We wondered if perhaps the first membership drive was a onetime fluke. Maybe people had been willing to make a onetime gift but they wouldn’t be able to regularly support the work. Receiving a one-time kiss might be a pivotal moment but it is not the same as marriage.
One February night in 2003, Al, in excruciating pain and unable to walk, was carted off to St. Joseph Mercy hospital by his son Nick and his wife Sally. For five days his life hung in the balance. The flesh-eating bacteria were feasting and our staff and listeners went to fasting. Friends unfurled a large facsimile of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the waiting room and prayer meetings were going on day and night. Al’s life was saved; his left leg was lost and he was basically out of commission for six months. A miracle of cooperation and compassion kept the station stable and growing under the leadership of Mike Jones, as Nick Thomm, Kara Coulter and Teresa Tomeo split the added on-air duties. Tom Monaghan and his staff at the Ave Maria Foundation and Domino’s Farms refurbished the Kresta residence and promised to carry the ministry a little longer than originally expected. This was a band of brothers…and sisters.
But this was only the beginning. Fr. John Riccardo, visiting Al the day of the first surgery, exhorted him to offer these particular sufferings for the sake of his body, the Church and the openness of all men and women to hear the gospel. Over the next few short years our small staff of a dozen or less was sent reeling between the joy of apostolic work and the inescapable acceptance of what appeared to be disproportionate suffering. You judge.
In the span of a few short years, Cheryl’s husband Mike, in his prime, succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Peter Bacik, a real mensch, who had been with us for several years and had just left to work with Renewal Ministries, was finally overcome by cancer in his twenties. Also in his twenties, Nick Thomm underwent surgery for a brain tumor. Al lost two younger brothers and a sister, Mike Jones lost a brother and a sister as well as his father. Bouts of life threatening breast cancer, appendicitis, miscarriages, the agony of infertility, heart attacks hit a staff almost entirely under the age of fifty and spread fairly evenly between 20s, 30s and 40s. We’ve never dwelled on how many bombs fell in such a short period of time nor how much shrapnel any of us are carrying but it was undeniably a “thorn in the flesh to keep us from exalting.” It erected a perpetual memorial in our collective spirit that only God’s grace is sufficient for the carrying out of these apostolic labors. St. Paul knew this. I trust it’s a lesson we’ve learned.
Oddly enough, it was after this spell that Ave Maria Radio began flourishing in its own right nationally. We grew, without realizing it, to become the largest producer of original English language Catholic radio programming in the world. Thanks to the faithfulness of our intrepid staff and thankfully, your stable giving and prayerful support, we now produce over twenty different titles like More 2 Life, Food for the Journey, Stories from the Heart, and Fire on the Earth. Some of our long form programs like Kresta in the Afternoon, Catholic Connection, and The Doctor is In are heard over the EWTN global Catholic radio network’s nearly 200 stations as well as EWTN’s Sirius satellite radio channel 130.
In addition to our two original stations in Michigan, we also provide programming to WDEO – 98.5 FM in the Fort Myers and Naples area in Florida and in 2013 we added an additional AM station in the Saginaw, Michigan area when 1250 AM was donated to Ave Maria Radio.
And all of our programming can be heard via streaming audio on the Internet and I phone and Android apps. Today we continue striving to cover southeastern Michigan and to bring our Catholic radio programming to a new level of effectiveness and prepare for a new generation of talent.
We are confident that we’ve just begun. We are out of our infancy and no longer stumbling around like a toddler. But we still haven’t emerged from our adolescence. We have a lot of growing and maturing to do. For that we trust the graces available through Christ’s mystical body, the Church. Together, we can continue to evangelize, edify, encourage, educate, exhort, and, on occasion, entertain. To God be the glory.