Large turnout for Marian Eucharistic Conference

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | October 8, 2014

In his address, priest shares personal testimony about mercy

GREEN BAY — More than 1,000 faithful attended the 2014 Marian Eucharistic Conference, Oct. 3-4, at the KI Convention Center. The conference, hosted by Bishop David Ricken, featured the theme, “Mary, Model of Faith and Fidelity.” Highlighting the two-day event were presentations from six renowned speakers.

Fr. Michael Gaitley addresses Marian Eucharistic Conference attendees at the KI Convention Center Oct. 4. (Rick Evans | For The Compass)
Fr. Michael Gaitley addresses Marian Eucharistic Conference attendees at the KI Convention Center Oct. 4. (Rick Evans | For The Compass)

The conference marked the first visit to the area for Fr. Michael Gaitley, director of evangelization and development for the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception in Stockbridge, Mass.

In his role as director, Fr. Gaitley has launched a pastoral initiative called “Hearts Afire: Parish-based Programs for the New Evangelization,” which has been utilized in the diocese.

He is also the author of the books “Consoling the Heart of Jesus” and “33 Days to Morning Glory.”

Mary and Divine Mercy

Fr. Gaitley, a frequent guest on EWTN, tied together Mary and the Divine Mercy in his Oct. 4 presentation. He opened his talk by discussing how Pope Francis spoke to the priests of Rome about how we have been living in the time of mercy for 30 years, instituted by Pope John Paul II.

“That’s amazing. What does that mean? Look at Romans 5:20, ‘Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.’ In a time of evil, God wants to give even greater graces,” said Fr. Gaitley. “Evil has a reach now in our modern world unlike any other time in our history of humanity. Good is not going to be outdone by evil. It’s easy to give into despair. God is saying ‘No, this is a time of mercy.’”

Fr. Gaitley gave testimony of how this really is a time of mercy through stories, many humorous, from his life.

“My testimony begins in Southern California, Orange County, where I grew up in a family that was Catholic in name, but pagan in practice,” he said. “We were baptized Catholic, but no one attended Mass. I was the first from my family to begin to attend Mass and the only reason I attended Mass is because I wanted to be a professional beach volleyball player, which makes perfect sense, right?”

Fr. Gaitley played on an elite squad that included teammates who would go on to win gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Bejing. The problem for his beach volleyball future was he was only 5’10 ½”. He attended Mass to pray that he would grow to be at least six-feet tall.

Prayed for growth spurt

“The only reason I wanted to be a beach volleyball player is so I could live this hedonistic lifestyle on the beach,” he explained, “So I said, ‘God, give me these extra inches so I can live this crazy party lifestyle.’ So it makes perfect sense. That tells you about where my faith was at the time.”

His mother started attending Mass for the right reason. She was invited to a Bible study and found a church in a rough part of Los Angeles where the “priests were on fire,” said Fr. Gaitley.

He joined his mother at the church. Conversations and guidance from the priests led to his confirmation. One day, a priest mentioned that maybe God was calling him to be a priest.

“I said, ‘No Father, I’m going to get married and raise a bunch of priests and nuns on top of it,’” he said.

Fr. Michael Gaitley, a member of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception religious order, signs copies of his book, “33 Days to Morning Glory,” for Lorena Mongin following his presentation at the Marian Eucharistic Conference. (Rick Evans | For The Compass)
Fr. Michael Gaitley, a member of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception religious order, signs copies of his book, “33 Days to Morning Glory,” for Lorena Mongin following his presentation at the Marian Eucharistic Conference. (Rick Evans | For The Compass)

A high school senior at the time, Fr. Gaitley was encouraged to attend Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. He wanted to attend UCLA. He turned to prayer, inspired by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, to make his decision. He was guided to Franciscan University, which he attended reluctantly.

Faith struggles in college

The female to male ratio at Steubenville was three to one and the women seemed to like his Southern California roots, so his attitude began to change. Fr. Gaitely did struggle with the strong faith he witnessed in classmates.

“I saw their goodness and thought there is no way I can become a saint, although that’s the meaning of life,” he said.

A book given to him about the total consecration to Jesus through Mary changed his path. The book recommended doing a 33-day consecration as the easiest and surest way to become a saint. Taken by the writings of St. Louis de Monfort, Fr. Gaitley began what he called “monk mode” where he focused on studies and prayer.

Along with a new roommate, he started what they called “Mary’s Marines” and felt the call to be a priest.

“We jumped out of bed, did our pushups, consecrated ourselves in Jesus through Mary and avoided the landmines on campus, all the girls,” he said.

Fr. Gaitley encountered struggles between pursing a vocation to the priesthood and the married life. He shared humorous stories of his friendship with a French foreign exchange student, which tested his path. He found grace in dealing with his struggles in a pamphlet on the message of the Divine Mercy, that God is attracted to us because of our weakness and suffering.

Testing God’s mercy

“I had issues in trusting God’s mercy for me, so I decided to test it out,” he said.

Fr. Gaitley’s father, who was not a man of faith, had been diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. On Divine Mercy Sunday, Fr. Gaitley prayed the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy over and over again.

“That night I called home back to Southern California,” he explained. “I said, ‘Hey Mom, how’s it going?’ She said, ‘Michael, you will never guess what happened.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘Your father went to confession.’”

His father, who was moved by an image of the Divine Mercy at church, was soon diagnosed as being cancer free.

“To this day, he is still talking about the Divine Mercy,” said Fr. Gaitley. “That was the best confirmation that the Lord could give me.

“What Jesus is saying through the Divine Mercy is just come to me as you are in your brokenness, weakness and sin. … Now is the time of mercy. There are great and extraordinary graces. We just have to ask for them.”

Following his talk, Fr. Gaitley signed books and blessed canvas versions of the Divine Mercy Vilnius image, which he brought from Stockbridge. The images are sold as part of his religious order’s ministry.

Other speakers

Award-winning author Dr. Scott Hawn kicked off the conference with a presentation on Friday evening. Other featured presenters at the conference included Mother Adela Galindo, foundress of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary; Abbot Nicholas and Fr. Maximos fo the Byzantine Monks of Holy Resurrection Monastery; Fr. Francis “Fr. Rocky” Hoffman, executive director of Relevant Radio; and Fr. Louis Guardiola of the Fathers of Mercy. The conference also included exhibitors, confession, adoration, a rosary prayer service, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and Mass. Saturday closed with a candlelight rosary procession at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.

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