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A passion for the gospel

Legate Deacon Larry Oney fosters evangelization and entrepreneurship in Uganda . . .

Deacon Larry Oney

Deacon Larry Oney

Deacon Larry Oney believes that proclaiming the Gospel shouldn’t be limited to the pulpit — something he backs up with words and actions.

A member of Legatus’ New Orleans Chapter with his wife Andi since 2002, Oney is renowned far beyond Louisiana for his dynamic preaching and fearless defense of the faith.

Humble beginnings

In February, Oney traveled to Africa where he gave a day-long retreat for members of the Ugandan parliament and the president’s cabinet, which was then under fire from President Barack Obama for supporting a bill criminalizing same-sex “marriages” and imposing life imprisonment for repeated homosexual acts. (The bill passed despite Obama’s empty threat of yanking U.S. aid to the impoverished, heavily Catholic country.)

“Evangelization is my passion,” says Oney, 57, father of five. Pursuing this passion in a big way, however, would be impossible without significant personal means: He is chairman and CEO of Hammerman & Gainer, Inc., which provides third-party administrative management, business process outsourcing, and project management services.

“Business can be a tool, arrows in the quiver of the Lord,” says Oney. “We see that in scripture with men of means like Joseph of Arimathea. He used his influence and wealth to help the Lord. This goes straight to the heart of Legatus: Catholics who can support many initiatives, not in a loud, boastful way, but strong and silent — and deepen their own faith through the fellowship and mutual support that Legatus provides.”

oney-1Oney has come a long way from growing up unchurched in Louisiana’s Protestant north, another state altogether compared to the deeply Catholic south, home to five of Legatus’ most vibrant chapters.

“We had 11 kids in my family — Catholic-sized, but not Catholic,”

Oney laughs. He was always a believing Christian, but came into the Church 30 years ago. He was later introduced to Legatus by Danny Abramowicz, the legendary football star and co-host of EWTN’s Crossing the Goal.

Being on fire with the faith eventually enkindled Oney’s vocation as a permanent deacon, which in turn led to many more opportunities to preach and give retreats throughout the country. (He was ordained five years ago.) Realizing the limitations of a one-man show, he recently founded Hope and Purpose Ministries to expand the New Evangelization through a host of media initiatives and collaborations.

Faith and works

Underscoring the fact that the world is small when love is large, Oney attended Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans with a young Ugandan seminarian recruited for priestly service in Louisiana’s Houma-Thibodaux diocese.

When now-Fr. Simon Peter Engurait was about to be ordained in 2012, he mentioned to Oney his consternation that members of his family wanted to attend but were unable to do so because of the cost.

oney-2“Without skipping a beat, he said he would talk to his wife about hosting them, which they did — all five of them, including putting them up in their home,” Fr. Engurait said.

Today, the priest is deeply moved that Oney is focusing so much attention on the needs of his fellow Catholics back home in what he calls “the Pearl of Africa”— needs material as well as spiritual.

“The conviction with which Deacon Oney preaches and shares the Good News is deeply inspirational and transformative,” says Fr. Engurait. But he also draws attention to that famous passage in the Letter of St. James: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

When Oney traveled to Uganda earlier this year to speak and preach, he noticed not only the spiritual richness of the people, but their material poverty. Oney moved quickly to establish a bank to give micro-loans to Ugandans whose capacity to evangelize is hampered by economic insecurity.

“Like many developing countries, Uganda has a lot of unexploited or under-exploited economic opportunities,” says Fr. Engurait. “One of the key inhibiting factors is lack of financing — pure lack or prohibitively high lending rates and terms. So this micro- banking initiative to support income-generating activities is a significant effort in meeting people’s needs for a better livelihood.”

Oney has already secured over $50,000 in loans to Ugandans, averaging $1,000. (Given the exchange rate and comparative poverty of Uganda, this would equal about $1.32 million in America.) Most of the recipients are 16 couples associated with the Emmaus Center, a focal point of charismatic Catholicism in Uganda.

The people in this community want to evangelize, Oney notes,  “but they need to feed their families.” Starting small enterprises  with secure outlooks — raising chickens to sell the eggs, for example — presents “a ridiculous return on investment.” Oney is working  on formalizing this loan process, which provides “a leg-up, not a hand-out.”

“Like Legatus, this is faith in action and entrepreneurism. If they’re successful, they can become lenders, too, not just borrowers. The expectation is that these little businesses will grow and they’ll pay the money back.”

Countering materialism

Ralph Martin

Ralph Martin

This summer Oney will visit Uganda a second time, not only to check up on the loan recipients, but to speak at the first International Leaders Conference of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal to be held on the African continent. Others sharing the podium at the June 30- July 12 event include Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Oney describes the meeting’s aim as strengthening participants in their personal faith and spiritual lives while teaching them the leadership skills and techniques necessary to evangelize effectively.

Renewal Ministries, led by its founder Ralph Martin, has worked in Uganda for about 20 years, hosting retreats, meeting with local prelates, and focusing on catechetical training and resources to counteract the challenges of Pentecostals. Renewal Ministries arranged Oney’s February retreat for Ugandan members of parliament — a regular activity enjoyed by the leaders of this strongly Catholic country.

Martin, a member of Legatus’ Ann Arbor Chapter, says Oney’s impact in Africa has been impressive, “partly due to the fact that Africans are perhaps more receptive to an African-American. One of the major challenges we’re encountering there is the mindset of Western materialism that’s trying to conquer the globe. This underscores the necessity to advance and deepen Catholic evangelization efforts.”

As for Deacon Larry Oney, he notes that material concerns can be valid, and if validly addressed, nurture the spiritual life. Materialism, on the other hand, “puts Mammon in the place of God altogether.”

