Primetime television seems an unlikely place to look for a celebration of large Catholic families.
And yet, this summer, NBC’s popular
first season of “
Celtic Spring is the Wood family
In the end, the group didn’t win the $1 million grand prize. But they did attract enough votes to earn the “Viewers’ Choice” distinction. (And they clearly delighted the show’s host, Regis Philbin.)
Though remarkably accomplished musicians, the Woods lack something all their eight-plus million viewers have: a television. The irony is not lost on Greg.
“Our television-less friends were going to neighbors’ houses,” he says, “so they could watch the Wood family.”
Given their misgivings about the small screen, did they blanch at the idea of participating in such an environment?
“Sometimes you have to put good next to evil so that people can recognize both and choose accordingly,” Greg says.
“As Catholics, we knew that it was
a great opportunity to bring some joy to
When Mary Wood began guiding her
children in Irish dancing and music, the lights of
“Since we homeschooled, we were usually together, and violin and Irish dancing became a normal part of our lives,” recalls Mary. “From a very young age, each child was eager to participate. They practiced regularly and advanced very quickly.”
The group’s first performances, at the local farmer’s market, were to raise money to go to “fiddle camps,” where the world’s finest fiddlers instruct by ear and cultural immersion. Word spread about the talented family and, soon enough, Celtic Spring were in demand for weddings and festivals.
As their popularity and sense of mission grew, Mary took over the business side while Greg, a licensed marriage and family counselor, privatized his practice for maximum flexibility.
Celtic Spring’s fame catapulted in the winter of 2002 when they performed on “Good Morning America.”
“After 9/11, the show was looking for families that could represent hope,” Mary says. “They found us somehow, and one thing has led to another ever since.”
One thing leading to another led
them to “
“It was challenging, but we looked on it in part as a spiritual journey,” says Greg. “We really relied on the sacraments — daily Mass and weekly confession. It helped the kids learn that you can’t be one bit timid about your faith.”
Before every performance, the family would pray St. Patrick’s Breastplate, finding particular resonance in the lines “Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.”
“We want to be a vehicle for bringing Christ to our audiences,” says Mary. “To do that, we have to draw on all the grace and strength that comes from our Catholic faith.”
Father Tim Alkire,
a longtime friend of the Woods family, has had Celtic Spring perform at his
The fact that Celtic Spring
finished in the top five of “
“People responded to the artistic quality of our act, to the beauty and joy of Irish culture, but particularly to our witness as a family working together and loving each other,” Greg says.
Fans frequently approach them after performances, asking about their faith. “People sense that there’s something more, that God must be a part of this,” Mary explains. “All beauty comes from God, and points back to him implicitly.”
One person who did not respond positively was celebrity judge Piers Morgan, a former editor of a British tabloid. Following one performance, he recommended in no uncertain terms that Celtic Spring “get rid of” the parents and the youngest child, 6-year-old Aidan.
Although taken aback by Morgan’s
vitriol, the older Wood boys defended the family’s unity as central to the act.
“We felt our deepest values were being attacked,” says Mary. “But we’re not
going to compromise our identity because of what someone in
Adds Greg: “People saw that we’d stand together in spite of criticism. The e-mails we got afterwards were tremendously supportive.”
Life in Concert
Even before NBC called, the Woods
had planned to dedicate the upcoming year to recording a new CD, along with
traveling and performing in
“We really want to explore
Catholic Europe, the living reality of many wonderful convents and
monasteries,” Mary explains. “Traveling in
The family admits that the
million-dollar prize was a tantalizing near-miss — a lot of good can be done
with that kind of windfall — but Celtic Spring is still very happy with the
net/net of the “
The Woods were able to share what
they call their “family apostolate” with millions of viewers. And the exposure
is generating opportunities to perform traditional Irish entertainment — and
witness the timeless Catholic faith — for audiences from
“We hope to provide inspiration to families, showing them an alternative to some negative aspects of the culture,” Greg says.
While dismayed by the network’s editing out of virtually all religious content from their footage and interviews, Greg reflects: “I don’t think we’d have done anything differently. We were pleased with our opportunity to put something from the culture of life up there and come out looking good.”
But while “
Iain Bernhoft is a graduate student in English at