Al Kresta, Longtime Catholic Radio Host, Dies at 72

A familiar voice on EWTN radio, Kresta is survived by his wife of nearly five decades, Sally, as well as his five children.

Al Kresta.
Al Kresta. (photo: EWTN / EWTN)

Editor's Note: This article has been corrected to reflect Al Kresta's age at the time of his passing. He was 72, not 73.

Al Kresta, a longtime Catholic radio host, author, and founder and president of Ave Maria Radio, died Saturday at his Michigan home after a battle with liver cancer. He was 72. 

A former Evangelical Protestant who rose to prominence as a radio host before his conversion to Catholicism in 1992, Kresta’s voice was heard on hundreds of radio stations daily, including EWTN Catholic Radio, via Ave Maria’s flagship program, Kresta in the Afternoon

According to a webpage set up by Kresta’s family to provide updates, Kresta was admitted to the University of Michigan Hospital on April 29 “after a month of tests,” which culminated in a liver cancer diagnosis on May 3. 

Born in 1951 in New England and raised Catholic, Kresta’s road back to the faith of his baptism was winding. Despite his upbringing, he described himself as a “stereotypical 1960s kid” who as a young man leaned into the worldly desires of “drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll.” The Catholic Church “didn’t hold much appeal to me,” he told EWTN’s The Journey Home in 2004. 

“I was a musician and I wanted to pursue my music and a hedonistic, self-centered lifestyle,” he told the National Catholic Register in a 2000 interview. 

“In 1969 I left home and became homeless by choice. I lived on the street, slept in vacant apartments, stayed on the beach in the Florida Keys and bummed off of friends. After some hallucinogenic LSD experiences, I hitchhiked along the eastern seaboard looking for someone who could help me make sense of my hallucinations. I ended up in a New Age group.”

Later, though, through “a series of remarkable, providential occurrences,” Kresta said he became convinced that the New Age movement’s depiction of Jesus as a hippy guru was not correct. In 1974, as a student at Michigan State University, he embraced Evangelical Protestantism, in large part thanks to the writings of C.S. Lewis. He leaned into his newfound faith, eventually opening a Christian bookstore and even pastoring a nondenominational church for five years. 

As a pastor, Kresta said he was sometimes tripped up by the fact that there were authoritative questions he had to answer about the Christian faith, and that he realized that “the Bible alone couldn't settle these matters.”

"I had no authority,” he admitted in a later, 2007 Journey Home interview.

In the early 1990s, Kresta hosted a Catholic priest on his Evangelical-focused radio program as part of an episode dedicated to “Catholic answers to Catholic questions.” Kresta said he was so moved by the priest’s answers that it hit him like a ton of bricks: "My God, I'm a Catholic.” In 1992, he repented and returned to his Catholic faith; his entire family converted at the same time. 

Kresta would later say that the "intellectual integrity of the Catholic faith is unlike anything in Protestantism.”

“The Catholic faith has never disappointed me when it comes to my use of reason or intellectual coherence,” he said. 

Colleagues Remember Kresta as ‘Deeply Thoughtful' and ‘Courageous’

EWTN President and Chief Operating Officer Doug Keck on Saturday said that Kresta’s passing was “a titanic loss not only for EWTN and Ave Maria Catholic Radio but for the entire Church." 

“As his show intro said, he always had the Bible in one hand and a copy of the New York Times in another,” Keck said. 

“He was fearless in his willingness to take on tough issues both inside and outside the Church!” he continued. “But always with a wisdom-driven, balanced approach designed to meet the listeners where they are but never leave them there,” 

“He was an inspiring figure who overcame incredible physical roadblocks to serve his God, his family and his Church.”

Teresa Tomeo, the host of the radio show Catholic Connection, said she would “always remember meeting [Al] long before I started in Catholic radio.”  

“I was so impressed with his knowledge of Scripture and the faith as well as his early and courageous pro life work,” she told CNA. “We lost a warrior on so many fronts. These are tough times but we continue the work in his honor and memory. “

Scott Hahn, meanwhile — a renowned biblical scholar, author, convert, and founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology — called Kresta “one of the most deeply thoughtful and thoroughly converted men I’ve had the privilege of knowing — and calling a good friend.” 

“He will be greatly missed by many,” Hahn said. “Requiescat in pace.”

Matthew Bunson, vice president and editorial director of EWTN News, told CNA on Saturday: "Aside from his goodness, his greatness as a father, husband and friend, his passing will be a massive loss to the Catholic cause.” 

“He was one of the keenest observers in the Church of contemporary culture and the ecclesiastical landscape,” Bunson said. “We are intellectually poorer for his passing but even more we have lost a truly prayerful, gentle, and faithful disciple of Christ.”  

Rob Corzine, the vice president of academic programs at the St. Paul Center, told CNA that he first became acquainted with Kresta through the radio host's “bridge group.”

“It was a room filled with about equal numbers of Protestants and Catholics who wanted to hear him explain basic Catholic doctrines once a week throughout Lent,” Corzine said. 

"Al had the gift of hearing your real question, however poorly you put it or even understood it yourself, and answering that.”

At the time of meeting Kresta, Corzine was “an Evangelical who had been reading my way toward the Church for the last few years.” Shortly after, Corzine was coming into full communion with the Church; in several more months Kresta was showing him the ropes of Catholic radio.

“Al is one of the many people to whom I owe an incalculable debt of gratitude,” Corzine said. “And I am only one of the thousands of whom that is true.”

Helped Launch Ave Maria Communications 

In 1997, Tom Monaghan — the founder of Domino’s Pizza, and also Ave Maria University in Florida — called Kresta and asked if he wanted to move to Ann Arbor to help create Ave Maria Communications. Monaghan “funded the media enterprise for years,” Kresta said in a 2013 Catholic World Report (CWR) interview. Ave Maria later became a major affiliate of EWTN (which also owns Catholic News Agency and the Register).

“There’s absolutely no doubt that Catholic radio’s principal mission has been catechesis,” Kresta told CWR.

“I think in the next generation of Catholic radio that’s going to become increasingly clear. Because the last generation was spent defending the faith and defending papal infallibility…We’ll continue to defend magisterial teaching, but I think we now have to help people distinguish [between what] we owe religious assent and what are prudential judgments.” 

In 2003, Kresta suffered with and survived a serious bout of necrotizing fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection. It resulted in the loss of one leg, necessitating the use of a wheelchair.

Kresta said a year or so after the illness, on The Journey Home, that the experience helped him to learn that even in the midst of terrible suffering, “you can think on the cross of Jesus, and you can offer up that suffering.”

His Catholic faith helped him, he said, to “enter more deeply into a sense of Christ‘s sufferings…through being buffeted by pain, your sense of self is firmed up and strengthened, moment by moment there’s a stronger sense of who I am before God...Christ living in me.”

"The Catholic Church‘s teaching on suffering got me through arguably what was the most severe crisis I’ve had in my was my leg, or my life. So, it was my leg. Which was a very easy decision all things considered,” he laughed. 

Kresta is survived by his wife of nearly five decades, Sally, as well as his five children.