MATTHEW A. RAREY is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

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The crisis of fatherhood

Why men must step up and change the culture soon or we will all pay the price . . .

Last summer, Anders Breivik shocked the world when he killed 77 people in Norway. Abandoned by his father when he was one year old, the self-confessed terrorist and mass murderer has something in common with some of the most famous killers in human history: Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Billy the Kid, and Charles Manson, to name a few. They all grew up in fatherless homes.

Fatherless homes not only breed killers, but addiction and drug abuse, poor academic and job performance, low self-esteem, and a myriad of other social and physical problems. Unfortunately, children who live with their father and mother in the United States today are a minority (48%) compared to 1950 when 78% of all Americans had both parents in the home.

Responding to the crisis

Denver Legate Curtis Martin — who founded the Fellowship of Catholic University Students — has a unique perspective on fatherlessness. His missionaries live on 60 U.S. college campuses and hear firsthand about the effects of missing dads.

“It’s pandemic,” he said. “The woundedness of men and women from fatherlessness is probably one of the unique stories of our generation. They’ve grown up without dads or had little attention from them. When this happens, they fail to see the complimentarity of the genders, and [they are more likely to] engage in a self-indulgent lifestyle.”

In April, Martin spoke at a southern college. After his talk, he strolled across campus and saw hundreds of drunk college kids wandering about — and women who were “dressed to kill.”

“Three generations ago — in our grandparents’ era — people may have drunk too much at college, but there was not much promiscuity,” he said. “The next generation, people who are parents now, went to college and also saw drinking and a little bit more promiscuity. Today’s kids have sex without being in relationships. The average college campus is a death spiral.”

Jason Free

Author and speaker Jason Free knows that predicament firsthand. He grew up with a distant father, but by God’s grace found healing by embracing his Catholic faith in college. The problem, he contends, is that most men don’t know how to be good fathers.

“They haven’t been properly taught,” Free explained. “How do men grow up to be great businessmen or baseball players? They are mentored and coached. As with anything, you can have natural gifts — but you need mentoring and coaching.”

The author of Parenting on Purpose: 7 Ways to Raise Terrific Christian Kids, Free says fathers who grew up without a role model should seek out a mentor. But unfortunately, he said, most men don’t make fatherhood a priority but get caught up in their own interests or career.

“The only purpose of having a job is to fund your vocation — which is to be a husband and father,” Free said. “That’s your primary purpose in life. Some people think that being a husband and father gets in the way of their work life. But they’ve got to flip that around. You need to find ways to prevent your work from being all-consuming so the cycle can be stopped.”

Changing hearts

Pope Benedict XVI recognized the crisis of fatherhood 12 years ago when he said, “The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity. When human fatherhood has dissolved, all statements about God the Father are empty.”

As a result, dozens of Catholic men’s groups have sprung up over the past two decades, while older organizations have refocused on helping men become better dads and husbands.

Daniel Argue took the St. Joseph Covenant Keepers’ model in 1999 and began a men’s group at his parish in Rochester, Mich. The group of 20-25 men gathers twice a month to read and discuss books like Steve Wood’s Fatherhood or Curtis Martin’s Boys to Men.

“We ask the question: What can I do as a father, husband and worker to bring Christ to others? Most importantly: How do I bring Christ to my wife and children? The idea is not to preach, but to live as Christ wanted us to live,” Argue said.

And it’s working. Argue says one man was a lukewarm Catholic who said out loud at his first meeting, “I don’t even know why I’m here.” Today he is a faithful Catholic. Another had problems with drinking and driving. Today he’s a daily communicant. An OBGYN was challenged by the group to look into Church teaching; he eventually stopped prescribing contraception and became an NFP-only physician.

Curtis Martin

Legate Curtis Martin has also stepped up his game to help men. In 2008, he teamed up with former NFL coach and wide receiver Danny Abramowicz to produce a series on EWTN called Crossing the Goal. The show engages men by tying together sports and the spiritual life.

“The last of the great prophets of the Old Testament was Malachi,” Martin said. “In the last sentence of his last prophecy, he said that God would send a prophet to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Jesus is not only a prophet, He is our Savior who leads us to his Father. God is the perfect model for restoring order in the home.”

Protestants have also been forming men to embrace fatherhood. One of the most notable efforts was the 2011 movie Courageous. Actor Ken Bevel, who played Nathan Hayes in the film, notes how difficult it is to form a relationship with God the Father when you don’t have a good earthly father.

“When you look at kids today in fatherless homes, they have a failure to identify with physical fathers. How can they identify with our heavenly Father?” said Bevel. “I pray that God uses this movie as a way for men to reconnect to Him as a father.”

Actor Ken Bevel in a scene from the 2011 film ‘Courageous’

Courageous also makes the point that fatherhood isn’t just a matter of going through the motions, but rather modeling oneself after God the Father.

“We have to be very intentional about being fathers — planning out special moments, taking time to spend one-on-one time with our children,” Bevel said. “Those things are important and those are the times you can pour out your heart to them — and see the impact.”

Argue agrees, adding that selflessness is key to loving as God the Father loves. “Whenever I am looking at a relationship for what’s in it for me, then I am headed for trouble,” he said. “I have to look at how

I can give. If going to the bar or watching my football game is more important than spending time with my kids, then I’m being selfcentered. The same happens when you expect things from God.”

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.


By the numbers

Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school.

Half of all children with highly involved fathers in two-parent families reported getting mostly A’s through 12th grade, compared to 35.2% of children of non-resident father families.

Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. In 2002, 7.8% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 38.4% of children in female-householder families.

Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds.

Source: fathersforgood.org