From Father Ray to Father Rob to Sister Cristina: The Church’s Singing Reality Stars

What are Catholic priests, seminarians and religious doing on reality-TV shows?

While many consider TV to be a wasteland, reality TV especially gets a bad rap … much of it deserved. But as much as the Apostles didn’t just stay in friendly areas, Christians are called to evangelize the whole world — and sometimes that involves a microphone, a camera and a panel of judges.

Last week, Irish priest Father Ray Kelly — who gained fame when a 2014 video of him singing a version of “Hallelujah” at a wedding went viral — appeared in front of Simon Cowell and his fellow judges on “Britain’s Got Talent” (the same show that launched the career of Catholic singer Susan Boyle).

The 65-year-old did a moving rendition of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” linking it to the pain and distress he’s witnessed as a parish priest in County Meath, Ireland. It caused some moist eyes among the British audience and earned a standing ovation from the ordinarily acerbic Cowell.

Take a look:

This is not the first time that Catholics in collars and habits have wowed singing-show judges.

Also in 2014, Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia went on a blind audition to Italy’s version of “The Voice” and knocked the judges’ socks off.

Father Kelly’s fate on “BGT” is unknown as of this writing — but his viral video did earn him a short recording contract — but Sister Cristina won it all, as reported by CNN (including a screenshot of a congratulatory Tweet from a Vatican cardinal) …

She’s gone on to have a recording career, but Sister Cristina remains an Ursuline. When she won “The Voice,” she gave thanks to God and recited the Our Father.

Malta-born Father Rob Galea, who’s a parish priest in Australia, auditioned for “The X Factor Australia” in 2015, and was a hit.

He later dropped out of the competition because it conflicted too much with his pastoral and youth-ministry duties. But he’s continued with his ministry and music, as you can see from the video below (which shares a title with his new autobiography, out now from Ave Maria Press). Subtitled, “A Journey From Desperation to Hope,” it recounts Father Galea’s troubled adolescence, deep depression and eventual awakening to his Catholic faith.

BTW, we talked to Father Galea at the recent Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, so watch for that video or videos, coming soon.

Other Catholic have made their mark on non-musical reality shows, including Game Show Network’s “American Bible Challenge.” In season two in 2013, Team Sisters of Mary from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, came within a whisker of winning the Bible-quiz show, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy. But they did walk away with the fan-favorite award, winding up with a total of $50K in prize money, earmarked to support retired sisters from their order.

The following year, the Sons of Thunder, three men from St. Paul Seminary (one of whom, Father Marc Paveglio, was ordained after their appearance was taped but before it aired) also appeared on “The American Bible Challenge.” They came in second in their episode and won $5K for NET Ministeies, based in West St. Paul, Minnesota.

Happy to report that seminarian Chad VanHoose is now Father VanHoose, as is his Sons of Thunder teammate, Father Mark Pavlak.

Of course, there’s a danger for any priest or sister or seminarian appearing on TV and possibly becoming famous. The temptations of this are obvious and can be serious — but they’re not insurmountable. And along the way, these brave folks present a warm, welcoming, very human face of the Catholic Church to many who may never encounter people like this in their daily lives.

If that’s not the New Evangelization, I don’t know what is.

Image: Courtesy FatherRayKellyNews.com/HeartBeat Records

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