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January 18, 2016 | Volume 91 Number 6


Lecture series drawing renown speakers, record audiences

We may listen to a music group on a CD or watch an actor or accomplished author on television, but it’s a different encounter with the topic when you are there live, in the presence of the person or group,” explains Father Sean M. Prince, Pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (ICC) in Hampton.

“By not attending you are missing out on that unique experience.”

In 2015, understanding the power of that “live” faith-based “experience,” Father Prince and parishioners of the ICC community inaugurated The Bishop Keane Institute Lecture Series. They were building upon a fertile history.

When Father Prince arrived at ICC in 2013, he wanted to learn more about the parish he would be serving. Studying its history, he discovered ICC had been known as an “adult faith hub” in the eastern region of the diocese. But that was over a decade prior to his arrival.

“ICC had been hosting a series of presentations and discussions with some of the top voices and names in the Church,” said Father Prince. “In light of that, and the fact that we had a stream of funding, I sat down with staff members and eventually parishioners, and pitched the idea of becoming a faith-based hub again.”

graphic: Keane Institute logo and Kelly Faioth Foundation logoWith the parish coming together behind the idea, the concept for a lecture series was reborn. A name, annual schedule, branding, promotional materials, and website germinated from those first meetings.

Sold-out attendance at the 2015 lecture series has proven the success of The Bishop Keane Institute concept.

Father Prince attributes that success to what he calls an evident “hunger” for catechesis among many.

“Both Catholics and non-Catholics want to learn more about their faith,” said Father Prince. “The caliber of speakers is what has drawn success.”

The lecture series launched with names that people in the pews were likely to be familiar with. Speakers are selected — based on a mix of criteria, but are generally published and known names, having a wide readership, or, for example, having a number of subscribers to their daily Facebook posts based on their demonstrated influence with the audience.

In 2015, among other prominent names, the speakers at the lecture series included Father (now Bishop) Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, and Father James Martin, SJ, author and editor at large at America magazine.

“From the staff to the parishioners to the audience at large there is a tremendous amount of energy and excitement around each one of the events,” Father Prince points out.

graphic: chart listing 2016 speakers

2016 should prove to be just as engaging, with renowned experts on the Catholic Church, clergy, editors, authors, and even the Vatican’s chief astronomer.

One feature of the ICC setting is that it is a smaller, more intimate venue, and this often encourages speakers to do book signings after the lectures making the audience experience even more personal.

Father Prince stresses the Institute desires to strike a balance between male and female speakers, with Sister Helen Prejean on tap for 2016 and two women as likely presenters in 2017. He also engages the parishioners at ICC for suggestions on future speakers and subject matter.

The Bishop Keane Institute states as its mission to bring “the leading voices in Catholic thought, ministry and education to Hampton, Va., as a way of engaging our local community in the ongoing and wider mission of Christ’s Church.”

“We plan on being as broad as possible with our topics,” said Father Prince, emphasizing that not all future lectures will focus strictly on spirituality. As well, panel discussions in lieu of a single speaker, and prominent non-Catholic voices are also being considered to give the audience different perspectives on issues surrounding their faith.

The accompanying chart gives readers a preview of who and what to expect for the coming year.

While ICC in Hampton is the scheduled Friday evening venue for the Bishop Keane Institute Lecture series, an encore presentation takes place the following day, Saturday morning, when the speakers will travel west for the The Msgr. Charles Kelly Faith Formation Forum at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Richmond.

Both venues feature a $15 per person general admission with schedules and tickets available at or

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