SPOKANE, Wash. — Air America, struggling in bankruptcy, finds a buyer.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., announces his candidacy for president on Don Imus’ radio program.
Howard Stern continues to say whatever he wants on air.
Yes, radio is still a lively medium.
And, oh yes, from the confines of a cloistered monastery, five Poor Clare nuns broadcast truth and Catholic wisdom to an audience of 750,000.
The Poor Clares’ odyssey into broadcasting was inspired by a comment made by Pope John Paul II, who suggested that even those confined to monasteries must involve themselves in the work of evangelizing the world.
Poor Clare Sister Patricia Proctor took that idea to heart and entrusted the effort to Mary.
“I knew putting the Blessed Mother in charge would be miraculous,” she commented, “I just didn’t realize how miraculous!”
The journey began several years ago, when the community, based in Spokane, Wash., decided to reach out beyond their enclosure. What evolved was one of the largest greeting card websites on the Internet, franciscancards.com.
Soon they developed an inspirational “Thought for the Day,” e-mailed to 10,000 subscribers. Their increasing visibility prompted a request for Sister Patricia to do a weekly broadcast for Radio Maria in Louisiana.
Sister Patricia researched the possibility of buying radio time closer to home, approaching Catholic stations for input, discussing the idea with her bishop, and asking for feedback from her mailing list.
The research connected her with a group of lay Catholics who had inaugurated a station in the Seattle area. Sacred Heart Radio AM 1050 was purchased in March 2001, with programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Ron Belter and Bob Gunderson of Sacred Heart Radio told Sister Patricia of their desire to expand their operation eastward, across the state. They offered their help in searching for air time.
Then unexpected support arrived by e-mail.
Out of Africa
Hearing of Sister Patricia’s interest in radio, Sister Janet Fearns of Yatsani Radio in Zambia offered support and suggestions. Sister Janet, a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, impressed Sister Patricia with her stories of transforming her diocese by a radio presence. Radio Yatsani created a bond by featuring individuals with particular areas of expertise from a different parish each month for a one-hour show. One was a nurse who did a program on issues facing mothers caring for children. This “parish team” approach strengthened the relationship among local Church communities.
Sister Janet, who now works with Vatican Radio, introduced Sister Patricia to Jesuit Father Eustace Sequeira, a fellow broadcaster in Africa, soon to be appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Father Sequeira urged Sister Patricia “to get a radio station at any price” as this was “the best way to evangelize.”
They started by purchasing time from a Spokane station, allowing them to broadcast two one-hour programs. With Belter’s help, they eventually found another station, which increased their air time to four hours.
Unknown to Sister Patricia, Belter made an offer to purchase an available Spokane station. The “letter of intent” arrived on June 3, 2005, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In September 2005, Sacred Heart Radio began broadcasting as KTTO Spokane AM 970. As Pope John Paul was the inspiration for the new station, it seemed only fitting to incorporate his apostolic motto of “Totus Tuus” in the call letters. “TTO” stands for “Totus Tuus Oremus” (“Totally Yours in Prayer”).
In a small, 10-foot-by-10-foot cell in the cloister of the Franciscan Monastery of St. Clare, Sacred Heart Radio Spokane now operates around the clock.
From its secluded location, its 5,000-watt signal, sent from a 700-foot tower on a Spokane hill, reaches from mid-Washington state in the west to just inside Montana to the east, as far north as the Canadian border and south to Oregon.
Both Sacred Heart Radio in Seattle and its “sister station” in Spokane are affiliates of Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., using much of their programming to fill their schedules.
The monastery also provides about an hour of local programming each day — the Rosary, an events calendar and interviews of local people involved in various ministries. Sister Patricia has incorporated Sister Janet’s idea of highlighting “teams” from around the area. For instance, she has the head of Catholic schools for the diocese interviewing teachers, students, principals and parents. There is also occasional commentary by Spokane Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Local reactions have been positive. Longtime Spokane resident Tex Gaston said that the information he gets from shows like “Catholic Answers Live,” Father John Corapi’s talks, Father Mitch Pacwa’s commentary and Raymond Arroyo’s interviews have filled in the gaps in his own understanding of Catholicism.
“We don’t get much in the way of teaching on the Catechism or on the Ten Commandments from the pulpit these days,” he said.
For Gaston, Catholic radio “takes care of that.”
Elenor Schoen writes from