World Youth Day’s top volunteer had time of life

Of the nearly 1,250 hours he spent volunteering for Denver’s World Youth Day, Mike Egan doesn’t regret one minute.

His task to find housing for thousands of young pilgrims traveling to the Mile High City in August 1993 was “a great privilege.”

“In reflection, its right up there with the things I’m most proud of,” said 82-year-old Egan at his home in Aurora.

His enormous task earned him the title of volunteer with the greatest number of hours served for the 1993 event.

James ‘Mike’ Egan of Queen of Peace Parish was picked for the spot after he responded to an ad in the Denver Catholic Register. The retired Air Force soldier’s mission was to find, inspect and coordinate with local cities and fire departments in setting up places for youths to stay.

Demands were high and time was short. Egan eventually quit his job at a travel agency to focus on his task, he said.

He has more than a few stories to share.

During the anticipatory months before the World Youth Day led by Pope John Paul II, Egan and the housing crew left no rock unturned in seeking suitable places. They scoured the city for hotels, apartment buildings, parking garages, empty warehouses and gymnasiums that were suitable and code-compliant.

Even the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo’s stockyards in downtown Denver became the overnight stay for massive numbers.

The sisters running Mullen Home for the Aged in Denver offered their expansive lawn for youths needing a place. When Egan asked the mother superior at the time what would happen if it rained, she replied, “We’ll let St. Joseph worry about it,” he said.

Egan encountered the generosity of the Greek Orthodox community who offered their homes. He also dealt with hotel swindlers trying to charge foreigners higher rates.

He and his crew also set rows of cots and lockers inside a parking garage on the Auraria Campus. Other youths slept in church pews, some in the posh downtown Park Avenue West Apartments.

Once World Youth Day began, Egan helped to keep track of youths.

“There was a crisis with lost kids,” he said.

All were eventually found.

The most memorable moment was watching the pope from the sixth row with his wife, June, and two youngest children, at Cherry Creek State Park.

It was a once in a lifetime experience.

“I’ve been very blessed, very blessed,” Egan said with tears and a little chuckle. “I’m just grateful, and occasionally emotional, to have had the opportunity.”

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.