By Tony DeGol
The so-called “TV priest” is being remembered for his devotion to ministry and for pioneering the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown into the world of broadcasting.
Father Clarence “Chuck” Bridges passed away on January 16, 2024, after a battle with pneumonia.
Born on March 13, 1941, in Johnstown, the son of the late Bernetta Bridges Mihalich, Father Chuck successfully spent the early years of his adult life in the local radio and television industry.
As a “later vocation,” his priestly discernment led him to Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, and he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown on May 14, 1988.
His early assignments included Parochial Vicar at Saint Benedict Parish in Johnstown from 1988 until 1993 and Parochial Vicar at Saint Mary (Immaculate Conception) Parish in Altoona from 1993 to 1995.
In June of 1995, Father Chuck was appointed Parochial Vicar at Saint John Gualbert Cathedral in Johnstown. It was then that he became fully dedicated to not only serving the parish faith community, but to using his broadcasting skills to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ beyond the four walls of the Cathedral.
Upon his arrival at Saint John Gualbert, Father Chuck, in partnership with retired television executive Dino Tessari and others, began building the relationships and the infrastructure that ultimately led to the launch of Proclaim! TV, a weekly half-hour show that he produced and hosted, which highlighted news and newsmakers around the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, and the live, multi-camera Proclaim! TV Mass broadcast from Saint John Gualbert Cathedral on WWCP FOX 8, staffed by a team of dedicated volunteers.
Until that time, the Cathedral was only airing a taped, one-camera Mass on the local public access channel.
The expansion of the television ministry was groundbreaking and unique to the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. It ultimately led to the addition of satellite transmission of the Mass, bringing the weekly broadcasts to people around the country and beyond.
Father Chuck stepped away from his producing and hosting duties of the half-hour Proclaim! TV show in 2013, but he continued as Operations Manager of the TV Mass until his retirement and appointment to Senior Priest status in 2020.
Now airing on WATM ABC 23, the Proclaim! TV ministry continues to connect Catholics to Christ, thanks to the efforts of many who support the mission of Proclaim! through their time, talent, prayers, and financial gifts.
Among those helping to carry on Father Chuck’s legacy is the Very Reverend Matthew Baum, Rector of Saint John Gualbert Cathedral and Pastor of Saint Patrick Parish in Johnstown.
“Having grown up in a TV production family, I remember when I was first ordained, I saw Father Chuck with a camera on his shoulder filming the diocesan news,” recalled Father Baum. “He looked up at me and said, ‘just wait, this will be your job someday!’ I couldn’t be more humbled to be part of an amazing team that now continues the incredible Proclaim! TV Ministry that Father Chuck devoted his life to.”
Father Baum anointed Father Chuck in the hospital not long before he passed.
“As I walked in, I said ‘it is good to see you, Father Chuck,’ and even in his weakened state, he immediately looked at me and said, ‘it is better to be seen than viewed.’ Our prayers are with him as he makes his journey to the eternal kingdom, and we trust he will continue to pray for us as we work to continue the ministry he labored for, to continue to bring ‘Mass to the masses’ through the gift of television.”
Besides his commitment to the TV ministry, Father Jim Crookston, the retired Cathedral Rector, noted Father Chuck’s dedication to the priesthood and parish life.
“He celebrated many funeral Masses and was devoted to hearing Confessions,” Father Crookston said. “He gave practical and concise homilies that spoke to people’s hearts.”
The two resided together at the Cathedral rectory for more than a decade.
“He and I could banter back and forth with quick one-liners,” Father Crookston added. “He never wanted people to put themselves out for him, he always put himself out for others. He directed the spotlight on others, and the only title he ever wanted was Operations Manager and was happy when people mistook him for the custodian.”
Evonne Yanzetich Homway, Director of Music at Saint John Gualbert Cathedral, cherished her encounters with Father Chuck.
“He was a humble individual, passionate about the mission of the Proclaim! TV ministry,” she remarked. “He was dedicated to his priestly vocation, and he truly mirrored Christ to all who were fortunate enough to experience him in their lives.”
The two enjoyed a working relationship and friendship for almost two decades, one rooted in mutual respect.
“Even though he was graced with a beautiful speaking voice, he did not have a great singing voice, as his elementary music teacher found out early on, but he was always a big supporter of our music ministry,” Yanzetich Homway said. “He was a tremendously hard worker in his myriad of jobs that he held throughout his life. His hands were not just for chalices, but definitely had callouses! He embodied his hallmark homily statement to ‘truly use God-given gifts, talents, and abilities not in a selfish way, but in an attitude of loving service to God and one another.’”
Father Chuck was also a mentor to many of the youth and young adult volunteers who assisted him with the TV ministry over the years, some of whom went on to successful broadcasting careers.
David Micik is among them. He now lives in Erie and works remotely for a New Jersey-based production company.
“I don’t even know where to start when I think about how much Chuck has taught me over the years and alI of the great times we had,” he commented.
The two shared more than 20 years of what Micik described as “memories, laughter, teachings, and broadcasts with someone who was so much more than a mentor and best friend, but considered family.”
Micik remembered that Wrangler denim, Coca-Cola, and M&Ms were synonymous with Father Chuck. He also loved the Wild West and had a very big sweet tooth.
“However, most people know and will remember Chuck for his iconic voice, never ending humor, genuine kindness, passion for broadcasting, and of course his faith,” Micik continued. “There is not a single doubt in my mind that Chuck lived his life every single day with a purpose, to the fullest extent, surrounded by family and friends, and centered on faith. The countless lives that Chuck has positively impacted and touched, the legacy that he has left, is truly remarkable and something to be celebrated.”
Bishop Mark celebrated the funeral Mass for Father Clarence “Chuck” Bridges on January 23 at Saint John Gualbert Cathedral. Click HERE to watch the funeral Mass.
[Photo: Father Chuck shooting a story for Proclaim! TV more than a decade ago.]