ALLOUEZ — “Great minds think alike” is exactly what Mike Smith, vice president/general manager of WFRV and WJMN television, said in response to broadcasting Sunday Mass as the COVID-19 pandemic was hitting northeast Wisconsin last spring.
As we learned, management at WFRV had already discussed their answer were we at the Green Bay Diocese to reach out and ask to have the Mass broadcast. Airing Sunday Mass with Bishop David Ricken met their “We Are Green Bay” mission, and aligned perfectly with the diocesan desire for Bishop Ricken to be close to the people. We realized early that celebrating Mass on broadcast TV, when many parishes did not have the technology to do so in livestream, was going to be vital. Without the slightest hesitation, the answer from WFRV was “yes,” and on Sunday, March 22, 2020, over 25,000 households tuned in for the first time.
Like many businesses throughout northeast Wisconsin, the diocese saw staff leaving campus to work from home. Schools began to provide their students’ education virtually, and only a small number of parishes were equipped and able to offer Mass to the faithful through livestream. Things were about to change very quickly.
On March 13, 2020, Bishop Ricken issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass due to COVID-19. By March 17, that decree was updated to lengthen suspension of the celebration of public Mass until further notice and the dispensation was also extended. Our positive relationship with WFRV Local 5 gave all viewers in the area just what they needed: Sunday Mass aired to all corners of the diocese and Bishop Ricken’s personal presence to offer consolation and, above all, hope.
We never talked cost, we just started to plan. The Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Green Bay was on board from the start, supporting the ministry of the broadcast Sunday Mass through the Bishop’s Appeal. Making this happen was a true example of internal and external entities working together to serve all people in the 16 counties of the diocese.
Our initial Sunday TV Mass offering ran from March 22 to June 6, 2020, and its reach averaged more than 31,000 households each weekend. Parishioners were invited back to Mass with 25% limited capacity and safety precautions the weekend of June 13-14, 2020. By this time, many parishes had begun to offer at least one Mass in livestream, and the broadcast Sunday Mass officially went on hiatus.
While the Sunday Mass was off the broadcast airwaves, bringing it back was never in doubt. You see, this Mass filled a particular void parishes could not. WFRV’s broadcast area mirrors the diocese’s geographic area, and people could get Mass on their televisions rather than on their computers. This broadcast component brought spiritual outreach not just to Catholics, but to all people in the viewing area.
Both when the broadcast Mass was on air and on hiatus, phone calls, emails, cards and letters were received at the diocese and at WFRV. For WFRV, it was a powerful reminder of what “We Are Green Bay” means to those who tune in. It also made clear to the diocese the need to bring the broadcast Sunday Mass back.
Working with the Catholic Foundation, through the Bishop’s Appeal, and with the generous heart of the Bergstrom Automotive family, the broadcast Sunday Mass on WFRV Local 5 returned to the airwaves Sept. 6, 2020, and now enjoys a weekly following of just more than 16,000 households.
Bishop Ricken has a clear vision regarding the audience for the broadcast Sunday Mass beyond those living through the pandemic. His vision is to serve the homebound, those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and those in our prisons. The broadcast Sunday Mass with Bishop Ricken is going to continue long after the pandemic has ended.
Though born out of necessity, the broadcast Sunday Mass is made possible now because the faithful support the Bishop’s Appeal. Generous individuals, families and businesses share their gifts to bring Bishop Ricken into thousands of homes each Sunday morning. This is good, right and just. This makes a difference in people’s lives. God bless and love all who support the Bishop’s Appeal this year and into the future. Your gifts make a visible impact.
Lodl serves as communications director for the Diocese of Green Bay.