Photo by James A. McBride
Don Whicker, holding rosary, facilitates The King’s Men, a national formation and accountability men’s group that has young chapters in Cherry Hill and Merchantville.
They pray the rosary, go on retreats and talk —really talk — about what it means to be a man in today’s world, a Catholic man at that, a man who loves God, bonds with other men, respects women, provides for family and believes he is called to Christian values and a relationship with God.
“They” are members of The King’s Men, a national formation and accountability men’s group that has young chapters in Cherry Hill and Merchantville.
According to the organization’s website, The King’s Men’s mission is: “Under Christ the King’s universal call to serve, we as men, pledge to unite and build up other men in the mold of leader, protector and provider through education, formation and action.”
The education aspect includes lectures open to men, women and children. The formation aspect, the heart of the organization, focuses on weekly meetings in dioceses across the country that include the four Cs: Commit, Confess, Challenge and Confirm, and sometimes men are working through issues such as addiction and are called to be accountable for their own actions by other members. The action segment includes tackling destructive elements of society, such as strip clubs and pornography. The King’s Men also focuses on healing, specifically in the areas of father-and-son relationships, sex and pornography addiction, same-sex attraction and post-abortion trauma, according to its website.
The King’s Men also hold “Into the Wild” retreats for men. Generally, they are gatherings in state parks that include the rosary, Mass, confession, spiritual direction, orienteering, outdoor cooking, fishing and more.
As for the weekly group meetings, Dave DiNuzzo, Sr., director of programming, said, “All men are welcome to attend, although we hold true to our Catholic identity. Our groups meet for approximately two hours once a week. The basic format of the meeting is group rosary; reading and discussion of a masculine spiritual resource (each group may choose which book it reads); the four Cs (our accountability portion of the meeting); and a closing prayer.” DiNuzzo is part of the national organization, which was founded by Mark Houck and Damian Wargo in 2006 and is now based in Oreland, Pa.
The first group serving the Diocese of Camden meets at Options for Women Pregnancy Care Center, Kings Highway, Cherry Hill, on Wednesdays at 7 p.m.
Don Whicker, 43, of Mt. Laurel, facilitates the small group, which includes men from their 20s through 80s.
“We focus on authentic masculinity as Christ shows us,” said Whicker, who is single and a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel, Moorestown. He noted that the members, who also see St. Joseph as an example, seek to reject a false masculinity, one that is degrading to women, focuses on violence and more.
Added Whicker, a police officer and Army veteran who said he never really knew what authentic masculinity was, “We affirm guys on their good behavior, and we’re going to certainly hold them to task also on behavior they shouldn’t be doing.”
The newest group in the region will meet at St. Peter’s Church in Merchantville. Bill Danbury, 32, a divorced father of two, is a co-leader of that group, which has about nine members.
“There’s a great need for strong men in the world, and as a divorced man I can certainly tell you Satan works through many people to make bad things happen and get in the way of the good work of God,” Danbury said. “In their core, men try to do good. When they are directed in the right way, they can do great things. When they get misdirected, they can fall apart.”
The Kings’ Men helps men do those great things, Danbury said. “It’s a support, and it’s also a way to bring men closer to God without banging them over the head. Men can turn to each other.”
Msgr. Michael Mannion, the diocesan director of community relations, is spiritual advisor for the local chapters and has participated in Into the Wild weekends, among other activities.
“I just think that it’s a great organization,” said Msgr. Mannion.
The priest knew co-founder Houck when he was a student at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in the 1990s. “He was captain of the football team, and I was chaplain. He said some day he was going to start a men’s group,” Msgr. Mannion recalled. Houck approached his old friend when he started the organization, and Msgr. Mannion offered support.
Msgr. Mannion said The King’s Men and Into the Wild focus on “supporting (men) in living up to the ideals of Christian manhood in terms of protecting, providing and leading in a strong faith context.”
He added, “Because of the structure of the experience and variety of activities and the bond of spirituality, the men become strong supports to each other to continue to better live their roles as Christian men and/or as husbands and fathers. They look at their commitment as men and their commitment to women and family through the lens of their faith. As Catholic men, especially, that lens draws them much closer to the Lord through the Scriptures, through the sacraments and through the community of the church.”
Today, the organization has 24 groups meeting weekly in 13 dioceses across 10 states. Men interested in learning more about The King’s Men can visit www.TheKingsMen.org and www.IntoTheWildWeekend.com. Those interested in joining local groups may contact Whicker at DonW3232@yahoo.com. Men interested in starting a group may contact DiNuzzo at Dave@TheKingsMen.org.