Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
“He always saw Jesus in the people he met,” said Joanne Rogers, speaking of her late husband Fred. “There were a good many people who depended on him, and a lot of them were broken people.”
That deep-seated Christian charity is front and center in TriStar Pictures and Tencent Pictures’ new docudrama A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Tom Hanks inspires in the role of Fred Rogers, host of PBS’s long-running children’s show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. He truly becomes Rogers in the opening scene, when he swaps his jacket for the familiar red sweater, then changes to comfortable shoes, tossing one into the air. His character exudes love: Whether delaying filming of the broadcast to befriend a child with disabilities and earn his trust, or turning the tables on a jaded interviewer to question him about his own troubled past, Fred Rogers mirrored Christ to the world.
Joanne Rogers talked with the Register about her husband’s life and his unique legacy, reminding us to be kind, to be neighborly, to try to forgive those who have hurt us, and to see the innate goodness of all people. The show, she explained, was his ministry. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who attended Pittsburgh Seminary, working through his lunch hours to finish his studies. “He was ordained as an evangelist,” Mrs. Rogers said, “to continue his work in television for families and children.”
In her introduction to the film, Joanne Rogers admitted that Fred was “no saint – he was not a perfect person.” Asked to explain, Joanne revealed that her husband had had a temper, but instead of lashing out at those around him, he chose to respond to that feeling constructively, reading Scripture in the mornings, swimming, and writing hundreds of letters to his followers. “But I think he would [continue the interaction] only to the extent that there was a possibility for him to help,” Joanne said. “I think he would be horrified to have people think he was a saint.”
Fred Rogers had high expectations, and he did occasionally get angry when those expectations weren't met. Joanne reported that while Fred’s anger was rarely directed toward her, she did see him flare up with their two young sons. “The tone of his voice would change,” Joanne remembered, “and they knew it. They knew he was angry, and they reacted accordingly.” But Fred’s approach to calming his exuberant sons was both loving and creative. “The boys, when they were little, would get rambunctious at times,” Joanne recalled. “Then Fred would say, 'Oh, let’s have a parade!' He would go to the piano and play a march kind of thing, and the boys would march around the room with their toys.”
That piano played a cameo role in the film, as well, as Fred Rogers and his wife tickled the keys together, two lovers of music playing two grand pianos positioned in front of the fireplace. Yes, Joanne reported, they really did enjoy playing together, each sight-reading the sheet music. And usually, Joanne recalled, Fred was working on a song. But as Fred’s work commitments grew, there was limited time to enjoy their duo performances.
Fred Rogers called the space between the television screen and the viewer “holy ground.” He believed that the Holy Spirit was at work, inspiring him to deliver the message that would help young children to grow in confidence and self-esteem. Joanne hoped that this new movie would inspire audiences to greater love. “I think it’s a wonderful part of Fred’s legacy,” Joanne explained. “Here in Pittsburgh, it’s been a huge success already – and it’s not even in the theaters.” She added that she felt blessed to have enjoyed years as Fred’s wife, because of who he was and because so many others remember him and still miss him.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood opens in theaters Nov. 22. For audiences who remember the popular PBS show from the 1970s and '80s, it’s sure to elicit memories – and most likely, some sentimental tears. Moviegoers will find themselves singing along to the familiar tunes: “It’s Such a Good Feeling” and “I'm Proud of You” and “Won't You Be My Neighbor.”
Still today, Fred Rogers remains America’s most beloved neighbor. His show shared important messages of love, kindness and forgiveness that are critically important today.