Men’s Welcome Retreat at St. Stephen draws 31 for weekend of talks, more

By Brendan Jennings

Thirty-one Christian men got together for a Men’s Welcome Retreat on the St. Stephen Parish campus in Chattanooga on the weekend of May 4-5 to talk about how to build closer relationships with God, their families, and other men in their community.

Nine presenters each gave their own personal witness about how Christ influenced their lives in 10 sessions that were followed by small-group discussions, time for the sacrament of reconciliation, and an evening Mass. Each of the presenters is a St. Stephen parishioner, including Deacon Dave Waguespack, who provided his own witness on reconciliation.

The retreat followed the guidelines of Matthew Kelly’s “Welcome” program offered through his Dynamic Catholic organization. Discussion areas included such topics as renewal, spirituality, Scripture, reconciliation, the Eucharist, discipleship, and more.

The presenting team worked since the end of last year’s men’s retreat in May to form into a close-knit, prayerful team to develop witness presentations, purchase materials, and organize the retreat.

Since more than half of the attendees were Spanish speakers, there was some concern about communication.

“We wanted everyone to feel welcome and not excluded from any discussion,” said Zach Germann, the retreat’s formation leader. “We wanted to take the opportunity to strengthen the bond between our groups.”

Matt Lubaway, one of the witnesses/presenters and formation leader for last year’s men’s retreat, agreed. “Since we prepared every speech with a translation and had a Spanish translator for most situations, we heard accolades and heartfelt comments from nearly everyone. Communication did not turn out to be much of a problem at all.”

Leo Juarez-Perez served as the key interpreter between the two languages spoken throughout the retreat and helped keep the retreat on schedule.

“It was beautiful seeing two communities coming together for the same purpose,” he said.

Father Manuel Pérez, St. Stephen pastor, strongly encourages parishioners to participate in these retreats.

“We are all about building a community of faithful while helping to form stronger lay leaders,” he said. “There are too few priests and deacons to do all the work God wants us to do. That’s why we’re preparing a separate women’s retreat this fall and will continue with both groups going forward.”

Besides building a closer community, another benefit from the retreat was the opportunity it afforded men in the parish to get to know their fellow parishioners more directly.

“For me, it was great to put names to faces of ones I never talk to,” said Thomas Minchew, one of the presenters and welcome-team members. “I know I created more friends there. I was able to communicate with some of our English-speaking Hispanic brothers. It felt like the spiritual retreat I was going after.”

For presenter Dave Pestillo, it was an opportunity to turn off his busy phone and just live in the moment.

“It was a wonderful, spirit-filled and ‘disconnected’ weekend away with a bunch of other Christian men all striving to be the best versions of themselves!” he said.

Church and lay leaders will now dive into organizing next year’s men’s retreat while supporting the upcoming retreat for women.

For more information on men’s and women’s retreats at St. Stephen, e-mail 

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