KALA celebrates Mass live on Sundays

Barb Arland-Fye
Father Thom Hennen, chaplain of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, celebrates his first radio Mass at the university’s KALA radio station on March 29. The Mass is being broadcast live on Sundays at noon.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Father Thom Hennen waited for the signal to begin Mass — an electronic sign that lit up the red-lettered words “ON THE AIR.” He stood behind a brown desk converted to an altar in the middle of the hallway at St. Ambrose University’s KALA 88.5 FM radio station. Three members of the university’s campus ministry team stood in front of folding chairs in the “hallway chapel” for the historic live radio broadcast of the Mass at noon on March 29.

Efforts to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic require the suspension of all public celebrations of the liturgy in the Diocese of Davenport, including on the St. Am­brose University campus.

“While the university and our diocese continue to call for social distancing in this time, we will continue to offer this radio Mass at noon each Sunday from the studios of KALA 88.5 FM,” Father Hennen, the university’s chaplain, told listeners. Radio Mass will be offered “unless or until further restrictions are put in place or until current restrictions are relaxed and we may return to Masses in the chapel.” (KALA’s broadcast reaches throughout the Quad-City metro area in eastern Iowa and western Illinois.)


More than a decade ago, while studying in Rome as a young priest, Father Hennen volunteered to celebrate Mass for Vatican Radio audiences and appreciated that experience. A clock kept the Mass on time, then. At KALA, that duty belongs to Dave Baker, the radio station’s chief operator. He sat in the control room, door open to the Mass, simultaneously keeping his eyes on the control panel and the liturgy happening outside his door.

Father Hennen viewed eye contact from a different perspective — as the presider of a Mass that people listen to but don’t see. “In some ways, you’re not having to worry about eye contact as much,” he smiled. Lauren Bollweg, the university’s music and liturgy director, prerecorded the entrance, Communion and sending forth songs. They fit seamlessly into the broadcast with Baker’s expertise at the control board.

Father Hennen said he had been talking with Bollweg and Tammy Norcross-Reitzler, the university’s director of faith formation, about the possibility of live streaming Mass for the uprooted students. However, many parishes already offer that media format for the Mass. “The radio option is a unique one,” said Father Hennen, who also does a podcast through KALA.

“Father Thom asked if we could do it and we said, ‘Absolutely,’” added Baker. He is certain that the live radio broadcast of Mass at KALA is a first —at least a first in the hallway of KALA’s studio in the Galvin Fine Arts Center.

The original plan was to broadcast the Mass in a recording room but divine intervention — ferocious winds outside that sounded like a stampede inside the room — required a change in venue. The hallway location worked out perfectly, Baker declared after setting down his headphones at the end of the broadcast.

(Read Father Thom Hennen’s homily HERE)

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