FAIRFIELD—Several hundred people came out for a dose of faith and fun to watch a special live broadcast of the popular “Let Me Be Frank” radio show and hear Bishop Frank J. Caggiano discuss everything from the perfect recipe for pasta sauce to his youthful aspiration to be Mayor of New York and his vocation to the priesthood.
The event, held at Fairfield University, was a fund-raiser for Veritas Catholic Network (1350 AM and 103.9 FM) and was hosted by Liv Harrison of “It’s Not That Late” and emceed by Joe Pacillo of “The Front Line” with music by the “Restless” band with Father Joseph Gill.
Bishop Caggiano praised Steve Lee, president & CEO of Veritas, for bringing Catholic radio to the diocese and said, “Veritas Radio has truly become a station that informs, inspires, challenges and celebrates our faith.”
Lee, who began Veritas three years ago, said its mission is to share the truth of the Gospel and the fullness of the Catholic faith by broadcasting faithful and entertaining programs on multiple media platforms, including radio, mobile and social networks and through community engagement. An EWTN affiliate, it broadcasts Catholic programming 24 hours a day throughout Fairfield County and parts of Long Island and New York.
“Tonight’s event kicks off another stretch of tremendous growth for Veritas so we can really become a force for the Church in this area, to bring as many people to Christ as possible this year and beyond,” Lee said.
During the hour-long segment with Bishop Caggiano, Harrison peppered him with questions about everything from pasta sauce to his vocation and his childhood in Brooklyn.
The bishop said he grew up in an “Italian-American ghetto” that was safe, largely because of the tireless Italian mothers who patrolled the streets in pursuit of their children.
When asked the metaphysical question whether “sauce” or “gravy” was the more accurate term, the bishop promptly responded—to the applause of the audience—“It depends on what’s in it. No meat, it’s sauce. Meat, it’s gravy. This is Veritas so you have to tell the truth.”
He also explained how his mother would make 265 jars of tomato sauce every year, and that they had so much “We put sauce on everything, including pancakes.”
His responsibility in this annual undertaking was to wash the tomatoes. He also washed the grapes his father used to make wine.
When asked whether sugar should be added to homemade sauce, he answered definitively, “absolutely not.” It can be sweetened, however, with the addition of sautéed onions, which provide a natural sweetness that sugar cannot.
The audience response to his food tips was so overwhelming that he quipped, “We should do a cooking show and call it ‘Cooking with Jesus.’”
When Harrison asked him about his path to the priesthood, Bishop Caggiano said he attended Regis High School, run by the Jesuits in Manhattan, and later Yale University, where he majored in political science…confessing that he had been rejected by Princeton.
“My dream was to be the Mayor of New York,” he said.
“I think you still have time,” Harrison responded.
But his adolescent political ambition was only a distraction from something greater, he explained.
“Since I was a little boy, I had this gnawing sense that God wanted me to do something special,” he said.
That “sense” was later nurtured during his years with the Jesuits at Regis.
His father, however, paid the annual tuition at Yale—$14,000—out of pocket, the bishop said. Recognizing the expense to his family and that he might be called to the priesthood, he decided to take a leave of absence and enter Immaculate Conception Seminary in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
“From Poli Sci to the Priesthood,” Harrison said. “There’s your book.”
“You have to be true to yourself,” he said. “I wanted to do something special.”
He recalled standing in the chapel at the seminary and looking up at the crucifix and saying, “Lord, I will do anything for you but not be a priest.” And it was under the same crucifix that he was ordained.
For a time, he worked in publishing at McGraw Hill but then accepted the calling from God.
“My father was furious,” he said. He did not speak to his son for a year and three months, until he told him, “Dad, if this is your way to dissuade me from being a priest, it’s not going to work.”
Their reconciliation started the next morning, when he came downstairs and his father had made him breakfast. All that time, even though she never tried to encourage him, his mother was praying for his vocation.
“Our ministry is challenging, but we love it,” the bishop said. “I thank God that I could live this vocation. It is the greatest blessing…. It’s better than Mayor of New York without a doubt. And there’s a future in this—it’s called ‘eternal life.’”
His advice to parents who would encourage their children to enter the religious life is first: “Do not believe, as a parent, the premise of the world that happiness is always material.” And second, to borrow a phrase used on the New York City subways: “If you see something, say something.”
Parents who see their children striving for holiness, should encourage it. He recalled examples from his childhood, including Dominican Sister Rebecca who told him, “I pray I will live long enough to see you a priest,” and Father Kelly, a Jesuit at Regis who taught him Greek and provided a role model for what a priest is.
Years later, when Father Caggiano was celebrating Mass in City Island, Father Kelly was waiting outside the church and told him, “I am so happy to see you as a priest; however, it would have been perfect if you were a Jesuit.”
He offered the highest praise for the seminarians in the diocese and told them, “Keep your eyes fixed on the Lord. You don’t have to be perfect or the smartest…. We are proud of you, we love you and persevere.”
The bishop applauded Steve Lee and encouraged people to listen to Veritas.
“Radio has a greater reach than any other medium to this day,” he said. “All the hours we spend in a car can be productive or wasted time. Veritas can make your car a sacred space.”
“Let Me Be Frank” airs weekly at noon on Wednesday and can be listened to as a podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Amazon Podcasts.
