Every Sunday morning for 55 years, thousands of viewers -- Catholics and non-Catholics alike -- in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri have watched the broadcast of "Mass for Shut-Ins" on Quincy television stations. Sponsored by the Quincy chapter of the Knights of Columbus, the broadcast brings the weekly religious liturgy into homes and apartments of viewers in the three-state region.
The origin of the popular religious program began with casual conversation during a meeting of the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree in September 1962. Father George McDivott, a Franciscan priest at Quincy College, suggested that the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree sponsor a televised Mass for nursing home residents, the homebound and others unable to attend weekly services in their churches. Knight Rich Niemann championed the idea and proposed a formal motion for a televised Mass. After a lengthy discussion with participants including Father Donald Werr, Dr. A.A. Kuna, Milt Engels, Al Marshall, Judge John T. Reardon, Ted Ehrhardt, Vincent Schelich, Bert Wensing and Virgil Wiewel, the proposal won unanimous support.
Werr told his fellow knights that Quincy College would likely provide the priests for the Mass. With money needed to start the program, Ehrhardt and Reardon volunteered to lead fundraising efforts. Wiewel agreed to become the first coordinator of the Mass for Shut-Ins, a position he held for nearly 20 years. Kuna and his office secretary also worked many years to ensure that the program remained on the air.
WGEM-TV, the NBC station in Quincy, agreed to record the Mass at its studio at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and televise it the following Sunday mornings. The knights took on the responsibility of designing and building the set. Wensing built the altar, and donations provided the crucifix hung behind the altar, along with linens, candles, cruets, hosts and wine the Mass required.
Organizers recruited 21 men for seven teams to set up and dismantle the studio for each week's Mass. Approximately 10 priests from throughout the Quincy area continue to celebrate the Mass for viewers each week. Eight Catholic churches and 24 Catholic organizations in the area provide readers and a studio audience. Over its half-century of broadcasts, the Mass for Shut-Ins has had the support of the Knights of Columbus Third and Fourth Degree of Quincy, the Knights of Mount Sterling and Ewing, Mo., the K of C Ladies Auxiliary, Legion of Mary, Sacred Heart League, St. Vincent's home, Great River T.E.C., Blessed Sacrament Altar Society, Western Catholic Union, St. Vincent DePaul Society, Blessed Sacrament Parents and Friends, Quincy Notre Dame High School Student Council, St. Francis Scouts, St. Peter School, Secular Franciscans, Ladies of Charity, Catholic War Veterans, St. Francis Holy Name Society, St. Dominic School, Ladies of St. Francis, Blessed Sacrament Life Teens and Knights of Columbus Par 3 Golf League.
There also are seven teams of studio directors, made up of three volunteers each, who arrange the studio set for the weekly Masses. The half-hour broadcast provides an abbreviated liturgical experience for viewers, including weekly readings, responsorial Psalms, homilies (or sermons), spiritual celebration of the Eucharist, prayers, hymns and blessings.
The first Mass for Shut-Ins was televised in 1962. After several years, when WGEM could no longer include it in its programming schedule, WTAD, the local CBS affiliate, picked up the program and televised it from the 10th floor of the Western Catholic Union building at 500 Maine. Several years later, WTAD moved its studio into new facilities on South 36th Street and turned over the taping and televising of the Mass to its sister studio, KHQA, the CBS and ABC affiliate. KHQA has broadcast the program weekly since. The television station enhanced the program in 2012 by providing closed captioning for the deaf and hearing impaired.
The Knights, too, broadened the program by printing and mailing missalettes, which provide texts and instructions for the Mass, to those unable to attend their church. The Knights of Columbus each month mail approximately 200 missalettes to nursing and shelter-care homes and 70 to people who are confined to their homes.
There are many special linens required for the celebration of Masses -- like purificators, corporals and altar linens -- and each must be washed and ironed each week. Barb Reinhart, wife of knight Ron Reinhart, provided this service for many years, and Marge Klingele, wife of former Grand Knight Robert Klingele, has been doing it ever since.
Many have asked about the voice that introduces the program each Sunday. It is the voice of Wiewel, the first coordinator of the Mass for Shut-Ins. Wiewel died several years ago, but his voice continues to introduce the program as a lasting tribute to the contributions he made to launch the program and sustain it. There have been only three other coordinators in the 55 years of the program's existence: Verne Hagstrom, Dan Hummel and Russ Doellman, all of Quincy.
The Knights of Columbus continues to provide the leadership and coordination for the weekly broadcast. The program receives each knight's support through annual gifts that are donated at the time annual memberships are renewed. Most of the funding is provided through memorials and gifts made in the names of deceased loved ones.
Verne Hagstrom is a former mayor of Quincy and a past faithful navigator of the Knights of Columbus, Fourth Degree.