A Friendship Forged in Faith: Remembering Al Kresta’s Legacy

Fathers raising children together under the Lordship of Christ are not just friends, they are brothers.

Al Kresta stands behind Steve Ray as he is confirmed into the Catholic Church in 1993.
Al Kresta stands behind Steve Ray as he is confirmed into the Catholic Church in 1993. (photo: Steve Ray)

Forty years ago, when we were both evangelical Protestants and our oldest children were still in diapers, Al Kresta and I decided together to do something truly radical.

It wasn’t until many years after this that Al would coin the on-air motto that crystalized the purpose and extraordinary appeal of his hugely popular radio show: “Talking about the things that matter most.” But the two of us were already talking that way back in the 1980’s in those early days of our friendship.

It was those conversations that led us to jointly resolve to adopt a very countercultural lifestyle. The goal: to raise our families and live every day as though Christianity was really true and to practice the Lordship of Christ in every aspect and moment of our lives.

The Kresta and Ray families broke many meals together.
The Kresta and Ray families broke many meals together.

Two months ago, we had dinner together with our wives and recalled that commitment. And the four of us agreed that our ambitious plan had worked! We saw proof of that all around us, especially in the blessing of a combined 41 baptized and believing grandchildren. All we could do after reflecting on the great twists and challenges of those intervening years was to rejoice and thank God.

With Al Kresta, the word “friend” falls short when describing our long and happy association. Soldiers in the trenches are not just friends, they are comrades. Fathers raising children together under the Lordship of Christ are not just friends, they are brothers. That’s who I lost when Al passed away. Words can’t express how profoundly I will miss him, but perhaps they can convey some of the memories I’ll treasure.

My wife Janet and I first met Al and his wife Sally in the fall of 1983. We had just returned from Switzerland after studying a year with Dr. Francis Schaeffer, who was a favorite theologian of both Al’s and mine. Within a week of our return, we attended a Christian theater where I saw Dr. Schaeffer on the stage. Or was it? In my amazement, I looked twice and realized it was an actor — Al was dramatically presenting Schaeffer’s theology on Genesis with all the proper dress, gestures, facial expressions and theological astuteness.

In the fast friendship that ensued, we spent years homeschooling and raising our families together. Though quick to joke around and have fun, our discussions would quickly move toward theology and the practice of the Lordship of Christ in our every moment. We enjoyed his family’s musical talent. We will never forget their rendition of an oldie that they sang, “Dogs in the night, Dogs in the night” that left us all howling with laughter (and still does). 

Al Kresta and his wife playing music.
Al Kresta playing music with his daughter.

Al’s theology was not merely theoretical. He was always inspiring, always deeply passionate about the Faith and his unreserved commitment to Christ and the Scriptures. A loyal and devoted companion, he would drop everything to listen, share and encourage. He was always honest. 

The depth of his mind and memory was unmatched. Al could discuss any topic with reasoned clarity, which is why his radio shows were always so loved and important. 

After years of weekend gatherings as families, I remember the Sunday in 1992 when, without any warning, Al dropped an unexpected bomb: He and Sally had decided to return to the Catholic Church.

My first comment was, “Al, that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. You are way too smart to be a Catholic!”

Over the months we wrestled with their decision and due in great part to Al’s tremendous influence, a year later Janet and I were received into the Catholic Church with Al and Sally as our sponsors. I never stopped thanking him, often with tears in my eyes, telling him we were eternally grateful. Our conversion story Crossing the Tiber begins with this dedication:

To Al and Sally Kresta, who with great love and patience helped us find our way through the parched desert to a magnificent oasis. With their courage, excitement, and example they gently led the way home to the Catholic Church.

Twenty years ago, Al lost his left leg due to a deadly bacteria. I can remember hearing the terrible prognosis and thinking, “Today I am losing my friend.” But Christians around the world rallied in prayer and like the crippled man lowered through the roof to Jesus below, we all brought him into the presence of the Lord, and he was healed. From then on, he was limited to a wheelchair but at least he was alive and back to his quick-witted self.

Al Kresta at home with his family.
Al Kresta at home with his family.

As Janet and I sat with him and his family less than 24 hours before he went home to his Lord, I could not get this verse out of my mind as I envisioned him tossing the wheelchair aside: “And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” (Acts 3:8)

One of my most profound memories is when Al and Sally joined us on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. At the Holy Sepulcher, with great difficulty and determination, Al crawled out of his wheelchair and struggled up the steep steps to the top of Calvary. For over an hour he and Sally sat entranced, staring at the place where Jesus had shed his blood. Al said that was one of the most important moments in his life.

Al Kresta and Steve Ray visit the tomb of Jesus.
Al Kresta and Steve Ray visit the tomb of Jesus.

It was Jesus’ sacrifice on that hill that made it possible for Al to stand before God’s throne today. Our lives, and the lives of innumerable others, have been deeply affected by the witness and spirituality of our dear friend, brother and comrade.

God rest his soul. Al, pray for us!

Steve Ray is a Catholic speaker, author, pilgrimage guide, and frequent guest on EWTN. The proud father of five lives with his wife Janet in Ann Arbor, Michigan.