Kelly Weldon, director of Foundations in Faith, said the foundation provided a grant to Veritas to underwrite the costs of “Let Me Be Frank,” which is ranked among the top ten percent of all podcasts. She praised the show and thanked Lee and his team for “delivering a powerful talk show that is changing hearts and souls.”
“Bishop Caggiano has a great sense of humor; he is wise and so very talented at unpacking tricky topics and teaching us how to see them through a Catholic lens,” she said. “You feel like he is talking directly to you, forming you. But of course, it’s not just you. It’s thousands of listeners learning how to be true disciples in Christ with every weekly episode.”
The grant to Veritas was made through the newly launched St. Therese Fund for Evangelization.
“The foundation sees the ‘Let Me Be Frank’ radio show as an innovative way to evangelize,” she said. “I wonder if our Catholic high schools, our youth groups, our Catholic ministries, and soup kitchens all tune in for a good listen, followed by reflection and discussions? How cool would it be if the show could be accessible in prisons, detention homes and beyond?”
Michael O’Rourke of Stamford praised Bishop Caggiano and said, “Our bishop is fantastic. He’s so real and genuine he makes you proud of your faith. He makes you want to live your faith like he does so you can live the Gospel with joy.”
John Mitchell, chairman of the Veritas board, thanked the guests for their generosity and said that an anonymous donor was willing to match the first $10,000 of gifts for their evangelization appeal.
During an interview, Mitchell recalled his first meeting with Steve Lee and their reaching out to Bishop Caggiano when the project was in its infancy.
“It has been a lot of work and a tremendous blessing,” he said. “We are very excited about the future. We have plans for new shows and want to get out in the diocese and help fellow Catholics promote their groups and events.”
Lee offered special praise for Jen Mitchell and Shannon Goetz, “who spearheaded, organized, and ran the whole thing…from the first spark of inspiration for the idea of this different type of gala, to putting together a team and the six months of planning and work that went into it, to the herculean effort they and their team put in standing on their feet for 10 hours.”
“I am immensely grateful for what they did,” he said. “I grew up with both of them, went to school with them, and our parents were all dear friends. They are dynamic and inspiring, faithful women and I am blessed to have their friendship.”
Alessandro Marchetti, who has helped Lee with various projects since the beginning, was pleased to be at the event “surrounded by other Catholics.”
“This is an initiative that brings the Lord to everybody,” he said. “When two or three are gathered in his name, he’s there.”
He praised Veritas for the work it has done as part of the New Evangelization and for not “watering down the Gospel.” He prayed that the Holy Spirit would continue to “guide this great enterprise.”
Paul Bernetsky, director for leadership of Franciscan University in Steubenville, came to Connecticut for the event and praised Lee for his commitment to his faith and Veritas, and recalled that when Lee graduated from college, he did an internship at an apostolate Bernetsky ran in Washington D.C.
Marino Patrk, director of outreach for Young Catholic Professionals, praised Bishop Caggiano’s program on Veritas and said that he “brings the faith to a new level,” one that is accessible to a new generation of Catholics.
Commenting on her 8 pm Thursday program, “It’s Not That Late,” Liv Harrison said that she believes in “relational ministry,” which is something that has been lost in the Church.
“I believe human beings are God’s greatest artwork,” she said. “I love people, and I am trying to get people to love one another again because through loving one another, we will love him.”
Joe Pacillo, one half of The Front Line team with Joe Reciniello, both of New Jersey, said that “at the end of the day, the goal of Catholic radio is evangelization.”
“We’ve been told that people like our style,” he said. “We’ve had on some weighty people, and we try to make it accessible in our own Jersey way.” As a political conservative, he said much of what he learned about radio came from talk radio in New York.
“Catholic radio should be doing the same thing to reach people,” he said, “because AM radio is very effective. It is absolutely necessary in the spiritual battle we face.”
Additional local Veritas programs include “Restless” with Father Joseph Gill and young adults who discuss life as Catholic Millennials in the modern world, at noon on Friday, and “The Tangent” with Father Sam Kachuba, a weekly show at 12:30 pm on Friday that focuses on “good news, good works and good folks in Connecticut, New York and beyond.”
Lee encourages people to listen through the Veritas app, which is available for Apple and Android devices and offers great reception, along with podcasts and live-streaming. The app has listeners all over the world, from South Africa to England, Canada, Florida and California. It is available at the Apple App Store and Google Play by searching for Veritas Catholic Network. Or you can visit: www.veritascatholic.com/listen.
There are some 400 EWTN Radio affiliate stations in the United States. Lee says Veritas reaches an estimated audience of 900,000 people, including 400,000 Catholics in the Bridgeport Diocese.
EWTN programming includes “Catholic Answers Live,” “Called to Communion” with Dr. David Anders, “Kresta in the Afternoon,” “The Doctor Is In” with Dr. Ray Guarendi and “Women of Grace” with Johnette Williams. Veritas also simulcasts “The World Over” with Raymond Arroyo and classic programs featuring Mother Angelica and Father Benedict Groeschel.
Lee, who left his job in finance on Wall Street to start Veritas, credits his wife Roula with giving him the spiritual and moral support to undertake the venture. Residents of Ridgefield, they are parents of three children.