Radio Rebirth

In 1999, after 19 years as an on-air personality in secular broadcasting, Sherry Kennedy Brownrigg left to pursue work with a Catholic radio station.

A convert to the faith, Brownrigg does both radio and television commercial work and now serves as general manager of KVSS-FM (Veni, Sancte Spiritus) in Omaha, Neb. She spoke recently with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.

Tell me a little bit about your family. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Omaha with an older brother and sister. My father was an agnostic. He died when I was 5, at the age of 37, from a heart attack. It wasn't until after my father's death that we were baptized in the Methodist faith. My grandfather was a Methodist minister.

When I was 8, my mother remarried a Catholic and came into the Church. She was the family's first convert. My older sister and brother later married Catholics and came into the Church. My younger brother Scott Anthony, who was born into the faith, is in seminary for the Archdiocese of Omaha.

What led to your own conversion to the Catholic faith?

I was just getting back into my Methodist faith in 1987 when I met my future husband, but it felt as if something was missing. I couldn't understand why God would go through the trouble of sending his Son to earth only to leave us to figure everything out for ourselves.

I asked myself, “How can I be sure that this church is really true?” It was a way to worship God, but that was the extent of it. It felt very shallow to me.

My fiancé was a cradle Catholic, so I decided to study the faith through RCIA.

The riches and the truth of the Catholic faith became more apparent to me through the classes, but it was really the Eucharist that drew me.

Even before I felt a love in my heart I could see that the people at Church believed that this was Jesus. If they have believed that for 2000 years, I figured that it must be true.

I came into the Church in April 1993. Unfortunately, I approached my conversion lackadaisically and am ashamed to admit that at this point I didn't believe everything in my heart.

When did you go a step further?

It was another six months before I had a real conversion of heart.

I had been a pro-choice feminist and in October of that year the shackles fell from my eyes. It was at this time that I realized that I had lived my entire life according to the rules of Sherry. As long as my actions didn't hurt anyone, I felt that they were okay to do.

What I realized at this time, however, was that my actions were hurting Christ. I was given just a small glimpse of the pain that he felt and it kept me up all night long. I can still feel that pain so acutely this many years later.

I was depressed for several months afterward because I felt that there was no way that I could ever rectify the situation or make it up to God. I was thrilled to know that confession could wipe the slate clean. It was at that time that I instantly believed in the Eucharist, the sanctity of life, and stopped all of the sins that I had been doing up to that point.

Tell me about your experience in secular radio?

Prior to my conversion, the only thing I can liken it to is like in the Old Westerns where they have the false fronts with absolutely nothing behind them.

I had this big persona of Sherry Kennedy. People would ask for my autograph. Yet, I was a terrible person behind it all. I was running from experience to experience trying to fill myself up with what I thought I needed.

In radio, you're always looking to move to bigger markets. What I didn't realize was that I needed God. I did not like myself at all.

After my conversion, it was very hard to reconcile my job in secular radio with being a Catholic. The environment in secular radio can be so base and anti-Christian. It was everything opposite of what God's plan is.

I can remember going to some radio conferences and there would be cocaine there, and I would be playing songs on the radio about one-night stands and lust. My last two years in secular radio I felt totally useless, and just waited to be fired. I prayed constantly for help from the Holy Spirit to impart something positive to my listeners.

When the opportunity came to be part of KVSS I was so relieved. Even though I had no guarantee of a job in six months and I had to raise my own paycheck, there was an incredible freedom that came with it.

How did KVSS get started?

A dear college friend of mine, Steve Hruby, had tried to start a Catholic station years ago, but there was no programming. I was on the original board.

When Mother Angelica began offering free radio programming, he decided it was time to start a station and we searched for a frequency.

Once, I asked Steve, “Who is going to run this once we get a station?” and he responded, “Well, you.” I didn't know that he was thinking of me so strongly, but once he said that I knew what I was supposed to do. All of the talents that God had given me to learn were going to be used for this. It was a real blessing.

What do you see as radio's place in the New Evangelization?

Radio is essential because of the fact that it is so mobile. You can take it with you wherever you go, and you can even listen to it on the Web.

It doesn't require much active participation. I think it will be a huge source of primary conversions. We get calls and letters every day telling us of people coming into the Church or back to the Church.

Some write just to say “You helped me get through the death of my husband.” Priests have also told us that they have seen an increase in confessions and people coming back to the sacraments in part because of KVSS.

You don't know whom you are reaching or what stage of life you're coming to them at, so you simply present the truth. People are attracted to the truth like moths are attracted to light. We are starving for the truth.

Tell me about your plans for a Eucharistic chapel.

It was something we always knew that we wanted to do, but we didn't have space. We are located in a strip mall and are one bay in from the end. As soon as that bay became vacant we decided that it was the time to do it. We petitioned the archbishop [Elden Curtiss] and he said Yes. We are aware of only one other radio station (WDEO) that has a chapel.

A special tabernacle is being modeled after part of the high altar at St. Cecelia's Cathedral, the Mother Church of the Archdiocese.

Pews and an altar were donated by the Museum of Religious Art in Logan, Iowa. The dedication of the Chapel of the Word Incarnate is scheduled for December 27, 2001. The chapel will be available for Eucharistic adoration to staff and the general public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The door to the chapel will have a brass plate that reads “Jesus Christ, KVSS CEO.” This is a place of business, but it's also a ministry. Jesus is the head of everything that we do.

What does KVSS have planned next?

We plan to increase our power and do much more local programming that we can export worldwide. We plan to build translator stations in our archdiocese so that we can radiate the Catholic faith to other parts of Nebraska and neighboring states.

We also have more than 95,000 Hispanics in our region and we hope to be doing some Hispanic ministry programming.

All of our seminarians are required to learn Spanish and I'm learning it myself.

Finally, KVSS also owns a low-power television station. We eventually hope to be doing television programming as well.

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