By Mark Sullivan
When Bruce McGregor, the former program director of a secular radio station, quit his secure job to work for a Catholic radio station and return to Omaha, Neb., everyone thought he was crazy. Just like everyone thought Sts. Peter and Andrew were crazy to leave their fishing business and follow Jesus.
But the KVSS Catholic radio program director summed up his decision by saying: “I got tired of chasing ratings. I wanted to chase souls.”
It’s one of the mysteries of Catholic life. God calls most people to follow him from right where they are in life. Call it the little way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
In “The Story of a Soul” St. Thérèse writes: “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. I realized that if every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness and there would be no wild flowers to make the meadows gay.”
In other words, we all have qualities uniquely designed to bring glory to God. No one has to compete with anyone else. And each person displays those gifts in his or her own way — even if sometimes they come across as being offbeat.
Call them radical, weird, funky or whatever else, but these people are looking to stand out and share their faith with others, and they are using multiple outlets — the arts, literature, media — to do it.
Two general observations about the people profiled on the following pages.
First, all had a prayer life. They didn’t need to be asked about it. References to daily Mass, confession, spiritual direction, praying of the Rosary and devotion to the pope were the punctuation marks of their sentences.
Second, all mentioned the word “professional” at some point during the interview. Trying to do something for God was not enough. The details had to be taken care of like in any other professional endeavor.
These are only a few of the many Catholics who are putting their faith into action. Our Sunday Visitor looks forward to hearing about more.
Mark Sullivan writes from Pennsylvania.
One hundred fifty college students gather for evening prayer. They kneel in a chapel lit only by candles and a spotlight shining on the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament. For many, this is their first exposure to Eucharistic Adoration.
Most stay on their knees for the entire hour. Some remain in the chapel even after their friends have left to catch a rock band or a hip-hop artist.
It is the Catholic Underground at the John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and it is growing.
The Chicago Tribune Review ran an article about it in March, and the director of the center, Father Patrick Marshall, has been taking calls and receiving visitors from other schools and parishes wanting to start something similar.
“The Catholic Underground started in New York. What appealed to me was the integration between prayer, music and socializing,” Father Marshall told OSV.
The Catholic Underground meets in the evening of the first Wednesday of the month for three hours. The first hour is spent in Eucharistic Adoration in the chapel, the second is a concert by a Catholic or Christian artist in the lounge, and the third hour is for socializing and food.
The formula has been a success. The first meeting drew 60 students. At the end of the year they were drawing 150.
“Students today are getting more involved in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We have Adoration every day at the Newman Center in addition to three daily Masses,” Father Marshall said.
“The Catholic Underground blends the tradition of Eucharistic Adoration with where the students are today. It builds up the Church on campus. They feel that God is with them through sacrament and song and through praise and community,” he said.
A key element is that the Eucharistic Adoration is very reverent and that the Catholic Underground program is run entirely by the students. The students blanket the campus with postcard announcements and take care of the administrative duties. With 15,000 Catholics on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, the potential is huge.
“We’ve been aggressive in getting good groups or songwriters. The students are attracted to that because that’s their world. There’s sound and video — quick screen stuff done by Rob Kaczmark,” Father Marshall said.
Kaczmark, who hosted a radio show called Spirit Juice, honed his ear to finding new artists. “Through [the radio station], I got in contact with many Catholic musicians who are working out there. I’m very critical when it comes to music — so I picked my favorites,” he told OSV.
“And beyond that, the Church sees the link between our worship of our divine Lord in the Eucharist and what our lives are about. That the Lord becomes incarnate through our music and the arts and through community. We have kids who come in through the Catholic Underground and they get turned onto some of our other programs,” he said.
John Paul II Newman Center
University of Illinois-Chicago,
700 S. Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607
Their transition back from a commercial break says it all.
“Spirit Catholic Radio, KVSS, Catholic Radio for the Christian community. Good morning and welcome to Spirit Mornings. I’m your host Bruce McGregor.”
“And I’m Kris McGregor.”
“And we’re delighted…”
The husband and wife team has been doing the morning show on KVSS in Omaha, Neb., for the past four years.
