Looking back at the early days of Archbishop Listecki’s radio career, Fr. Furlan, in a telephone interview with your Catholic Herald, tongue-in-cheek explained, “The radio show – he gets a lot of credit for something he fell into.”
While in college, seminarian Furlan studied ways to use the media to spread the church’s message. About two and a half years after he was ordained, he was contacted by the Chicago archdiocesan director of communications who offered him an hour segment on local radio.
While Fr. Furlan said he thought it strange that a local radio station would give away an hour of time, he agreed to host the program, provided he could have a co-host.
Fr. Furlan was told to find a co-host himself, and he immediately sought out his classmate, Fr. Listecki.
“WIND wants to give the archdiocese an hour of time on the radio,” explained Fr. Furlan to Fr. Listecki.
“Oh, wow, that’s great,” replied his friend.
“And the archdiocese wants me to do it,” Fr. Furlan told him.
“Yeah, you’d be great,” he replied.
Fr. Furlan asked Fr. Listecki to join him behind the microphone.
“He paused for a moment, and then said, ‘Yeah, OK,’ … and the great team of Furlan and Listecki was born,” recalled Fr. Furlan.
Talk show format just beginning
The show was sandwiched between two other programs on religion, noted Fr. Furlan, explaining the block of programming was “the minister, the priests and the rabbi.”
The duo co-hosted the live radio show, taking calls, interviewing guests or discussing topics.
The radio talk show format was just coming into vogue in the Midwest market when the show debuted in the late 1970s, explained Archbishop Listecki in an interview at his La Crosse office about a month before his installation.
One of the more memorable shows, according to Archbishop Listecki, was a discussion of near-death experiences.
At the time, he explained, there was a fascination with the movie, “Beyond and Back” so the two priests discussed the phenomenon on the airwaves.
“It was a fascinating program because we were talking about near-death experiences, and while we were on the air, we had people call in with near-death experiences. I came away from the show understanding of the affirmation of the near death experiences. For me, the affirmation became clear that people who have had near-death experiences: one, there is no need to convince (them) about the truth of their experiences, they know they have had it, … second thing, they returned to the practice of their faith, their faith tradition; there was a hunger to go back to it, and the third thing, they had seemingly lost a fear of death.”
Live callers meant expect unexpected
He also noted that being live radio, sometimes the unexpected happened with callers. For example, one time a woman called telling the hosts that she saw the Blessed Mother in a screen door, recalled Archbishop Listecki.
“We talk in terms of basically personal piety, always looking for the Lord in everything that surrounds us, but we knew this lady was more emotionally wrought than anything else,” he remembered.
For callers who were out of line, Fr. Furlan noted the seven-second delay was a handy tool.
“If it would get really bad, we’d hit the button, but our conversations were pretty much wide open,” he said, noting that most shows were topical, not open lines.
They were on the air together for a year, but again, tongue-in-cheek, Fr. Furlan explained, his partner was “tapped by Cardinal (John P.) Cody to study in Rome to pick up a couple more degrees because he did not have enough.”
Fr. Furlan continued the show, at times drawing upon the talents of other priests to co-host, but sometimes calling upon his longtime friend to help him out long-distance.
“For a while, anytime something big would happen and I needed a report, I would call Fr. Listecki in Rome and set up an on-air interview with him,” said Fr. Furlan, describing shows they did on “Christmas in the Vatican” or programs in anticipation of Pope John Paul II’s 1979 trip to Chicago.
What the Chicago listener did not know of the long-distance guest, said Fr. Furlan, was the maneuvering it took to arrange such a hookup.
While it was 10 p.m. in Chicago, Rome time was early dawn, say 5 a.m. Because the switchboard at the residence where Fr. Listecki lived was not open that early, he would hop on his Vespa in the darkness of the night, travel across town to the railroad station to a phone booth and would place a collect call to the Chicago radio station. The station producer would call him back and the priest did his end of the show talking on a Roman pay phone at a railroad station in the early morning hours.
His dedication to the show was one example of how driven Archbishop Listecki is in every aspect of life, said Fr. Furlan.
‘Jerry was the playmaker’
No matter what venture, Fr. Furlan said, “Jerry,” as he refers to him, embraced it fully. Fr. Furlan recalled a basketball game during their college days together when the coach grabbed seminarian Listecki’s jersey in the front, and yelled, “Listecki, you’ve got to move this team,” said Fr. Furlan explaining, “You see, Jerry was the playmaker on the team.”
While the longtime friends don’t see each other as much as in the past, Fr. Furlan noted he is “very proud of him, the lieutenant, colonel, doctor, doctor, doctor, doctor.”
He admitted, however, when he heard the news of his friend’s appointment as archbishop of Milwaukee, “One of the funny things that came to my mind when I heard the announcement … what’s with this guy? Can’t he keep a steady job. First he goes to La Crosse, now Milwaukee,” said Fr. Furlan, adding, on a serious note, “I hope he stays in Milwaukee. When we were at the seminary at Mundelein, Milwaukee was always a nice day trip, a nice change of pace.”
In addition to his radio work, then-Fr. Listecki also was involved with television in the Archdiocese of Chicago as producer of several television programs and celebrant for WGN “Mass for Shut-ins.” In the Diocese of La Crosse, as bishop, he also celebrated TV Masses for shut-ins.