ORANGE, Calif. — It is the kind of radio that transforms hearts and minds.

When Timothy L. Talkington, a former Protestant pastor from Austin, Texas, first heard a St. Joseph Radio program, he knew he had to learn more about the Catholic faith. Talkington called a volunteer at the organization's office in Orange, Calif., asking for more information. He had many questions, particularly on Catholic teaching about the Holy Eucharist, which the woman volunteer answered.

In fact, she mailed the pastor volumes of information, including a book on the Holy Eucharist by Mark Shea. After months of study, Talkington concluded that the Catholic Church indeed possesses the fullness of Christ's revelation, and he now plans to convert.

Last month, Talkington contacted St. Joseph's Radio to express his gratitude, declaring, “I appreciate all that St. Joseph's Radio has done, and is presently doing, in assisting people like myself to come to a knowledge of the fullness of the Faith.”

Nineteen-year-old college student Michael Dougherty had grown lukewarm in the practice of his Catholic faith. One day, the Southern California youth tuned into a St. Joseph Radio broadcast via the Internet, during which a priest discussed the afterlife. By the end of the broadcast, Michael knew he had to return to active participation in the Church.

Explained Dougherty, “Father's story made me aware again of the horrible possibility of Hell. I am now beginning to pray the rosary daily — I love being able to ask the Mother of My Lord for her assistance! May God give us the grace of final perseverance!”

Lay apostolate

These are just two of the many listeners worldwide who have either begun or returned to active participation in the Catholic Church due to the work of St. Joseph Radio, a lay Catholic apostolate that provides prominent Catholic speakers with access to the radio airwaves.

The initiative began in the early 1980s, when Catholic laywoman Lu Cortese of Orange organized a retreat association to bring the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to lay Catholics.

It wasn't long, however, before Cortese saw a broader need. Listening to Protestant radio shows, she realized the importance of having qualified Catholic speakers present the Catholic faith and defend it from critics. “There's a lot of confusion out there about what we Catholics believe,” Cortese told the Register.

Cortese and her volunteers began organizing seminars in Southern California parishes designed to teach the unin-formed — often the ordinary Catholic in the pew — about basic Catholic teachings. To further expand the potential audience, the group founded St. Joseph Radio in 1987.

Starting without any equipment or funding, the organization began taping its first daily radio programs the following year. Norbertine Father Thomas Nelson of St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado, Calif., was the host. “People need to hear the truth, because the truth has the power to effect people to be good,” said Father Thomas. “The mission of St. Joseph Radio is to get the truth on the airwaves so people can hear it.”

In 1992, the operation moved out of the Cortese home and into a professional office that could offer Catholic books, audio and videotapes, evangelization pamphlets and other resources. Besides distributing this material and producing radio programming, St. Joseph Radio continued to organize local conferences at parishes featuring prominent Catholic apologists.

In recent years, St. Joseph Radio's reach has become global. For example, Bishop Donald Reece of Antigua, West Indies, recently hosted some volunteers at a seminar in his diocese, and also referred them to a parish in nearby St. Lucia. Explained Cortese, “We want to be of service to bishops who want to be in the radio business.”

St. Joseph Radio collaborates extensively with Mother Angelica's radio network, WEWN, supplying radio programs that are broadcast nationwide via shortwave, AM and FM stations and the Internet. In 1996, St. Joseph Radio began broadcasting live worldwide for two hours a week.

The Volunteers

The apostolate continues to rely solely upon unpaid volunteers and donations. About 30 volunteers regularly offer their services to St. Joseph Radio, including Ed Gerber of Corona, Calif. Gerber, a former Jehovah's Witness, first came to St. Joseph Radio in 1993, after hearing a presentation on the Bible by Clayton Bower. St. Joseph's resources helped solidify his conversion, and he subsequently became a volunteer.

Gerber now heads the St. Joseph Radio Evangelization Society, which teaches parishes to conduct parish censuses.

“St. Joseph Radio has provided me with the means to grow in my knowledge of the faith as well as my spirituality,” said Gerber. “When people ask me questions about the faith that I don't know, the Radio provides me the means with which to learn the answers.”

Each day presents new challenges to the staff of St. Joseph Radio, particularly in securing sufficient funding and volunteers. They persevere, however, placing their success completely in the hands of God. Said Cortese, “We try to remained focused on what God wants. We're here to do his will.”

Jim Graves writes from Irvine, Calif.