“We give our listeners what every other radio station would give them. News, weather, sports, and ‘what am I waking up to,’” Kris told OSV.
“It’s also extreme adult faith formation. In most parishes, if you get 50-100 people to come to a program to hear about the Church Fathers or some other topic, you consider that successful. We could potentially have 100,000 people listening at any given time. You’ve got them right there in their cars with a nice strong signal learning how to articulate the Catholic faith to the people they are working with and their family. That is what builds the Catholic culture — people talking in a school parking lot,” Kris said.
Until taking the job at KVSS, Bruce had been the program director for a number of rock radio stations around the country. Chasing ratings on secular radio for 30 years proved to be good training, and explains why KVSS has been so successful.
“We put time and effort into crafting what goes on the air. It gives it that good produced feel. It doesn’t sound like a radio station that is run by people who don’t know anything about radio,” he told OSV.
The McGregors regularly interview national and local Catholic figures who talk about their books and other topics of interest for their listeners. One of their most popular features is an interview with Mike Aquilina about the Fathers of the Church on their feast days.
“Kris is a ravenous reader. Any book that she reads, she really gets into. That is why the show works. Our guests know that they are really going to have a chance to talk about the book. I sit on the side and push the buttons and quip,” Bruce said.
Kris also has worked in parish ministry for the last 20 years.
“I think the beauty of it is that we’re pew people. We’re the everyday people who are curious. I try to ask the questions that our listeners would ask,” Kris said.
KVSS started in 1999 as a 1,500-watt station at 88.9 FM, but last January it moved to 102.7 FM, a 50,000-watt station. Instead of being able to reach 660,000 people around Omaha, it can reach 1.1 million people in a 110-mile radius that includes Nebraska, western Iowa, and parts of South Dakota, Kansas and Missouri.
The cost of the new signal was $4.5 million — an amazing accomplishment considering the station is completely supported by listeners and underwriters.
KVSS is also on the Internet at www.kvss.com. Podcasts of interviews with guests such as fertility specialist Dr. Thomas Hilgers, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., and “The Bible Geek” Mark Hart are available to download for free.
Spirit Mornings runs 7-9:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. “We have slots for regular guests. In the 7 a.m. hour we focus on family catechesis, because that is when people are in their cars on the way to school. In the 8 a.m. hour we go into some deeper subjects. A “best of show” runs in the evening and on Saturday morning,” Bruce said.
The McGregor’s optimism and rapid comic exchanges, both on and off the air, provide the encouragement that everyone needs as they go out to face the day.
“People like to see a married couple. They know we’ve had our bumps,” Kris said.
“Hey, we’re sinners,” Bruce interjects.
“We have challenges,” Kris said. “You can make it through all of this because Jesus is with us. He provides for us. It’s gonna be OK; God brings good out of all these things.”
“Even if it looks like he’s in the stern of the boat asleep, he’s not!” Bruce said.
KVSS Catholic Radio
5829 N. 60th Street
Omaha, NE 68104
The influence of Pope John Paul II looms large in the existence of Epiphany Studio Productions, which is only appropriate since the late pontiff was an actor and playwright in his younger days.
The Minneapolis-based theater was founded on the late pontiff’s artistic vision for the theater and the arts, as elucidated in his 1999 “Letter to Artists.”
“We’ve been trained to go blank when we’re being entertained, and not put forth any effort. We’re accustomed to spectacle in film, television and theater. But we continue to be moved by well-told stories,” Epiphany’s founder, actor and playwright Jeremy Stanbary, told OSV.
“[Pope John Paul] helped co-found the Rhapsodic Theater in Nazi-occupied Poland. It was an underground cultural resistance movement. It is also called the Theater of the Word or the Theater of the Inner-self,” Stanbary said. “When we talk about Rhapsodic Theater or Theater of the Word, we mean the word in two senses. The first is that all the elements of traditional theater — lights, costumes, music, etc. — are in service of the beauty and the power of the spoken word and is not to distract from it. This is because the spoken word has the ability to convey transcendent truth to the consciousness of the audience.”
“The second sense is the more obvious for Catholics — the Word of God made flesh — the eternal Word,” he added.
