The eighties was an era of tremendous growth for me. I worked for the Catholic Church in the capacity of both a Youth Director and a Teacher. In order to effectively do my job well, I turned to many influences of the day to bring in young people to a church that I believe, at the time, was losing its grip on anyone under 30. Of course, so much of what I did was often labeled offensive and threatening to the souls of the very group I was commissioned to save. I always thought if I could just get the hierarchy to listen for a moment, they might see that what I was trying to do was exactly the opposite: using modern media to spread the Good News, and that the Church could be a place that could connect to them too. Regardless of my enthusiasm, I realized that I was simply too small and insignificant to impact so many on my own. So I utilized those who already had influence: musicians, actors, athletes…anyone who stood as a good example in the many bad ones of the day.
In the fall of 1987, I did a series on utilizing modern music as a tool to spread the Gospel.
I had hired a “DJ” priest from California to lead a week of workshops and other events. I used much of my budget to sponsor it, confident of its great success. We had a spot on a show called Twin Cities Live, with Bob Bruce to discuss rock and roll and its potential for good, but turned into just the opposite, how it was the devil’s influence in the modern world. As a result, I was interviewed by the Pioneer Press the following day, and was hopeful to turn things around. I had planned to end our series with a rock and roll mass, with a live rock band celebrating an Advent theme: from darkness to light. I had planned to begin the service with Prince’s “Sign O the Times” and also incorporate his song, “The Cross”. The reporter, in order to have his story garner attention, only focused on the fact that we were using Prince’s music in a Catholic mass. I cannot tell you how bad the fall out was, the horrible things people said. I had already gotten the rock mass approved, and agreed to only use “Sign O the Times” before the mass began, and remove “The Cross” from the list of music (that included, U2 and the Beatles). Still, on the day of the service, the Archbishop called my pastor, and told him to cancel the service, because the Catholic Church didn’t do “theme” masses. When I told my pastor that yes, indeed they did, (referencing a popular polka padre) he reluctantly said we could go ahead (with pressure from our DJ priest too). I know he was nervous, but the mass was a spectacular success, with people dancing in the aisles at the end. We even made the evening news. I always wondered if Prince ever followed the story, and if he would have been pleased by this little rebel in his home town.
Although I may have won the battle, I did lose the war. That was my last year in parish ministry and I left to begin my life as a teacher. I was embittered, told that I was a bad influence, and “allowed” to resign. A depiction that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. But Prince as an artist, gave me tools to reach out to young people and influence them in a much more powerful way than I could have ever done on my own. For this, and so much more, I will be eternally grateful. He was a bridge for me…from darkness to the light.