As Catholic radio seeks Lansing station, ex-listeners urge caution


DeWitt native Nadja Tirrell and her family were part of the growing movement of traditional Catholicism in San Antonio, Texas, before moving back to Michigan in 2013.

“It was very, very conservative. All the women wore veils, everybody had a ton of kids, and you’re taught to defer to the priests and not question what they say. It was just a different world,” Tirrell explained.

The transition to Greater Lansing’s Catholic community wasn’t easy for Tirrell. Shortly after returning, she met a local priest who took a particular interest in her struggles. Over time, she said, the priest got too close for comfort and “violated” her boundaries to the point where she now considers him her “spiritual rapist.”

Tirrell’s experience led her to form the St. Mary MacKillop Coalition for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in 2019 and join the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests as its Lansing leader in 2021.

Now an established regional activist, Tirrell recently became concerned when she heard about a proposal by Ave Maria Radio to launch a new AM radio station in Greater Lansing this year.

Ave Maria Radio is an Ann Arbor-based network that labels itself as “the largest producer of English Catholic radio content in the world.”

“If Ave Maria plans on spreading to Lansing, that creeps me out,” Tirrell said. “I just have concerns about this type of atmosphere spreading in Michigan even more than it already has.”

Ave Maria Radio vice president David Vacheresse confirmed the plans with City Pulse on Monday.

To facilitate the move Vacheresse said Ave Maria Radio has agreed to purchase a Greater Lansing station that would become the 11th to be fully owned and operated by the network. Though he declined to name a seller until the deal was finalized, he said the station would have the capacity to reach 550,000 people in mid-Michigan by September or October.

Having gained approval from Diocese of Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea in March, Vacheresse and his team are now in the process of presenting the plan at 25 local parishes to draw financial support for the project, which he said would come at an initial cost of $375,000.

“We have been in parishes now for three weekends now. So far, when we've made this presentation, about 40% of the families present at mass had chosen to help, which is unheard of,” he said.

Ave Maria vice president and general manager Michael Jones said the support so far has been “robust.”

“We expect that that trend to continue. The constituents of the Diocese of Lansing have been surrounded by Catholic radio, and they're hungry to have Ave Maria Radio serve their communities,” he said.

David Kerr, spokesperson for the Diocese of Lansing, said he had yet to be “fully appraised of the details,” but indicated general support for the project.

“In principle, the Diocese of Lansing has always been appreciative and supportive of Ave Maria’s media apostolate, and, again, in principle, we are always keen to help anybody seeking to bring the love of Jesus Christ and His Holy Church to a contemporary society in desperate need of His divine mercy,” Kerr wrote in an email.

Founded in 1997 by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan and recently deceased former president Al Kresta, Ave Maria Radio has since grown into a powerful arm in a larger Monaghan-backed Ave Maria empire that also includes a small municipality and university of the same name in southwestern Florida.

Audrey Farley is an author who was born into a now-defunct charismatic Catholic community in Baltimore and is writing a book on her experiences. Farley cited the Ave Maria conglomerate as an important cog in a conservative spur of the faith known as “charismatic Catholicism.”

“Charismatics believe in the charisms or the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, prophecies and the laying of hands,” Farley explained. “When I was researching the history of the whole movement, I realized that Michigan was the nerve center for everything. I think Ave Maria was part of the early efforts to expand into radio.”

Tirrell, who was herself a frequent listener of Ave Maria Radio’s online programming while in Texas, agreed with Farley’s assessment. She called Ave Maria Radio “a gateway drug” to that movement.

“While there's nothing wrong with charismatic Catholicism in general, there is something wrong with the way it's functioning in Ann Arbor. That community has always been exceptionally dysfunctional and very doomsday-oriented,” she said.

Lisa Crammer, a former Ave Maria Radio volunteer who attended Ann Arbor’s Christ The King church from 2005 to 2012, echoed those takes.
“Ave Maria is like a window to everything else in the movement, and I would hate to have them continue to spread their evil in Lansing,” she said.

Crammer’s first encounter with Ann Arbor’s charismatic Catholic network came after she become a single mother following her divorce in 2005. While the community was “financially really helpful for a while,” she said things changed when she began asking questions about the Rev. Patrick Egan, a longtime Ave Maria Radio chaplain who had been hit with multiple sexual assault allegations from minor and adult men since 1987.

Egan, who died last year, was relieved of his “priestly faculties” by the Diocese of Lansing years later in 2018 “due to a credible allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior.” At the time, however, Crammer said her inquiries were met with fierce backlash from her faith community.

“It got so bad that I couldn’t even get jobs or put my kids in a homeschooling group,” Crammer said. “I moved to Oklahoma just to get away from that whole movement, but one of my daughters is now in a covenant that they suggested. I’ve been told it’s a cult, and I hardly see her now.”

Crammer fears that the new Lansing station would only perpetuate the issues she faced because Ave Maria Radio wields its influence “to control perceptions” and stifle criticism, she said.

“There's a lot of spiritual abuse, lies and cover-ups in the community, and Ave Maria Radio is used for damage control. Their job is to mediate the reality,” she said.

Jones countered that Ave Maria Radio was “too small to take any direction from outside.” He said that each network host has the freedom to decide how they will best “apply Catholic teaching to the lives of the listeners.”

“I have been the vice president and general manager here for 23 years. In that time, I've never given a directive to any of our 20-some odd hosts,” Jones said. “I don't even vet any of their information. I trust them all to walk with the Lord as they see fit.”

“I'm afraid that this individual is probably hurt in some way,” he added. “Not necessarily by us, but by the charismatic community of their personal church.”

Crammer credited her decision to leave the movement in 2012 as the reason she’s been able to preserve her faith since then.

“I’m still really involved, but I’m also really against charismatics. I've just learned to be more discerning,” she said.

Jones urged Crammer and others who agree with her to have a one-on-one conversation with him about their concerns.

“When somebody has a complaint, we always want to hear from them. I’d love to talk and find out if there's anything I can do to help with their pain and find out what I can do to reconcile them with whoever is standing between them and joy.”

For Ave Maria Radio, the Lansing rollout is particularly significant because it’s the final chapter in the life of their founder Al Kresta, who died of liver cancer at the age of 72 last week.

“This station is the last project that Al worked on, and just another incredible piece of his legacy,” Vacheresse said. “We know by experience that lives will be changed through it, and we’re beyond thankful for that.”

Ave Maria Radio, Al Kresta, Dave Vacheresse, Mike Jones, Audrey Farley, Nadja Tirrell, St. Mary MacKillop Coalition, Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests, Diocese of Lansing, Bishop Earl Boyea, David Kerr, Ave Maria University, charismatic Catholicism, catholic, religion, christianity, Christ the King, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Patrick Egan, Lisa Crammer


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