Christopher Check Takes the Helm of Catholic Answers
The former Marine captain and noted Catholic lecturer succeeds the apologetics apostolate’s founder and longtime president, Karl Keating.
SAN DIEGO — More than two decades ago, Christopher Check was deployed with his fellow Marines for Operation Desert Shield and help beat back Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
Now, the former Marine captain and noted Catholic lecturer will lead a different kind of battle, one that seeks to transform hearts, minds and souls, as he takes up his new duties at Catholic Answers, a leading apologetics apostolate.
This month, Catholic Answers announced that Karl Keating, its founder and longtime president, has handed over the reins of the apostolate to Check, who previously served as the organization’s vice president for development.
Keating, who will remain at the organization, will focus on writing and lecturing.
“I have known Chris for more than a decade, and I was impressed with him from the start,” Keating told the Register, noting that he had asked Check to join the apostolate “with an eye to him succeeding me.”
“Catholic Answers relies for the majority of its income on donations, not on sales, and Chris has reinvigorated our development office and proved my intuition about him,” reported Keating.
Check takes up his new position as the San Diego-based organization expands its footprint in digital media, as well as radio and publishing.
During an interview with the Register, Check said he was excited to direct an apostolate that brings the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the riches of the Catholic faith to a striking range of people, from daily Massgoers to atheists.
“Catholic Answers’ mission is to bring existing Catholics into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ and a deeper understanding of the teachings of Church,” Check noted.
“We also focus on bringing fallen-away Catholics back home and on bringing non-Catholics into the Church.”
Check also lectures and writes on Catholic history and favorite saints, like Catherine of Siena and Joan of Arc. He and his wife, Jacqueline, are the parents of four boys, and the family raises Cavalier King Charles spaniels.
Check spent most of his own youth in Bethesda, Md., one of three brothers raised in a devout Catholic home.
He attended The Heights, a boys’ school founded by members of Opus Dei that shaped his religious and intellectual formation. He later graduated from Rice University, with a degree in English literature and a lifelong appreciation for the beauty and spiritual power of great poetry.
“At The Heights, where I had great male teachers, I learned that virility and piety are not mutually exclusive,” he said, adding that his classical education included instruction in Greek and Latin, but also books that were appealing to boys, like The Lord of the Rings.
He is the brother of Father Paul Check, a Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., priest who leads Courage, an international apostolate that helps people with same-sex attraction live according to the teaching of the Catholic Church.
“People often ask me: What kind of family life do you have?” Father Check told the Register, in a reference to the fact that he and his brother are both involved in important apostolates.
“Our home instilled in us not only a respect or interest or confidence in the truth, but a reverence for truth,” Father Check said. “The truth that is revealed in Christ is what brings the human person to fulfillment.”
Father Check also served in the Marines before discerning a call to the priesthood, and the two brothers lived together in Oceanside, Calif., while they were both in military service.
Chris remembers that period as one of the rewarding times of his life — and perhaps his first taste of sharing some of the lessons in virtue he had learned at home and school.
At that time, Father Check witnessed the “respect and affection that the Marines who served with Chris had for him. That was the beginning of his fatherhood, even before he was married. He had a desire to help them grow, not only in their professional responsibility, but in their character.”
Rockford Institute Service
Chris married his wife in 1991, and he resigned his commission in 1994. He and his wife moved to the Midwest, where Check became familiar with the Rockford Institute, an Illinois-based think tank. He wrote for its publication, Chronicles, and was eventually invited to come on board.
Established in 1976, the Rockford Institute embraced the vision of John Howard, an educational leader who sought to restore and advance the cultural institutions of the “Christian West” — from the family to the Church to great literature — that had once made the United States a beacon for the world.
At the Rockford Institute, Check worked on a variety of projects, including summer seminars for adults and an overseas program, where participants studied iconic texts like Dante’s Divine Comedy.
“Howard looked at the landscape of America in the wake of the revolutions of the 60s, and he realized that the things that had taken place in the United States were not going to be solved in the halls of Congress or the Supreme Court,” explained Check.
“The cultural revolutions that afflicted the country were a consequence of a moral revolution,” he said. “The institutions that formed men and women’s hearts, minds and souls — the movie houses, the presses and the churches — were the places to begin.”
At Rockford, he developed a renewed interest in poetry. And, years later, he still tries to “begin every morning “reading poetry.”
“It is the language that speaks to the heart. Aquinas tells us that when there is a thing we are considering that does not find sufficient expression in prose, we turn to poetry. He was talking about mysteries, the things, at bottom, we love, and so we engage them with our hearts first.”
During this period, Check also picked up “an avocation to tell Catholics our stories.” He has traveled across the country lecturing on Catholic history, from the Inquisition to St. Joan of Arc.
“People are brought to the faith in many ways, including formal apologetics and stories,” he said.
Check spent 18 years at the Rockford Institute and had moved into a leadership position when, in 2012, he accepted Karl Keating’s invitation to take over as the director of development for Catholic Answers.
Keating asked him to focus on raising donations to help secure the apostolate’s growth into new territory, and, over the past three years, Check dramatically expanded the donor base, the number of major donors and the legacy program.
Now, Check’s new appointment marks a period of ambitious expansion for the multimedia operation. And the change of the guard provides a chance to consider the enormous cultural and technological changes that provide new opportunities and challenges for apostolic work.
When Keating started his shoestring operation in 1979, he was disturbed by anti-Catholic materials and the “one-way” flow of Catholics to evangelical churches. He wrote a tract that outlined basic Catholic beliefs and corrected misinformation about the Church, signing his statement “Catholic Answers” and opening up a post office box with that name.
As demand for his materials grew, he eventually opened an office in 1988 with staff.
Today, as Check succeeds Keating, Catholic Answers boasts a $7-million annual budget, and traffic on the website is “second only to the Vatican as a source for apologetics and evangelizing material,” said Keating.
The apostolate has a robust online presence, including online forums, where a range of issues are discussed, draw 483,000 registered members.
The apostolate has sent speakers across the globe and released a wealth of books, DVDs and audio products. Meanwhile, its popular radio show, Catholic Answers Live, is on 232 stations across the nation and can be heard live or via podcast online at Catholic.com.
In the years ahead, Check will be looking at other ways to reach a 21st-century audience roiled by new and old challenges to the faith.
“When Karl started Catholic Answers, the whole debate was between Catholics and Bible Christians. The first book he wrote, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, launched the rebirth of the art of apologetics,” said Check.
Now, he sees the advance of atheism and “marriage equality” reshaping the cultural landscape, creating new challenges and opportunities for the healing power of faith in Jesus Christ.
During such times, leading Catholic Answers “is a grave responsibility, and it does make me tremble,” said Check. “But I take consolation in the fact that God uses unlikely vessels. If he can use a teenage girl to kick the English out of France, he can use Chris Check.
“I ask for prayers so we recommit to our mission and receive the graces we need to go out into the vineyard.”
Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.