50 Years of TV Mass
Media Evangelization an Outgrowth of Vatican II
Father Charles Fitzpatrick speaks to the director from the altar in front of a green screen at WREX-TV studios. (Observer photo/Sharon Boehlefeld)
Father Herman Porter (center) of the Rockford Catholic Counseling and Information Center, talks with Mike Carlucci, WREX-TV program director. Father Porter was a technical assistant for the first Masses. (Observer file photo)
Gus Polly (right) directs the TV Mass with help from Matthew Rush, audio operator, in a production studio at WREX-TV in Rockford. The room is down a hall from the Mass studio. (Observer photo/Sharon Boehlefeld)
By Sharon Boehlefeld, Features Editor
January 12, 2017

DIOCESE—When the TV Mass is broadcast at 6:30 a.m. Jan. 22 on WREX-TV from Rockford, it will officially mark the end of its 50th year and begin its second half-century.

The first televised Mass for Shut-in’s was aired on the same station at 9 a.m., Jan. 23, 1966.

Authorized by Bishop Loras T. Lane, the Mass was just part of the communications and evangelization work that followed Vatican II.

Another outgrowth was a diocesan bookstore to provide access to Vatican II documents. It has since been taken over by private individuals.

When it started, the TV Mass was aimed at shut-ins and was called a “new dimension of religious service” for the diocese, according to a 1966 story in The Observer.

In the intervening years, the Mass, as the station, has gone from black and white to color, and from analog to digital production.

Over the years, studio remodeling has also changed the way the Mass looks and is recorded.

At the first Mass, a small congregation sat in the studio to watch Father Everett Hiller, then chaplain of St. Joseph Hospital in Belvidere, celebrate it.

Also at the first Masses, choirs from four area high schools — Muldoon, Boylan and Mount St. Francis in Rockford, and Aquin in Freeport — took turns providing liturgical music.

Among priests assigned to the first Masses were Msgr. Arthur J. O’Neill and Father Thomas G. Doran, both later bishops of the diocese who continued to offer TV Masses from time to time.

When Father Charles Fitzpatrick, a parochial vicar at Holy Family Parish in Rockford, celebrated Christmas Mass, he was in a corner of a larger studio separated from others who helped with the Mass.
In a larger room next to him, a lector, a sign interpreter, a pianist and a singer waited for their cues to begin.

Now, as then, the priests and other volunteers come largely from the Rockford area, although the Mass can be seen in most parts of the diocese on cable services.