Remembering Al Kresta

Even as he faced a terrible diagnosis at the end, he remained true to the joy of being a Christian and embodying all he had written and lived.

Kresta is survived by his wife of nearly five decades, Sally, as well as his five children, and several grandchildren.
Kresta is survived by his wife of nearly five decades, Sally, as well as his five children, and several grandchildren. (photo: Hannah Faith Photography)

Al Kresta, the broadcaster, author and missionary who was one of the most spiritually influential figures in Catholic media, died on June 15 in his Michigan home from liver cancer. 

His passing leaves a significant void in Catholic broadcasting, but more than that, it silences — at least on earth — a badly needed voice who brought his deep faith, kindness, gentleness, prudence, clarity and love for Christ to bear on the most pressing issues of our broken and polarized era. 

As Al wrote over the years, he was very much a child of his time, an initial product of the 1960s cultural revolutions who managed, by the gifts of the intellect, the heart and above all God’s loving grace, to return home to the Catholic faith after many years of wandering on a winding road. Raised initially as a Catholic, like so many others of his generation and those that followed, he drifted away from the Catholic faith. Unlike so many, he found his way back again because he was searching for the truth. 

The road home led him through evangelical Protestantism, including serving as a pastor and studies at Ashland Theological Seminary. The quest for the truth, however, also drove him to keep asking questions, to study the Christian faith intently and to be willing to confront the simple reality of what he called the “intellectual integrity” of Catholicism.

As part of his return in 1992, he studied theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and while he did not complete a master’s degree because raising a family was an understandable priority, he was extraordinarily well-read and amassed a library of tens of thousands of books. 

By the time of his return to the Church, Al was already a well-known radio host in Christian talk radio. His Catholic faith and genius for communication intertwined dramatically in 1997, when Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan recruited Al to help launch the media apostolate Ave Maria Communications that has grown so significantly in the decades since

It was in his role as host of the beloved radio program Kresta in the Afternoon that Al was perhaps best known, also syndicated on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network. Al’s style was not some crafted avuncular persona nor filled with pious aphorisms and clichés. He was too well-formed and far too well-informed for that. The catch phrase for his show was apt: He hosted the show with the Bible in one hand and The New York Times in the other. He could move smoothly from a segment on the economy to one on Christology and then finish the hour with a reflection on modern art.  Little wonder that he had conversations over the years with Cardinal Francis George, Newt Gingrich, Judge Robert Bork, Dion DiMucci, Archbishop Charles Chaput, Jesse Jackson and Gloria Steinem. Such encounters, of course, were not “celebrity” conversations, but substantive, thought-provoking and enjoyable, which is why so many guests always wanted to come back. 

To be sure, he was one of the keenest observers of our current times, but it was not from an aloof, dispassionate or dry academic perch. He could reflect from personal and pastoral experience on the spiritual chaos caused by the cultural upheaval of the last decades, speak to the suffering of souls caught up in this crisis of contemporary culture, and assess the causes of and solutions to the decline of belief, the rise of gender ideology, and the ravages of militant atheism, radical Islam and abandonment of Church teaching even by Catholic leaders. He had a pastor’s heart and the sharp instincts of a brilliant consumer and creator of media content. It was a formidable combination. 

My visits to Al’s show regularly focused on Catholic news as well as the beauty, the glory and the tragedies of Church history, the saints and the challenges of modernity. There was not a single interview on Kresta in the Afternoon that did not include deeply insightful questions, a fresh perspective that had not been widely discussed, and a perceptive awareness of the life and teachings of the Church that could illuminate the discussion. Only very rarely after finishing an interview with Al would I look at my notes and not see an insight that needed further reflection, opening new vistas on the subject that could be the source of further writing and reporting. 

Al was meticulous in his preparations for his show, as one would expect from someone who could cover such a vast number of issues and had such a great intellectual curiosity. He was always prepared for a broadcast, but he also had a gift for synthesizing large amounts of news and material in a matter of minutes when confronted by breaking news or some unexpected development in a story. 

Beyond the knowledge and the insights, however, something else was always unmistakable in any encounter or conversation — on and off the air — with Al: He loved his Catholic faith, deeply and humbly. He understood the awe of the faith and yet lived out in everything he did personally and professionally the firm conviction that he was a loved disciple of Christ. 

Even as he faced a terrible diagnosis at the end, he remained true to the joy of being a Christian and embodying all he had written and lived. My last message from him was something I will never forget, and I know he would have no objection to my sharing it: “God remains Good,” he wrote. “I still pray and fight. Faith remains necessary. Hope bouts me along. Love is the goal. Not much has changed.” 

Al touched and influenced countless souls over the decades. I am one of them. I am honored to say that I was a colleague and even more honored to say that he was my friend. 

“Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).