By Jeff Grant
The Catholic Sun

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s challenge to Catholic men to “build fraternity with other Catholic men,” in his apostolic exhortation “Into the Breach” was met during the national conference for Phi Kappa Theta, a Catholic fraternity.

The conference, dubbed “Quo Vadis” — Latin for “where are you going?” — was held in Phoenix and centered on inspiring and motivating participants to community service through a competition to come up with a plan for improving life in one of 18 areas, such as education, access to clean water, job creation, reducing hunger and a number of others.

“Our charge for our men — it is serving others because of our Catholic history,” explained Phi Kappa Theta’s executive vice president Robert Riggs.

To that end, the Aug. 4-6 conference was intended to give fraternity chapters direction while reinforcing the organization’s vision for future members.

“Fraternities have such a negative image. We are trying to set ourselves as being different,” said national president Larry Dorocke, a Purdue University alumnus.

The organization has 48 chapters on campuses throughout the United States, from large public universities to small state institutions. A total of 95 participants represented 37 chapters at “Quo Vadis.” The chapter at Arizona State University is among the newest, having been formed last year and installed in May on the Tempe campus.

Zach Blomberg, the ASU chapter president, said he would not normally consider joining a fraternity but when he learned about Phi Kappa Theta’s emphasis on community service projects, he decided it was an experience that would blend in well with his Catholic faith. Blomberg said a theme in Bishop Olmsted’s message is right in line with the ideals espoused by PKT.

“(The) section about fraternal connection almost could double as a pitch to join the fraternity, it’s so applicable to PKT, especially with our more Catholic potential new members,” Blomberg noted.

“Friendship among men has a dramatic impact on their faith lives. Men who have bonds of brotherhood with other Catholic men pray more, go to Mass and Confession more frequently, read the Scriptures more often, and are more active in the Faith,” Bishop Olmsted wrote in the exhortation.

Helping young men keep their faith is an important component for Dorocke, who practices law in Indianapolis.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it. If you don’t get the youth involved, you’re not going to have a Church. If you don’t cultivate your youth to become interested in religion, what’s going to happen? The old people are going to pass away, and that’s going to be the end of it,” he said.

The conference began with participants signing up to promote the social program of their choice. Damian Gallagher, president of PKT’s chapter at New York’s Hofstra University, led a group proposing creating a partnership with local businesses to encourage poor children to acquire a trade or skill. It used existing efforts as a model including one the chapter implemented some time ago in New York in which it teamed up with a local pizzeria to arrange visits for youngsters interested in cooking.

“It is usually through a lack of education or training in trades or interest that prevents kids from getting out of the poverty cycle. This gets kids more engaged and improving their grades by getting them away from the computer screen,” Gallagher pointed out.

The 21-year-old York, Pennsylvania native who plans to enter law school said that the Kids Achievement Program is just part of a larger opportunity at PKT to live out his faith.

“In college, some people grow out of their religion because they don’t feel it’s cool or it’s normal to have that ‘devout feeling’ anymore. When we founded this (chapter), I really became so much closer to my faith, and I really do want to empower the world through Catholic values, nonprofit work, volunteering my time.”

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