Evangelizing Over the Airwaves
Father Francis Hoffman is senior director of mission, programming and development for Relevant Radio.
Relevant Radio owns and operates 12 stations and 21 affiliates across the United States.
Pope Benedict XVI in his recent World Communications Day Message asked priests to ramp up their evangelizing efforts in the “new media” of the Internet.
But Father Hoffman, a priest of the personal prelature of Opus Dei, knows that a very old medium — radio — still carries a punch in spreading a very old, yet ever-relevant, faith.
He recently spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake about his new role.
Where are you from originally? Tell me about your family growing up.
I grew up in Mundelein, Ill., the youngest of eight children — six boys and two girls. My father was in manufacturing, and my mother was a homemaker. They’re both second- and third-generation Irish and German Chicago natives.
Do you have a favorite Catholic memory?
I don’t think I’ve ever missed a Sunday Mass. I would have to say my favorite memory is Christmas in our family, and going as a family to what was then the local Benedictine convent — Marytown — for adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. We would go there to pray the family Rosary. Just visiting that place, or driving through the Mundelein Seminary, made an impression on me. For a long time we said the family Rosary together at 8 or 8:30pm. I enjoyed that because the whole family was together.
When did you first recognize that you might be called to become a priest?
My junior year at Northwestern University I already began to feel called to the priesthood. I sensed that I wanted to preach, hear confessions, and celebrate Mass.
What specifically led to your vocation?
My parents got involved with the personal prelature Opus Dei when I was in fifth or sixth grade, and I started going to activities, father-son programs and service trips through junior high and high school. I joined Opus Dei as a numerary when I was 17. I was very taken by the example of priests I knew in Opus Dei. I found them very human, very accessible, very wonderful people, and considered them my best friends. They had a reverence for the holy Eucharist, devotion to the holy Mother, and kindness in dealing with people that I found very attractive.
You were ordained by Pope John Paul II, weren’t you?
Yes, I got lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. Pope John Paul II would always ordain priests on Holy Trinity Sunday between 1982 and 1992. There were always between 20 to 30 Opus Dei priests in that group. I got in right under the wire and was ordained in 1992. Just about at that time our prelate was ordained a bishop so that he could ordain future priests himself. Two other Americans were ordained as priests that day, as well. The other two got stuck in Rome being professors.
How did you come to Relevant Radio?
One day during November 2003, I was at a conference on media and apostolates in the media in the Chicago area, encouraging our lay members to use their professional expertise in the media. I was there to celebrate Mass and give a reflection. While there, I met John Morales. A couple of days later, he asked me if I would be willing to be on the radio to talk about Our Lady of Guadalupe. That grew over the years, and I became a weekly guest on “Morning Air.” I developed a relationship with the people in management and on the board. They’ve wanted me to be involved for the past four years. They prayed me into this.
I’ve served as a pastor in schools for the past 11 years. Eventually, my superiors gave me this assignment for the next three years.
It’s a great outreach with people. I’ve been given an abundance of theological formation. It’s natural given my background in spiritual direction, preaching and teaching. I’m just doing that over a microphone.
How did you come to be known as “Father Rocky”?
It has nothing to do with getting into fights at school or with being dropped on my head. My mother said she wanted a boy named Peter, meaning “rock.” My father wanted his father’s name, Francis. Dad called me Frank. Mom called me Rock. Now everyone calls me Father Rocky.
What does your job entail?
A lot of what I’ve been doing is geared toward the sound of pledge drives and mission. The overriding theme that I’m trying to have associates, constituents and listeners have is moving away from worrying about money and trusting in God that providence will provide. I split my time between Green Bay and Chicago. I’m also responsible for caring for the holy Eucharist. We have exposition every day. We’re cementing our devotion to the holy Eucharist and Our Lady, and developing the right sound so that people hear the voice of Christ.
Given the advent of the Internet and technologies, does Catholic radio still have an important place in the media?
Is the Catholic faith relevant, and is Catholic radio relevant? Absolutely. The Catholic faith will always be relevant. Truth has no half-life. Once people hear it, they’ll never forget it.
Radio is an outstanding medium as long as people have to drive cars with their eyes open. People can’t read the newspaper while they’re driving. Our primary audience is educated Catholics stuck in traffic jams; 92% of adults listen to the radio every day. It’s much more powerful than television in shaping attitudes. It’s uniquely adapted to the task of evangelization. The challenge we face is whether the Church will marshal its assets to evangelize in the big cities in the radio medium. That’s how you have to reach people. It’s deep water. It’s not for the faint of heart. We need to be bold and be involved.
Recently, Relevant Radio tried something distinct in trying to raise money. Rather than holding a traditional telethon, it held a radio retreat on Mary. How did the nontraditional fundraiser do?
Last August, we fell short of our needs by $600,000. We realized that our pledge drives were annoying listeners and driving them away. We were faced with the question of dollars or souls. We cannot worship the golden calf. If we feed the sheep of Our Lord, we will survive.
We made an effort company-wide not to keep track of how much money we raised during the retreat. Only our chief executive knew how much we were raising. It’s always been borne out that when you honor the Blessed Mother, she will bless you. We received enough support to continue for the foreseeable future. Like many large, poor families, we live paycheck to paycheck. The greatest era of evangelization was the first three centuries. The apostles didn’t have an endowment fund — they just went out and did it.
Tim Drake writes from
St. Joseph, Minnesota.