Stanbary, who has a fine arts and performing arts degree from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, has been doing theater full time since 2003, when he founded Epiphany Studio Productions. He performed his play “Alessandro” at World Youth Days in Cologne, Germany, in 2005 and Sydney, Australia, in 2008. The one-man drama tells the story of Alessandro Serenelli, the man who murdered St. Maria Goretti, and his subsequent conversion.
Pope John Paul II comes up often in conversation with Stanbary. The young Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) is also the subject of another one of Stanbary’s one-man plays, “Lolek.” The play follows the young life of the future pope up to his ordination.
“When I think back on all the times I’ve taken on the role of the young John Paul II, [he pauses] it affects you. It’s one of the great blessings of this work. The reflection and embodiment of these saints and characters hopefully continues to form and shape us into the saints and apostles that God desires us to be,” Stanbary said.
Other productions include “The Miracle in Lanciano” and “The Vitae Monologues.”
Epiphany Studio is designed for travel. The company has six plays that he has written that require, at the most, three actors to perform. Stanbary got married earlier this year, and the company is evolving into a family business. Stanbary’s wife, Sarah, serves as assistant director of E-Rhapsody, Epiphany’s Catholic youth theater company, and is a performer, among other roles with the studio.
E-Rhapsody, the youth theater company, offers acting instruction to youths at various Minneapolis area parishes, and the influence of the late pontiff can be found there as well.
“In our drama camps we call the teaching points ‘JPII points.’ One of the points we use is from John Paul II’s 1999 ‘Letter to Artists,’ ‘Make of your life a masterpiece.’ That is the whole point of sacred art. It’s not just to be admired. It should affect us and be an instrument of God’s grace to effect change in us,” Stanbary said. “An artist can labor over a physical masterpiece, but the more important thing is to make a masterpiece of himself. The human person is more important than all the art in the world.”
2527 University Ave NE, Unit #2
Minneapolis, MN 55418
If radical Catholics had to elect a poster child, it would be Kevin Clay, the founder of MONKROCK. The website has the slogan across the top, “You don’t have to be a monk to live like one.”
“I’ll admit, I struggle summing things up,” Clay told Our Sunday Visitor from his home in St. Louis.
Before speaking with OSV, Clay had just returned from the annual Christian music festival, Cornerstone, held in Bushnell, Ill. There he played guitar with the artist Spoken Nerd (Clay has 10 albums of his own) and helped run a tent called “The Anchor.” He also ran a 24-hour prayer tent where they prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary and other Catholic devotions. This is at a music festival that is 99 percent non-Catholic.
“As one of the only Catholics there, I answered a lot of questions,” Clay said.
So, what is MONKROCK?
“MONKROCK is one of the few Catholic lay monastic apostolates in the world. In fact, MONKROCK has birthed an actual international lay monastic association (“order”) called Transitus Oblates of the Last Martyrdom. We pray that through our humble apostolate more men and women will heed the universal call to holiness and the new evangelization, and will join the new monasticism and the universal seraphic order of monastics — going from Gospel to life, and life to the Gospel,” is how the website defines it.
Everything that anyone would need to start living like a monk, including, books, videos, clothing, rosaries, religious items and even coffee, is available at the MONKROCK website (www.monkrock.com). Clay travels to conferences full time to sell items and engage people in talking about monasticism.
There’s a long tradition of monks selling things — beer, wine, etc. — to support themselves. MONKROCK is the storefront, and Transitus is the order.
To say that Clay is promoting or recruiting for his lay monastic association at these conferences would be incorrect.
“I don’t really recruit. It’s all in the hands of the Holy Spirit. There are people interested in Transitus all over the world, people I have never met. We use all the electronic tools available to communicate,” Clay told Our Sunday Visitor.
It’s not every day that you hear of people looking to start a religious order.
