, but they had plenty to say once they were asked.
David: How can I keep from singing?
David Arcand has been personally connected to St. Mary's parish for nearly half a century, having been confirmed at the church during the 1968-69 school year; his extended family goes back much further. He is active at St. Mary's in many ways, including as a lector, Eucharistic minister and musician.
Dave and his wife Lynn raised two sons. Their oldest, Steve, lives in Littleton, Colorado, with wife Erin and children Nora (7), Henry (4), and Juniper (born on August 23). Their youngest, Christopher, lives in White Bear Township with wife Emily and six-month-old son Eliot. "The grandparent gig is really sweet!" Dave is quick to point out.
Many influences, all leading to Jesus
John Tibbits, Dave's Tomahawk Boy Scout Camp counselor and World War II vet, played an important role in his personal development. As Dave describes it, "Our group of boys learned to lead in a week. He stressed that if you lead, people will follow you--but only if your behavior is worthy of leadership."
Mr. Tibbits influenced young David in another important way: "He taught me that it was manly to sing. As he put it, 'Everyone here has a voice, and everyone here can sing and will sing.'" Dave and the troop sang so much, he says, that "Our troop leaders complained that they sent us off for leadership training and we came back a quartet!" Back at school, Dave joined the high school choir shortly thereafter, and today he is active in two different liturgical singing groups at St. Mary's: Charis and the full adult choir.
George Smith, a coach who is a legend to those familiar with Mahtomedi High School athletics, was also a positive influence. Dave fondly recalls Coach Smith's pre-game and halftime pep talks, especially the part at the end where he said, "Gentlemen, take a knee." The coach would then lead the team in prayer "that we each would do our best, and with integrity befitting responsible young men."
David's work experience as a singing waiter at Farrell's ice cream parlor (readers who are sufficiently long in the tooth will recall these establishments) also played a role in his faith journey. "Most of my long-term friends are from Farrell's and came from Bethel or Northwestern (just down the road from the parlor). We would stay up till 4 AM, discussing our perspectives." Thanks to these conversations, David describes himself as "uninhibited when it comes to a discussion of my faith, or engaging in conversational prayer in a group."
Denise, a woman from a past relationship ("This was LBL: Life Before Lynn!" he points out) also influenced David's development as a Christian. He was in his twenties, questioning his faith, and finding the teachings of the church too confining. "Denise was always happy. Our dates typically ended with us discussing philosophy. We began to pray together."
The last time Dave saw Denise, she was preparing to drive back to her family home in Colorado in a VW Bug with no radio. Dave asked how she could stand such a long, silent drive. Her smiling answer has stayed with him all these years: "I sing to God." David recalls, "I saw the difference Jesus had made in her life and how simple life's answers could be when placed in God's hands. I committed to living as a child of God. Like Bartimaeus (Mark 10), my eyes were opened, and the first thing I saw was the face of Jesus. I never saw Denise again, but how can I keep from singing?"
Today: "I follow Jesus Christ"
These days, Dave and Lynn are enjoying life as empty nesters--balancing work, church activity, scripture study (through Community Bible Study), and frequent visits to the children and grandchildren in Minnesota and Colorado. As for his career, he comments, "I love what I do and the company that I have served for the last 23 years, but the older I get the less important my method of making a living seems. I guess I know now that all work is honorable if it provides service and benefit to others."
He adds, "I have occasionally started answering those questions with what is most important. What am I? A child of GOD. A forgiven sinner. What do I do? I follow Jesus Christ."
Brian: Mr. Hockey
Brian Bonin has very deep roots in White Bear Lake and especially at St. Mary's. In fact, he has lived here for all of his 43 years, and he has received all of his sacraments at St. Mary's. Brian is married to Rachel, and they have three sons: Ben (16), Brendan (13), and Jude (11). Brian enjoys reading, lakes, and visiting small towns, and he works at SportsEngine, a sports technology company in Minneapolis.
Readers who associate Brian with hockey are right on track. He has competed at the high school, college, and professional levels, racking up numerous honors along the way, including Mr. Hockey (top Minnesota high school player) and the Hobey Baker award (top college player in the nation). As a pro, Brian played for numerous teams, including the Minnesota Wild. These days, Brian's hockey involvement is more in the area of coaching. (Reporter's note: When interviewed, Brian was too modest to mention all of his accolades; I dug them up from the internet. On a personal note, he's my first-ever interview subject who has a Wikipedia page!)
The path to our Lord
Beyond hockey, Brian is a man of faith and influenced by many people-including his family. The first people he credits for his formation as a Christian are his parents, Phil and Molly. "They introduced me to the faith. This led me to choose the Catholic faith as an adult." His wife, Rachel has also been instrumental in his faith journey. "She is the kindest, most loyal person I have ever met. She has been my example and my rock. I really feel I would be a lost soul without her. It's so crucial who we choose to be our spouse; the Lord placed Rachel in my life, and then I made a great choice."
As a professional hockey player, Brian had an opportunity to witness his faith to a teammate, and this experience had a significant effect on Brian as well. "I'm not sure how good my explanations were, but what I gained was a whole list of questions that I myself needed to answer. It was simple logic to me, the same logic I apply today. That logic, along with the history and teachings of the Church, make the path to our Lord quite straightforward." However, he cautions with a smile, "Please don't mistake a straight path for an easy one."
Effort put in = what I get out
A solid foundation is important, but Brian also recognizes the importance of continued commitment. "My faith has grown in recent years, much due to resources available through the Church and in the marketplace. You can read, listen, or watch just about anything, and I have found some amazing people and stories that only reinforce the faith through simple logic. Meeting with people each Sunday isn't enough. I am now much better prepared to receive our Lord; now the effort put in equals what I get out. I feel I am finally responding to God's grace."
And on Sundays: "Mass, no matter where the church is. The opportunity to return each week to our Lord in the readings and the Eucharist, and to be around persons that have dedicated their lives to our Lord, is truly a gift."
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, "Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words." Brian Bonin and David Arcand are two men of faith from our parish who you are unlikely to see preaching from the lectern very often, but through their actions, they both find ways in their daily lives to witness to their faith in Jesus Christ. We at St. Mary's are fortunate to have them, along with so many other intentional disciples, in our midst.