Arts & Entertainment
'Catholicism' producer has Charlotte diocese connection
CHARLOTTE — Nancy Ross is a familiar face to many Catholics in the Charlotte area. From 1994 to 2002 Ross anchored and reported the news for WBTV in Charlotte. In 2004 Ross returned to her native Chicago when her husband's job relocated their family. Ross recently spoke with the Catholic News Herald about her role as the producer of the successful TV series "Catholicism" and how her experiences in Charlotte deepened her faith. Her answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Pictured: Nancy Ross, a former TV news anchor from Charlotte, is the producer of the landmark television series, "Catholicism." Father Robert Barron, who runs the Chicago-based Word on Fire ministry, is pictured while shooting the series, which explains beliefs of the Catholic faith and features more than 50 locations in 16 countries. (Photo courtesy of Word on Fire Ministries)
CNH: How did the series "Catholicism" come about?
Nancy Ross: I walked into church one day and heard Father Robert Barron and said, 'Whoa, this guy should be out there as a voice for the Church.' It turns out he was already doing some media work and evangelization in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Father Barron always had a dream to do something like Kenneth Clark's "Civilization." He wanted to travel around the world to tell the story of Catholicism and its beautiful places and traditions and Catholic culture. He presented his idea to the Word on Fire board. (Word on Fire was formed to support the radio and podcasting work Father Barron does). The board told him he should drop everything else and go do that. We first had to get permission from Cardinal (Francis) George to raise the money and to give Father Barron time off from his seminary teaching duties. Once we got that, it was four years from when we started fundraising to when the first program got on the air.
CNH: What does a producer do?
Nancy Ross: First it was raising money. Overall, my job is building relationships and putting the right teams together to make this happen – from the crews to the donors to event planners and supporters who make this happen. It is a lot of logistical work. In the beginning we raised enough money for one episode and we didn't know if it would be one episode or three. We were raising funds while we were producing the episodes, which is kind of unusual.
CNH: Each show opens with a dramatic shot of the doors to the Sistine Chapel opening to reveal the great frescos of Michelangelo on the ceiling and wall behind the altar. What was it like getting permission for that?
Nancy Ross: It took several months of letters back and forth to the Vatican including one from Cardinal George. There was some vetting of Father Barron and Word on Fire to make sure that we were a legitimate organization that wanted to show the true beauty and faith of the Church. We shot in there on an evening, after it was closed to the public, from seven until 10. There is so much more of the Sistine Chapel that we haven't used yet. We'll probably use it in other series.
CNH: How successful has the "Catholicism" series been?
Nancy Ross: So far the 10 episodes have been broadcast more than 1,500 times on public television stations and EWTN, reaching more than 70 percent of the audience in America. Starting March 1, EWTN will be airing three episodes a week for at least a year. The ratings have been decent. We are hoping to go international to the BBC and Univision in Latin America. We have translations underway in a total of 10 languages. So, in the Catholic world we hope there will be a steady presence of the series for some time to come.
CNH: Father Barron's communication seems effortless. Is he using a teleprompter?
Nancy Ross: No. We call him "One-take Bob." And that is something I sensed the first time I heard him, that he was this great communicator. The cardinal said that someone like him comes along once in a generation if we are lucky. He (Father Barron) has this ability to communicate. He gets these scripts into his head and then it just flows freely. The director of the program has worked with Tom Brokaw, Bryant Gumbel and Bob Costas, and he says Father Barron is better than any of them.
CNH: How did your time in the Diocese of Charlotte influence your work with Father Barron?
Nancy Ross: Bishop William Curlin had an enormous influence on me. He baptized two of my three children. And then meeting Mother Teresa, and I got to interview her when she came to Charlotte (in 1994). And that just really rocked my world. I couldn't sleep for about two weeks after that, and even though I didn't know it at the time, something inside of me had been awakened. And some good friends in Charlotte helped call me back to the Church. Charlotte is where my personal journey began, and it all helped me with the practical groundwork for this production.
CNH: What's next for Father Barron?
Nancy Ross: We have a couple of things. First, Father has been invited to go to Australia and England. We'll send a (film) crew so we can take a look at the faith "down under," in England and in the West. He is leaving on that trip in March. Beyond that, he is looking at doing a series on the pivotal players of Catholicism -– from the Early Church Fathers to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas and even G.K. Chesterton – and showing how those great figures guided the Church through the ages.
— David Hains, diocesan director of communication
Get your copy
The 10-part series "Catholicism," is available on DVD. For more information, go to www.catholicismproject.org.
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