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Men of Strength unite masculinity, faith

Katie Peralta | Friday, March 26, 2010

With membership capped at a comfortable eight students, the Men of Strength faith group is exactly where it wants to be.

Initiated two years ago by then-Masters of Divinity student and Gender Relations Center (GRC) intern Brian Vassel, Men of Strength aims to connect sexuality with the faith lives of college men.

Concerned for the future of the group, Vassel handed leadership over to second-year Masters of Divinity student Tom Robertson when he finished his own course of study.
“As he was leaving he thought the program would die out if he just left … so he asked me to sit in on a couple of sessions at the end of the year and asked me if I was interested in taking over,” Robertson said.

The group, which meets on a weekly basis, focuses on issues facing college men, from pornography to relationships, and relates them back to their spirituality.

“Integration is a big thing here,” Robertson said. “We look at integrating faith in all areas of life and specifically with sexuality.”

Robertson said he does not conduct the group’s meetings with a set lesson plan or theme.
“I really deal mostly with the personal struggles of the guys. There’s no agenda that I’m coming in with,” he said. “I have my own personal politics but I try to leave that at the door.”

Robertson said having a support group specifically for college-aged men is useful especially because this time of transition can be difficult.

“It’s a time when you’re growing from the faith of your adolescence when generally you accept what you’re taught and you follow the rules … to a period of questioning that and struggling it and maybe challenging it a little bit,” Robertson said. “You have new experiences that make you question what you were told growing up.”

Robertson said this semester several of the group members are in relationships, so they decided to address the faith component of relationships — from marriage to ordination to single life.

“Single life is defined by what it’s not — you’re not married and you’re not a priest or a nun,” he said. “We are looking at some helpful way to define this transition.”

The group’s small size, Robertson said, is part of its appeal to members.

“There’s a level of trust … and it’s a pretty self-selective group,” he said. “The men who come are intentional about sharing. They sought me out.”

Robertson led two separate groups of five students each last semester and said he would consider doing the same this year if more students expressed interest.

Although Men of Strength and another GRC-sponsored group, Men Against Violence, exist, Robertson said he knows of no such group that exists yet for Notre Dame women.
Scheduled to be married this summer in his native Winnipeg, Robertson said after next year, his last year in the Master’s of Divinity program, he plans to hand off the group to someone else before returning back to Canada.

“I probably will be looking for a first or second year [Master’s of Divinity] student to hand the group over to,” he said. “I really have tried to keep a paper trail of what’s worked and what hasn’t.”

The name of the group comes from the passage in 2 Corinthians 12:10, which reads: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”