Fun Faith Formation: EWTN, Online Shows About Catholicism Appeal to Children

From the adorable cartoon characters Tomkin and his trusty horse Blaise to a talking donut puppet, Catholic kids have quality shows available to them on TV or via smart devices.

From ‘Tomkin’ to the ‘Massterpiece Donut Shop’ and ‘Studio 3:16,’ young viewers have a host of options to learn about what it means to be Catholic.
From ‘Tomkin’ to the ‘Massterpiece Donut Shop’ and ‘Studio 3:16,’ young viewers have a host of options to learn about what it means to be Catholic. (photo: Courtesy of the shows and EWTN)

From the adorable cartoon characters Tomkin and his trusty horse Blaise to a talking donut puppet, Catholic kids have quality shows available to them on TV or via smart devices.

“Children need different shows. Whatever can help them early in life is really appreciated,” Joey Urena said when discussing television series aimed at bringing religious themes to youngsters in an entertaining way. He and his wife, Lisa, are raising their five children in San Antonio, Texas.

Three shows for youngsters are following this route. Two are already established favorites, while one is new.

“We wanted to create a show that would make Christian, specifically Catholic, faith attractive to young people, attracting them to virtues, faith and truth in a way that was musical and with humor,” explained Rob Reynolds, co-founder and president of Studio 3:16, a new weekly online series based on Bible passages that tie into the upcoming Sunday Gospel and are aimed for 7- to 12-year-olds. 

Co-founder, writer and lead actor Shevin McCullough highlighted its unique twist in explaining the show to the Register. “I know that the Bible is the living word of God, and my goal for each show is to create a song that concerns and promotes the truth of the Gospel. But I’m misguided in my misunderstanding of the Gospel, and that creates the plot. Through the course of the show, I get backed into the truth by the people who visit my studio. And then I can write a song to promote the truth of the Gospel.” 

McCullough writes the lyrics, a musician from Nashville composes each episode’s score, and a director and cinematographer commute from California to the Tampa, Florida, studio for filming.

Some episodes have a priest visit the studio to answer Shevin’s questions and straighten out his misunderstandings. Furthermore, Scripture scholar John Bergsma, a professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, joins the writing team in all initial script discussions and explains the Gospel used in the upcoming segment to guide the aims of the episode. Both co-founders are graduates of Franciscan University.

Feedback from parents and youngsters has been positive. 

In Wisconsin, four of the Simpson family’s six children, ages 10 months to 14, watch the show. “It starts out with the Gospel and is very engaging and catches their attention. It’s high quality,” explained mother Monica Simpson. “Afterwards, they talk about the show and laugh about the fun parts. Sunday we hear the Gospel at church and remember what they learn on the Shevin show.” 

Reynolds’ goal is “to draw kids into a deeper relationship with God.” McCullough added, “As long as we’re loyal to our mission, this endeavor will become what God wants it to become.”

 

Saddle Up, Partners

Another star in the roundup of children’s religious shows is an Eternal Word Television Network favorite, Tomkin: The Catholic Cowboy, styled as a cartoon short.

“The main responsibility is to teach the faith to the children, and we wanted to produce a series that would aid parents to share aspects of the faith with them in a small, bite-sized faith adventure,” explained Sam Zamarron, EWTN’s senior animation graphics designer, in describing the show. 

Naturally, the star of the show is Tomkin, who is accompanied by his trusty steed Blaise. Zamarron believed the cowboy concept would appeal to young viewers, given the popularity of Woody in Toy Story. Zamarron believed “it could be popular with the faith angle.” 

EWTN liked the idea when he and his brother-in-law Ivan presented it. The first show aired in 2016 and then became an EWTN team effort. Tomkin: The Catholic Cowboy is aimed at the preschool-to-7-year-old audience, but viewer mail reveals that children older than age 7 still tune in to the shows, which focus on topics like the saints and the cardinal virtues. And Blaise, a toy horse on wheels, is named after St. Blaise. Other short Catholic topics are highlighted in the segments that normally run from 20 seconds to two minutes.

The inaugural show included Mother Angelica appearing on a television set. “She basically teaches something on the calling we all have, the calling to be a saint,” Zamarron said. Another episode focuses on the virtue of wisdom. As Zamarron explained, “Tomkin makes a bad decision, but has redemption at the end.” 

Tomkin immediately clicked with children and parents alike. Thus far, it has received two Gabriel Awards for quality children’s programming. Lisa Urena shared how their children, now ages 8 to 19, have grown up with Tomkin. “What we like about it is that it makes the Catholic faith relatable from the children’s perspective. It’s visually attractive and really pulls them into the presentation.”

“I think it’s nice to watch,” said 8-year-old Jacobus, whose twin brother is Lazarus. 

In current production are new Tomkin “shorts” to teach about keywords of our faith, such as about items found in a church, from the crucifix, which is already released, to the pews.

 

Donuts Dunked in Faith

Another highly popular show for the young set is the weekly Massterpiece Donut Shop, also on Eternal Word Television Network. The route to EWTN actually began when Rob Evans was the creator of the show Donut Man and appeared in it as the Donut Man himself. He was a Protestant at the time.

Peter Gagnon, EWTN vice president of programming and production, said the network aired some of those programs that featured generic Christian songs. After Evans converted to Catholicism in 2006, the show became a regular series on EWTN with Gagnon and Doug Keck as executive producers.

During discussions about the new series, the character Duncan the Donut was, of course, going to remain in the show. But then the proverbial light bulb went on. As Gagnon explained, “In discussion with Rob to see what we can do, Rob’s idea was, ‘Why don’t we use the Mass as the stepping stone and break down the Mass in different sections?’” Hence, it’s now Massterpiece Donut Shop. Evans still plays the Donut Man, and 10 youngsters are featured as the shop’s helpers as they learn about the Mass and Christian principles like the importance of forgiveness. And Father Joe (Father Joseph Marquis, pastor of Sacred Heart Byzantine Church in Livonia, Michigan) is a regular visitor, helping explain the importance of the liturgical elements as he celebrates Mass. The show’s audience spans from children in the first Communion grades up to 12-year-olds. Gagnon explained it can help prepare children for their first Holy Communion. 

Gagnon told the Register, the show is “serious and clear about the teachings of the Church on the Mass and how the Mass should change you.” He calls Massterpiece Donut Shop a “great teaching tool” for families, citing emails that come to EWTN saying, “I’ve learned about the Mass from my kids watching it.” The crux of Massterpiece Donut Shop, Gagnon said, is “reaching children in the beauty of the Gospel and now in the beauty of the Mass.”


 

 WATCH
Studio316.com
EWTN.com/tv/shows/tomkin
EWTN.com/tv/shows/massterpiece-donut-shop

 

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