How Radio Star Talked Her Way Into the Church
BY Judy Roberts
February 29-March 6, 2004 Issue | Posted 2/29/04 at 12:00 PM
Laura Ingraham is an attorney, political commentator and author who served as a speechwriter in the Reagan administration and a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The host of her own show on the Talk Radio Network and author of Shut Up and Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics and the U.N. Are Subverting America (Regnery), Ingraham also happens to be a recent convert to the Catholic faith.
She spoke with Register correspondent Judy Roberts about her work, her life and her Church.
Laura Ingraham is getting to be a household name for several reasons: your book, your television appearances and now your own radio show. Which came first?
I was a corporate criminal defense attorney at a large New York firm, and back in 1996, I was beginning to write various columns in newspapers as a free-lance columnist.
Before MSNBC started in July 1996, it was looking for new on-air contributors, and they had seen me on a few “Charlie Rose” shows or read my columns in the Washington Post and New York Times, so they just called me up and said, “Are you interested in doing this?” I enjoyed the law and had clerked for Justice Thomas on the Supreme Court before that, and the big, corporate-law-firm life wasn't for me. So I said, “Why not?”
About the same time, “CBS Evening News” called me to be a contributor on its weekend broadcast. I really didn't know what I was getting into. I had no grand plan.
From there, I did appearances on Don Imus’ show, and he started to have me on regularly. That's where I kind of got into the humor that I do on my radio show today, a kind of freewheeling humor combined with what I hope to be substantive analysis.
The book really represents what I have come to believe on a whole host of issues, not so much the dynamic of right versus left but the elites versus so-called regular America. It came out of years of thinking about all these things, from religion and how religion is treated, to Hollywood's increasing political activism, to the United Nations to education.
Tell me about your religious upbringing and your recent conversion to the Catholic faith.
I grew up kind of northern Baptist. We went to a great church, Pilgrim Church in Glastonbury, Conn., and we went to church pretty regularly till I was probably 12 or so. And I don't really know why we fell away from it. It was a great church.
My mother grew up Catholic. She went to Catholic schools and she kind of fell away from the Catholic Church. I never really talked about it with her.
Then when I went to Dartmouth College, a number of my friends on the Dartmouth Review, a conservative student newspaper, were Catholic. So that was the first time I became really familiar with the Church, and on occasion I would go to Mass with various friends. But I still didn't really take my faith very seriously. I was wandering.
How did you happen to come into the Church and how has it changed your life?
I don't think I have a wonderfully inspiring tale to tell about it, except that I think after my mom passed away in May 1999, it seemed to me a logical time to think about where I was and where I was going in my life. I had had all this professional success, but I was still looking for happiness in all the wrong places, as the song goes.
And so it took me a little time after that to sit down with some very close friends and to talk some of these issues of faith through. That's when my real journey began. There was a guy in Washington — his name is Pat Cipollone and he's a partner at Kirkland & Ellis. He's married and has seven kids. I knew him years ago when I was a lawyer because our offices were across the street from each other.
He and I just went to lunch one day to get caught up. He's such an easy person to talk to and we were talking about how I'm single and I really want to meet somebody. I had all this success and still didn't feel like I was right. Like I felt there's really something missing. And I started crying. And he's probably thinking, “Uh-oh.” But he was so great. And he said something like, “I think God's reaching out to you. That's why you're feeling this way. And he leaves the flock to find the lost sheep and maybe you're lost and he's trying to find you.”
So we started talking about it that day and he said, “You really should talk to Msgr. Peter Vaghi in Washington at St. Patrick's Church.” He became my spiritual mentor. We went through sort of private RCIA over the course of the next year. That was in spring 2002. Every week we met, read Scripture and the Catechism. Then at this past Easter Vigil, I was baptized, confirmed and got my first Communion, because no one could tell me for sure if I'd ever been baptized. It was awesome.
Was there ever any question that you would talk publicly about your conversion?
It's such a part of who I am. I'm really a very different person than I was five years ago and so I never thought about talking about it or not talking about it. And I think I was on my show one night and it just came out. I ended up having a long conversation on my show.
Then all these people called in and said, “I'm a new Catholic” or “I'm thinking about joining the Catholic Church.” It became something so natural to talk about. I thought, “Of course — it's who I am.” … The next thing I know, Imus is asking me about it on his show. He said, “Why?” I said, “It came to me. It found me.” He said, “I knew there was something different about you.”
What is it like being openly Catholic in the milieu in which you operate?
You know, there's a lot of people who say very nice things and others who say, “How could you be so stupid?” Usually angry Protestants or angry Catholics who have fallen away from the Church [say those things].
One person, a very well-known Catholic Washingtonian, said, “Oh, you have great timing.” I said, “Actually my timing is usually pretty bad, but in this case it was perfect, because it happened to me and I could have still been wandering around in the dark, and it opened up my life and the real meaning of happiness.”
Trying to find happiness in something on this earth, you're always going to be disappointed. You can only find the way through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. That might have never come to me, but it came to me when it did.
What do you think about the claim that there is a strong anti-Catholic bias in the news and entertainment media today?
I think it's real. I don't think people — producers or bookers on cable shows — go about their daily lives thinking, “How am I going to be biased against Catholics today?” I don't think it's a conspiracy to be openly anti-Catholic. I think it just comes across when they don't even know that they're being unfair to a Church and institution that has done so much good for so many people, has been tested over 2,000 years and remains a strong, vibrant institution to this day.
What advice would you give a young Catholic who aspired to a career in law or the media but was concerned the environment would be hostile to his or her faith?
I think we need to go into hostile environments because that's the only way we're going to be able to bust the myths out there that continue to circulate unchallenged in different professions and different walks of life.
I think it's imperative that Catholics not shy away from the media, from universities, from teaching. It's critical. If we retreat and retreat among ourselves, I don't think that's what the Scriptures say we should do and it's not going to be helpful for the future of the Church. I think we need to evangelize and spread the good news.
Judy Roberts writes from Millbury, Ohio.
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