May 5, 2017

Catholic Communications, Berkshire residents work to restore diocesan programs

Story and photos by Rebecca Drake

Brother Terry Taping Open

Camera operator Josh Perkins signals to Passionist Brother Terrence Scanlon during the May 4 taping of the Springfield Diocese’s weekly “Chalice of Salvation” Mass in the Holy Spirit Chapel at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield.

SPRINGFIELD – For people of faith throughout western Massachusetts, especially the homebound and the elderly, Sunday morning is a sacred time.

“Sunday is still the Lord’s day for them,” said Msgr. Michael A. Shershanovich, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Pittsfield.

So, when Charter Communications dropped the NBC affiliate WWLP-22News from its Berkshire County lineup late last month, Msgr. Shershanovich joined with other Berkshire pastors and viewers, and Catholic Communications executive director Mark Dupont, to try to restore access to the diocesan televised Sunday Mass, “Chalice of Salvation,” and the weekly newsmagazine, “Real to Reel.”

Dan Dumas

Dan Dumas, host of the news briefs segment of the “Real to Reel” newsmagazine program, poses in the Holy Spirit Chapel. Along with the “Chalice of Salvation” televised Sunday Mass, “Real to Reel” provides news and features about the local Catholic communities to Berkshire County viewers.

Since FCC rules state that Berkshire County lies within the designated market area of Albany, N.Y., Charter Communications is required to carry the New York NBC affiliate, WNYT, on its Charter Spectrum lineup. While Charter could also carry a second NBC affiliate, it has chosen not to, stating that WWLP’s new owner, Nexstar, has established a higher rate for carriage of that station.

In an email statement, Andrew Russell, director of communications for Charter Communications Northeast, said:

“As an out-of-market station with duplicative network programming, WWLP is no longer carried on our Western MA channel lineups that are outside of the station’s market area. Customers continue to have access to their favorite network programming in HD and SD formats via the in-market station, WNYT.”

Berkshire residents want local content

“Channel 22 was their link to life and to Sunday Mass,” said Msgr. Shershanovich in an interview with iObserve. Especially during the winter months when they are not able to leave their homes as often, he added, “Spiritually, they need it.”

And the “Real to Reel,” program also helps these viewers stay connected to the church, he added. “People see their faith in action… We received so many calls about the story on the Blue Mass,” he said. “People were so happy they saw it.”

The report on the recent Pink Mass, held for cancer survivors, their families and caregivers, and those lost to the disease, also was uplifting for homebound viewers, Msgr. Shershanovich said. “They knew they were prayed for and they were remembered.”

Sister of St. Joseph Jean Bostley, presently the librarian at St. Joseph Central High School and a longtime Pittsfield resident, also is concerned about the loss of both diocesan and secular programming in the Berkshires. She has contacted Charter Communications, Congressman Richard Neal and Catholic Communications to advocate for the return of programs that keep Berkshire residents connected with their home state of Massachusetts.

Sister Bostley, who was the longtime executive director of the national Catholic Library Association, said that while a Sunday Mass is broadcast from the Albany area, the diocese’s “Chalice of Salvation” Mass features priests from western Massachusetts parishes and ministries, something that is very much appreciated by homebound viewers.

“A housebound person occasionally comments that she – yes, it’s always a woman – saw Father XYZ, her current or past pastor, on ‘Chalice of Salvation,’” Sister Bostley said. She noted that Berkshire viewers also see familiar faces on the feature story that airs after the “Chalice” Mass each week, as well as on “Real to Reel.”

Studio Staff Taping

Pictured in the TV studio at the Bishop Marshall Center, Catholic Communications staff (right to left) Marie Renaud, Mark Dupont and Barbie Bagley work on this Sunday’s “Chalice of Salvation” broadcast.

“Seeing news from throughout the diocese on ‘Real to Reel’ helps viewers feel connected to the other parts of the diocese, spiritually and socially, and also proud when an activity from their parish or geographic area is included,” she said. “I wonder how many stories of events, such as retreats or talks on religious topics, or of people helping people, plant the seed for another parish or group to copy or adapt the idea for their local situation?

“Also lost (by the discontinuation of WWLP) is the opportunity to promote the men’s and women’s retreat days, donations to the ACA (Annual Catholic Appeal) and the like through the medium of TV,” Sister Bostley said.

Sister Bostley also noted, in email correspondences with iObserve, that programs aired by the Albany NBC affiliate include ads for New York businesses and political candidates, for example, that are not always relevant for Massachusetts viewers.

Father Christopher Malatesta, pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Dalton and director of the diocese’s Camp Holy Cross in Goshen, echoed others’ sentiments about the importance of the diocesan television programs.

“It is very sad to lose WWLP in the Berkshires,” he said. “Spectrum’s choice to eliminate this channel isolates the Berkshire parishes from the rest of our diocese. We have lost our connection to western Massachusetts news.

“It is a heartbreak to lose connection to ‘Chalice’ and ‘Real to Reel,’” Father Malatesta continued. “I have been approached by many parishioners who are not happy with Spectrum’s choice to eliminate our viewing.”

Berkshire County resident Marsha Mikuszewski contact Catholic Communications through the diocesan website, noting that since WWLP was discontinued, “those folks who cannot physically attend Mass can no longer participate from home. It is a sad day.”

Mayor Richard Alcombright of North Adams sent these comments to Catholic Communications’ editor and news director:

“I am very disturbed by Charter’s dropping of WWLP from our local lineup of programming and I have certainly made that known to them,” Mayor Alcombright said in an email message. “WWLP provided western Massachusetts viewers the only source of television access to central Massachusetts news and local programming that cannot be replicated. Removing an important station without any public input is certainly not a positive way for Charter to come into our communities. 

Brother Terry Smiling

Passionist Brother Terrence Scanlon, host of “Chalice of Salvation,” smiles after taping the host segments for the May 7 broadcast.

“That said, I am very pleased that the diocese is working with our local public access channel to be certain the ‘Chalice of Salvation’ weekly Mass is made available to our local viewers. (It was) one of the many things lost to our community as a result of WWLP being taken away.”

Where to find the programs now

Efforts to restore access to the diocese’s weekly Mass and newsmagazine programs have included the sending of DVDs of the “Chalice” Mass to a local nursing care center – another faith population for whom the Mass is vital – and securing time slots for the programs on cable access channels.

Dupont expressed gratitude for the cooperation of cable access coordinators, including Matthew Tucker of Access Pittsfield.

“This has been a difficult situation especially for our homebound and we are most grateful for the assistance from the cable access channel managers across Berkshire County,” he said. “We are close to securing times for ‘Chalice’ to appear across the Berkshires. 

“In the Pittsfield and Dalton areas, along with northern Berkshire County, it looks like we will be able to air the Mass on the same Sunday as our WWLP broadcast.”

As of Friday, May 5, the following time slots had been secured:

  • On Access Pittsfield (Channel 16 and Channel 19-3 for those without a cable box) – “Chalice of Salvation,” 11:30 a.m. on Sunday; “Real to Reel,” 5:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Sunday and 1:30 a.m. on Monday.