From left, Bob Pauley from St. Thomas More High School, Bob Bordak and Gene Holubowicz, both from Nativity of the Lord Parish, Cudahy, and Xaverian Fr. Dominic Caldognetto sing “America, the Beautiful” at the close of Mass prior to the First Friday Club breakfast Dec. 4 at Klemmer’s Banquet Center, West Allis. (Catholic Herald photo by Allan Fredrickson)

WEST ALLIS – For nearly 20 years, Xaverian Fr. Dominic Caldognetto has shared nuggets of wisdom with Catholic men throughout the Milwaukee area on the first Friday of each month.

Fr. Caldognetto’s talks come after a short Mass and breakfast at a casual gathering to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus, usually attended by more than 100 men, known as the First Friday Club. Speaking from the heart, Fr. Caldognetto said he is not afraid to address difficult subjects.

Case in point: He gave a talk on the controversial issues under consideration by Milwaukee Public Schools officials to distribute condoms to students at a meeting of 110 men Dec. 4. Fr. Caldognetto’s talk focused on what Pope Benedict XVI would have said about such an issue.

“I know that the talks I give are much appreciated,” Fr. Caldognetto said, reflecting on his most recent one. “Sometimes I want to talk about things that are controversial because I can talk about what the church’s position is. I think people appreciate the honesty.”

Fr. Caldognetto has been a part of the First Friday Club for most of its existence. The South Side branch started in 1991, and Fr. Caldognetto celebrated his 18th anniversary with the growing group in November. When he first came on board, Fr. Caldognetto had just returned from mission work in Bangladesh.

At the time, Fr. Caldognetto joined the club as its chaplain. The South Side group was spun off from a group that had been meeting at the Bavarian Inn. The split occurred at a time when attendance was swelling.

The South Side group has been sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council 4580. Chapters throughout the world have been honoring priests and chaplains this year for their service to the greater Catholic community.

After singing a rousing rendition of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” at the Christmas-themed program, Fr. Caldognetto was surprised with a short commemoration ceremony that included a plaque presentation and tribute for his service to the club.

“It meant a lot to me,” Fr. Caldognetto said. “I get a lot out of doing this.”

Fr. Caldognetto’s presence has been a draw to the club, said Rudy Mishich, Grand Knight for Council 4580 and a club member.

The club does not advertise, and attendance has grown or stayed steady over the years through word-of-mouth. There is no formality to membership in the club. Attendees simply need to show up – and have an open heart.

“For me, it’s been nice meeting men from all over the different parishes,” said Mishich, who’s been attending club meetings the past seven years. “Spiritually, it’s always very rewarding, and the camaraderie is very nice.”

Beyond the monthly meetings, club members also have contributed to outreach efforts, particularly with food pantry initiatives at South Side parishes.

“There are so many people this year that are so desperate,” Mishich said, explaining the rationale for making the effort a high priority.