Across the country and around the world, over 20,000 men attend the That Man Is You! at their local parish. Developed in 2001, the program has spread across the country and around the world, with over 150 new parishes signed up to launch the program this coming fall. While the program is changing men’s hearts, minds and even their lives, Steve Bollman, founder of Paradisus Dei ministry and developer of the men’s program, wanted to take men’s ministry one step further this year.

“We need something to help men to enter more deeply into that spirituality,” explained Steve, who has seen this need for a few years. Through prayer and thoughtful discernment, Steve decided to run a men’s retreat at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The university was the perfect venue for such a retreat, as it has a connection to the Marian apparitions at Lourdes, with a life-size replica of the grotto. “The spiritual side of Notre Dame ties to Lourdes,” explained Steve.

Through a novena to the Holy Spirit, the format and type of retreat was inspired. “What we did at the retreat was very unique,” shared Steve. There were some challenges with the retreat: how to bring the spirituality of Lourdes to a little town in the Midwest and the Sacred Heart basilica being closed were just a few of the obstacles the team faced. “But with God, all things are possible,” Steve declared with faith.

Steve even continued to say that the close of the basilica might have even been God helping with the retreat. It allowed the Lourdes experience and grotto to become more critical, Steve explained. Additionally, the small chapel where they had Mass was packed with men; in the large basilica, it would not have been so. “The men got to feel the intimacy and the power of the men together.”

Despite any additional hiccups that may have occurred, Steve said that the biggest feedback he received from the 128 attendants of the retreat was that it “was the best retreat of my life.” The men were able to walk away with a “spiritual plan of life” to change their spiritual lives.

Mark Hartfiel, vice president of formation and program management, tag-teamed with Steve on the talks and presentations throughout the retreat. While Steve took the men to spiritual heights, Mark wished to present a strategic approach to the spiritual life. However, the first step required a personal meeting with Christ. “The beginning of the spiritual life is an encounter with Christ, and in that encounter, Christ places holy desires in your heart.”

Mark presented the men with an analogy to emphasize the importance of a plan in the spiritual life. Like there are thousands of great business ideas, only a few become successful. “A business without a plan won’t be fruitful; we say the same for the spiritual life.”

To present a spiritual plan of life to the men, Steve and Mark presented six talks, covering the topics of rediscovering one’s thirst for holy desires, the various aspects and struggles in the spiritual life, and encountering Christ and His Mother.

In the spirit of bringing Lourdes to the retreat, all of these topics had a unique tie to Our Lady. On Friday night, the men processed to the grotto to dedicate their holy desire to Mary. The men had the opportunity to drink water from the grotto in Lourdes, France. On Saturday, the men presented their faults to their Heavenly Mother by placing them in a prayer box at the grotto and washing themselves in Lourdes water. Mark emphasized the importance of treating these faults as one’s “enemies”. “These are enemies to the spiritual life,” explained Mark. “Your fight is not against yourself but your enemies,” he continued, emphasizing that a person should not turn against himself. “Don’t go to war wounded with self-inflictions,” Mark exhorted.

After presenting their faults to Mary, the men learned how to build a spiritual plan of life. This might have presented a challenge, as each man has a unique spiritual life. Steve and Mark tackled this challenge by presenting four ficticious men and analyzing their various lifestyles. By the end of it, Mark said, each man knew what they needed to do in their own spiritual lives. “Wherever you are in your spiritual life,” Mark said, quoting a phrase often used by Steve and within the Paradisus Dei ministry, “Jesus Christ wants to meet you there and take you further.”

The men processed with candles to the grotto a final time to consecrate their lives to the Blessed Mother. Mark explained to the men the importance of “loving Mary as Christ loved her.” “Don’t be afraid of loving Mary too much,” Mark had encouraged the men. Mark shared a quote from his 8-year-old daughter, who once said “there is no such thing as too much love.”

As the men walked away, saying the words “the best retreat I’ve ever attended”, Steve was confident that the men encountered Christ and Mary, and that the goal of the retreat was achieved. “I wanted them to rediscover their thirst for God, which I think they did in a tangible way.”