By Tony DeGol
In his early years as a priest, the Very Reverend James Crookston taught at both Bishop Guilfoyle and Bishop McCort Catholic high schools, and later he was principal at McCort.
More recently, he traded his chalk board for a microphone and used the Proclaim! TV Mass ministry at Saint John Gualbert Cathedral as a platform for educating and evangelizing others.
“The real gift that came forth from being here at the Cathedral is being sent to serve, reconcile, teach, and proclaim, and that’s the beginning of the Church,” Father Crookston noted. “Those are the signs of the Church, and the other sign of the Church is to be community, and that’s what we are. It’s a community without four walls. It’s this wider community that has become the TV ministry within the diocese and beyond the diocese.”
In May, Father Crookston celebrated his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. He will begin his well-deserved retirement from active ministry on July 1.
As he looks forward to this next chapter in his life, he’s recalling fondly the many happy memories and experiences of the past five decades, including his role in the Proclaim! TV Mass over the past 12 years.
Father Chuck Bridges and Dino Tessari are considered to be among the pioneers of Proclaim! TV. After decades of devoted service, both are retired from their respective roles as Operations Manager and Executive Producer.
Father Crookston assumed more leadership in recent years, along with a talented and dedicated team of volunteers.
“With Father Chuck moving away from the ministry and my coming into it, I can appreciate that I was celebrating Mass not just for the people in front of me at the Cathedral, but for people around the diocese and beyond,” he said.
Not surprisingly, more people than ever are watching Proclaim! TV. Viewership soared when public Masses were not being celebrated at parishes last spring. When liturgies resumed, many people continued watching at home – especially last fall and winter when local COVID-19 case numbers were high.
The new Cathedral Rector, the Very Reverend Matthew Baum, recognizes the importance of the TV Mass ministry, and he is committed to carrying on the great tradition.
As someone who embraces technology, he began live-streaming Masses at his former parish, Prince of Peace in Northern Cambria, immediately at the start of the pandemic.
“It’s exciting having a little taste of that and then step into this ministry that is Proclaim! and the TV Mass,” stated Father Baum. “It’s going to be exciting to be able to reach out to so many folks who aren’t able to attend Mass. We’ve all gained such a new appreciation for that over the last year of COVID. Overall, I’m excited.”
Father Baum has already met with the TV Mass crew and is impressed with their enthusiasm, talent, and professionalism.
“I’ve talked to shut-ins and other folks for whom Proclaim! is a lifeline and connection to Church,” he added.
Like most priests in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Father Baum has multiple assignments. He is also the new pastor of Saint Patrick Parish in Johnstown and Chaplain at the State Correctional Institute in Somerset. He said inmates there are looking forward to seeing their chaplain celebrating Mass on TV.
As the baton is passed to Father Baum, he is poised to help the TV Mass ministry grow – at a time when it is needed and appreciated more than ever.
“We’ve all had the experience of being in lockdown, being shut down and shut in our homes, and now I’m very excited to take that feeling that all of us have experienced and help be able to reach out to those in our community for whom that’s their daily life,” assured Father Baum.
When Father Crookston is not traveling in retirement, he plans to still celebrate Masses at Johnstown-area parishes as needed, while residing at Saint Clement Parish in Johnstown.
“I want to be able to say daily Mass with people in a church and on occasion, give the talk,” he commented. “I’ve got four or five good years, I hope, and I want to serve them with the people of Altoona-Johnstown.”
Editor’s Note: Father James Crookston and Father Matt Baum share more thoughts on the TV Mass ministry on Proclaim! TV on June 27 at 10:30 a.m. on WATM ABC 23. Father Crookston will celebrate his last TV Mass as Rector of Saint John Gualbert Cathedral on June 27 at 11:00 a.m. on WATM ABC 23. The Mass will be rebroadcast that evening at 9:00 p.m. on Atlantic Broadband channel 9. Father Matt Baum’s first TV Mass as Rector will air live on July 4 at 11:00 a.m.