Monroe’s ‘Regular Joes’ earn international recognition for faith-sharing breakfasts

Knights of Columbus-sponsored gathering of men grows by leaps and bounds; breakfasts seeing ‘men’s faith grow right before our eyes’

MONROE — The significance of the honor didn’t fully strike Elliot Alfredson until he began hearing the roll call of awardees at the 139th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in August.

A family from Poland. Councils from cities in the Philippines and Canada. And the winner of the international Faith Program award? Knights of Columbus Council 1266 from Monroe, Mich., recognized for developing a breakfast program that has rejuvenated the faith of Catholic men in the community and injected new life into the council.

“It was incredible to experience that,” said Alfredson, a member of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Monroe who co-founded the Men’s Prayer Breakfast (MPB), which brings men together for prayer and fraternity at the Knights of Columbus Hall in downtown Monroe on the first and third Thursdays of each month.

Elliot Alfredson, one of the co-founders of Monroe Men’s Prayer Breakfast, calls the 5:45 a.m. gatherings the “gym class,” where men come to work out their faith. (Photos courtesy of the Knights of Columbus)

The lay-led ministry affectionately calls itself the “Regular Joes,” a nod both to the coffee that fuels the early-morning gatherings and the group’s lack of pretense. “We’re just regular guys who are coming together to share our faith and to grow our faith together,” Alfredson said.

“Prior to MBP, I think most men kept their faith pretty private,” he added. “They didn’t even talk to other guys they saw in church about their faith.”

The program is modeled on a successful men’s prayer breakfast sponsored by Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, which Alfredson joined after going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and attended weekly prior to moving to Monroe in 2016.

“I had it on my heart that we needed to have an MPB program here in Monroe,” he said.

A fellow parishioner suggested he speak with Deacon Mike Stewart, another person in the community with a heart for men’s ministry.

The Men’s Prayer Breakfast brings Catholic men together for faith sharing and fraternity twice a month at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Monroe.

Deacon Stewart said it was “certainly providential” when Alfredson approached him after Mass one Sunday to introduce himself and propose an idea for a new men’s ministry. Deacon Stewart had previously led a “kitchen table”-style faith sharing program for men at St. John the Baptist in Monroe, and was hoping to restart the ministry for men from St. Mary and St. John.

He traveled to Plymouth with Alfredson to attend the Men’s Prayer Breakfast at Our Lady of Good Counsel, and was inspired by what he saw. Though the program drew as many as 150-200 men a week, it was still “small table ministry,” Deacon Stewart said.

“It’s not a new formula, but it’s a really good one, because when we break guys down into smaller groups they’re willing to talk,” Alfredson said. He likes to call MPB the “gym class” where men come together to work out their faith.

The program started in Monroe in September 2019 with four men in attendance. To make it more welcoming for men from all of the parishes in Monroe and the surrounding county, the decision was soon made to move the meetings downtown to the Knights of Columbus Hall.

Monroe Council 1266 received the Faith Program award at the 139th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in August for developing a breakfast program that has rejuvenated the faith of Catholic men in the community and injected new life into the council.

The gathering starts at 5:45 a.m. and includes time for socializing, introduction of new members and prayer intentions. Small table discussions centering on a book or video series then serve as a springboard for faith sharing. They wrap up with a closing prayer and conclude promptly by 7 a.m. so attendees can head to work or other obligations.

Joe Boggs, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish, recalls thinking, “Oh man, that’s early,” when Deacon Mike first invited him to the breakfasts. Still, he decided to give it a try, and said he was surprised by the richness and depth of the conversations he encountered there. 

“These guys are guys that I go to church with, and you don’t really get to know them at a deep level by just attending Mass together,” Boggs said.

At the breakfasts, he says, the men open their hearts to one another and share their struggles freely. “The brotherhood is just amazing,” said Boggs, a regular attendee who serves as a table leader.

For Joel Whalen, sharing prayer intentions and praises is a highlight of every meeting because he says it makes him more aware of the challenges and joys that other men are experiencing and puts his own daily struggles into perspective.

The twice-monthly gatherings regularly draw dozens of men — sometimes hundreds — from all over Monroe County for faith-sharing, fellowship and a chance to meet like-minded peers.

One of the original members of the MPB, Whalen credits its growth to the leadership of Alfredson and Deacon Stewart. Elliot and Mike are special guys who really make people feel welcome and comfortable,” Whalen said.

At its pre-pandemic peak, the group had about 50 men attending regularly. When COVID-19 shut down in-person gatherings, the group shifted to virtual meetings for a few months. Last fall, they resumed meeting in person outside on the patio at the Knights of Columbus Hall, projecting videos onto the brick wall and watching the sun rise over the river. 

When it grew cold, they moved indoors with masks and social distancing, and then returned to the patio during the warmer months this year. About 30 men regularly attend meetings.

While members are not required to be Knights, the men are invited to join and the council has seen a resulting growth in membership. At one meeting alone, 18 men signed up to join Council 1266.

Alfredson said the council, of which he’s a new member, wasn’t expecting to receive recognition for the breakfasts, much less an international award sponsored by the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus. 

Among those new members was Alfredson, who felt called to become a Knight soon after starting the Men’s Prayer Breakfast. He says he particularly felt drawn to the the community service aspect of the organization, citing its fundraising efforts to help those in need through programs such as Coats for Kids and ultrasound initiatives for pregnancy centers.

Grand Knight Julian Rios said it’s been an honor for the Knights to be involved in the breakfasts, and he is grateful for the men who have connected with the organization through the program. 

“They have strengthened our membership, which in turn will allow us, as a council, to have more impact on our community,” Rios said. 

Prior to learning about the international recognition from the Knights of Columbus, Deacon Stewart said he and Alfredson were not even aware the programs nomination had gone beyond the state level. He says they were stunned and humbled by the honor, and give all the praise and thanks to God.

“We celebrated for a few minutes, and then we said, ‘Let’s get back to doing what we do,’” Deacon Stewart said.

“What’s so inspiring to me through this is watching men’s faith grow before our eyes,” he added. “It’s amazing because there’s no way that can happen without it also helping your own faith grow.”

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