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Ozark conference on understanding faith draws crowd

Name change makes second event clearly for anyone interested in enriching faith

Published: August 15, 2015   
Alesia Schaefer
Msgr. Scott Friend and Father Shaun Wesley pray with participants before Msgr. Friend gave the keynote address for the second annual Ozark Catholic Conference Aug. 1 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers.

ROGERS — The second annual Ozark Catholic Conference Aug. 1 confirmed for organizers and participants the event has staying power.

More than 410 registrants, many returnees, came together again this year to hear guest speakers, take part in workshops, share lunch, peruse vendor booths and celebrate Mass together at the end of the day.

Hosted on the first Saturday of August, as last year’s event, on the campus of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Rogers, the conference attracted both the faithful from the deanery and those from surrounding states and the region.

Co-organizer and religious education director Judene Kuszak said a few tweaks to this year’s conference were implemented to improve the conference experience.

One of the biggest changes, she said, was the name modification.

“Last year’s title, Ozark Liturgical Conference, led some to believe it was only meant for those involved with the liturgy of the Mass,” she said.

The committee comprised of parishioners from St. Vincent de Paul, St. Joseph in Fayetteville and St. Raphael in Springdale wanted to reach a bigger audience, not limiting it to just liturgical interests, but making it available for anyone interested in enriching their understanding of the Mass and our faith.”

Another game changer this year was starting up a website for the event. The website at ozark gave information about the conference that was based this year more on the Catholic faith.

Committee members felt a site like this could serve the deanery throughout the year. After going live in June, the site offered online registrations and will continue to inform visitors to the site about coming missions, speakers or events that take place in different parishes in northwest Arkansas.

“The website will offer parishioners in the deanery a comprehensive list of activities and events offered in the area churches. It is a great way to get more people educated in the faith and it utilizes all of our talents and resources,” said Sherry McAfee, parish manager at St. Raphael who also co-organized the event.

“This was a big change and a definite blessing,” Kuszak added.

A free Friday night concert prior to the all-day conference also showcased the musical talents of the guest speakers. Sarah Hart, a newly minted Dove award winner, was one of the evening’s highlights.

Hart, who has released eight albums, also performed in 2013 for Pope Francis and a crowd of 150,000 adorers in St. Peter’s Square. Her enthusiasm was contagious, according to several who came to hear her speak and listen to her musical talents.

“I have followed her throughout the day to hear her speak,” said Kristi Brackett, music director at St. Vincent de Paul School, “I could be her groupie; she is so amazing.”

After attending an evangelization workshop hosted by Betsy McNeil, first-time attendee Mark Jechura, a parishioner from St. Stephen Parish in Bentonville, was also impressed.

“She (McNeil) gave a clear framework that can be used in everyday life to spread Jesus Christ to others,” he said. “I thought the event was very enriching and it was energizing to see this many seeds of the Holy Spirit being planted in northwest Arkansas.”

Another first-time eventgoer was Msgr. Scott Friend, diocesan vicar general and vocations director, who delivered the keynote address, “The Church forms the church, Liturgy forms the family,” in both English and Spanish.

“Every time we get together to be in the name of Jesus, it benefits us,” said Msgr. Friend, who emphasized the need for formation and for those in the deanery and the diocese to continue to help each other. “Around the diocese there is such a hunger for God and for people to tell the story so he is more accessible.”

Next up for the deanery is the Dynamic Catholic “Passion and Purpose for Marriage” event scheduled for Friday, Jan. 8 from 7-10:30 p.m. at St. Vincent de Paul Church. The event will feature author and speaker Dr. Allen Hunt with musical guest George Lower. Tickets are $25 a person and can be ordered online at

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