“This is the second year that Transitus is open to the public. We have six members who are professed oblates (as of October 2009) and over 20 other members either in the stage of initiation as postulants or in the process of formation as novices. I have a list of 100 other people who are interested in joining,” Clay told OSV. He said they have also formed an international “Guest House” (a suborganization within Transitus for evangelical and “emergent” Christians) called Emmaus, which is based in Nashville, Tenn., at The Anchor Fellowship. “We are in the process of establishing a subgroup for Anglicans and Episcopalians as well as ones for other Protestant Christians and the Orthodox as well,” Clay said.
He added that founding an order is different from founding a company or apostolate. “According to canon law, you are free to found an order on your own initiative, but over time you submit it to the local ordinary, and from there it goes through the proper channels,” Clay said.
“I just released the first draft of the rule. I finally feel that I have something that I’m comfortable presenting to the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It’s better to form the association so that the bishop has something to judge rather than just presenting an idea and then getting permission. The Church needs to see something first,” Clay said. “I’ve been through this before.”
If Clay did have to sum up what he does, he said: “We promote monastic spirituality for the laity because monasticism perpetuated what the early Church was. It is the reference point for all the baptized. They can see in monasticism a microcosm of the Christian faith.”
9051 Watson Rd., Suite 165
St. Louis, MO 63126
Since September 2005, for fun, Maureen O’Brien has spent thousands of hours reading in front of her computer in order to make free audio books, or podcasts, for anyone who has a computer and an mp3 player. A large chunk of those thousands of hours have been spent reading Catholic spiritual classics and works of the Fathers of the Church.
It calls to mind the monks copying manuscripts in the Middle Ages, preserving Western culture in the process. Except, O’Brien doesn’t fancy herself a monk or a hero of any kind.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to find time to read in your life. Podcasts gave me a good excuse to spend more time reading,” O’Brien told OSV.
The Ohio resident posts the audiobooks on her website, Maria Lectrix (marialectrix.wordpress.com). She keeps a rigorous schedule, posting six days per week. Mondays are dedicated to mysteries, Tuesdays to science fiction, Wednesdays to Fathers of the Church and other early Christian writings, Thursdays to poetry, Fridays to fantasy, and Saturdays to the works of later Christians.
O’Brien confides that sometimes she’ll only post four times a week, but that she never misses posting something new from the Fathers of the Church.
“There were times when it was eating up my life. When you’re having trouble finding the time to go to the grocery store around your podcast schedule, something has to go,” O’Brien told Our Sunday Visitor.
O’Brien doesn’t receive any money from her blog. She has a 9-to-5 job in an unrelated industry. Regularly, her blog attracts 200 readers/downloaders per day.
She began by reading literature. But since she also takes her Catholic faith seriously, she began to include Catholic books. Over time, the “Catholic stuff” has grown to be a much larger part.
“There were a lot of the spiritual classics that I had read before, but some people had never heard of,” O’Brien said.
She has completed a number of spiritual classics including: “The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena”; “The Story of a Soul,” by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and “A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation,” by St. Thomas More, to name only three relatively well-known books.
Her readings of the Church Fathers put her in another league however. She has completed readings of Origen, St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Athanasius, Tertullian and St. Ignatius of Antioch.
The cliché “inexhaustible resource” is often reinterpreted as “unapproachable.” The Church Fathers wrote so much that it is impossible for one individual to become an expert on anything but the smallest subset.
O’Brien breaks the ice. She posts a 20- to 30-minute reading of the Church Fathers each week with a short commentary. People who would never think about reading the Church Fathers are listening every week on their drive to work or the grocery store.
“The more I get into reading the Church Fathers, the more interesting it gets,” O’Brien said. But only posting “Catholic” books two days per week is also part of O’Brien’s plan.
“People lose track of what it means to be a well-educated and well-rounded person. If you only read certain things, it’s like you’re living in a dark corner. Especially if you’re Catholic, you’re supposed to have this whole world of riches that God has given us. Things we can do and see and read,” she said.
As for technique, O’Brien typically uses an inexpensive microphone and reads off the computer screen, but if she owns the book, then she’ll read from that.
“I’m not terribly articulate, so we have this magical thing called the stop button,” she said. “I can always go back and correct my mistakes. But I have to say, the more I practice, the less I mess up in certain ways.”
visit marialectrix.wordpress.com/about/ to email O’Brien through a comment form.