By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published May 11, 2006
It’s 6:30 a.m. on the Monday after Easter, and Father Ricardo Bailey is looking over the notes for his sermon one last time.
His well-read Bible resting next to him on the table, he flips through his handwritten and typed notes, making last-minute changes. As a parochial vicar at Holy Spirit Church, he’s had a busy weekend, full of the rituals of the resurrection. His eyes are heavy with a lack of sleep as he tries to shake off the fog of fatigue that threatens to consume him.
But as soon as he walks into his church, the youthful energy he is known for appears in a burst of exuberance.
“Father Crunk” is preaching—and Atlantans are listening.
On Monday mornings for the last three months, Father Bailey’s “church” has been the studios of pop station Q100 FM, his pulpit the popular morning show “The Bert Show.”
The names that he drops in his sermons—Jessica Simpson, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Lindsay Lohan—are different from the sinners and saints he might recall on Sundays at Holy Spirit, but the message is the same.
“I am sanctified! God must be glorified,” sings the soulful voice backed by the gospel choir. It’s Father Bailey’s theme song, the tune that lets the listeners know they’re about to “get crunkified.”
“We call him Father Crunk. It’s Father Bailey from Holy Spirit Catholic Church,” announces Bert Weiss, as Father Bailey sits across from him, his white priest’s collar loose around his neck, headphones on for his segment.
“Father Crunk here tells us that, look, you can’t laugh at the dysfunction going on in Hollywood with some of these celebrities. What you ought to do is embrace it and apply it to your life because there’s some spiritual messages coming out of Hollywood that we can learn every single week,” Weiss says.
“Yes, indeed,” Father Bailey replies. “And today’s title is ‘Stop dippin’ and dappin’ when you don’t know what’s happenin’.”
Father Bailey goes on to talk about the rumors surrounding the relationship between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
“Relationships, my friends, are hard enough, and the last thing that anybody needs are the rumors that fan the flames of the hater-ology that goes on out there,” Father Bailey said. “When you look at the Bible, there are people all around it that are trying to hate on one another. … Remember all that drama that happened when Jesus was getting ready to be born? I mean, man, people were hating on Mary, filling Joseph’s mind with the fact that he needed to kick Mary to the curb because he wasn’t that baby’s daddy. But we all know how that turned out.”
The message of Jesus, Mary and Joseph might seem out of place on a radio station that plays hits from rapper Kanye West to pop superstar Kelly Clarkson, but Weiss insists Father Bailey fits in perfectly.
“I think entertainment is entertainment,” Weiss said. “If it’s engaging, it’s engaging. Father Bailey is entertaining, engaging and talks about subjects our target audience is interested in: pop culture. It was an easy fit.”
Father Bailey, an Atlanta native, first appeared on “The Bert Show” last fall when he came on the air to pray for the Holy Spirit Preparatory School’s football team. Fellow Bert Show cast member, Jeff Dauler, had chosen Holy Spirit Prep when members of the show picked a high school team to cheer for during the football season. Listeners responded so well to Father Bailey that Weiss decided to bring him back for a regular segment.
“Father Bailey just has this amazingly welcoming personality. And he’s so original,” Weiss said. “Who wouldn’t want to listen to him? The trick was bringing a priest on without people feeling we were forcing them to listen to a religious sermon. The connection with Hollywood made it a perfect segment.”
And Atlantans have agreed with a resounding “Amen.”
Weiss said he has received hundreds of e-mails from listeners who love Father Bailey.
“People generally love him. I’ve only received one negative e-mail about one of his segments,” Weiss said. “That’s probably one in a hundred. People love him because of his delivery and the non-threatening way he approaches his subjects.”
Jessica Handley, Webmaster and assistant communications director for the archdiocese, noticed an increase in searches for both Holy Spirit Church and Father Bailey and, in response, created a special link just for visitors who want information about the priest.
Tiffany Riehle is one listener who thinks Father Bailey is just what Atlanta radio—and the Catholic Church—needs.
“I think he’s a good face of the Catholic faith that has been, in some ways, tarnished. He has a great message and really brings the faith into the mainstream,” she said.
Riehle, 32, is a parishioner at Holy Spirit, and regularly listens to Father Bailey on “The Bert Show.” His segments, she said, have helped him become more “real” to parishioners and non-parishioners alike.
“He’s so full of energy and love and so obviously in love with being a priest,” she said. “He touches a lot of people. He’s not what people think of as a stereotypical priest. He’s not out of touch with the world, and he clearly shows that every week.”
Riehle said several of Father Bailey’s messages have touched her on a personal level, and she has found that to be true among some of her friends and co-workers as well. One work colleague, a fallen-away Catholic, Riehle said, was inspired to come back to church after hearing Father Bailey on Q100.
“He’s just a breath of fresh air to Atlanta and the Church, and I think people can really relate to him.”
And indeed, each week after Father Bailey’s segments, station callers are quick to heap praise over the air.
One week, a caller named Jeff said that Father Bailey had inspired him.
“I haven’t been to church in years,” Jeff said. “This is the first time I’ve even been interested in a long time.”
Father Bailey remains humble about his work. His decision to do the radio segments was blessed by both Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Holy Spirit pastor Msgr. Edward Dillon. He said he was nervous the first time he was on the air, but Dauler and Weiss gave him pointers to ease his nerves. In preparation each week he said he prays, looks at the entertainment news published on Q100’s Web site, www.allthehitsq100.com, and works to turn the Hollywood message into a holy one.
“I don’t take this lightly,” Father Bailey said. “But I want to make it as funny as it is spiritual. Q100 is a secular station, but it’s very important to realize that there are listeners who have been alienated by things that have happened in the past, and they are searching.”
Father Bailey said he has received numerous e-mails from listeners including “16 during Holy Week alone.”
“I have people old enough to be my grandparents telling me that they heard me on the radio,” he said with a laugh. “It gives the parishioners a way to break the ice with me, too.”
He’s also quick to give credit to the cast members of “The Bert Show,” who have been supportive and encouraging of him.
“They are very good people. They have made an impact on Atlanta, and I am very graced, very humbled to be with them each week.”
Father Bailey is one priest among many in the archdiocese, he said, and he doesn’t see himself as anyone special.
“I am very happy to be a priest. The Archdiocese of Atlanta has been blessed with many, many good and holy priests who work day in and day out. I’m just a drop in the bucket compared to what they do,” he said. “I’m a small part of the mosaic.”
And the Q100 studio is far from where Father Bailey expected to minister, but he said he is thankful for the opportunity.
“If you’d have told me when I was back at seminary that one day I’d be on a top 40 radio station, I’d have said you were lying,” he laughed. “But all I want to do is lead people to Jesus. That’s what it’s all about.”
Father Bailey’s Q100 reports are archived on the station’s Web site at www.allthehitsq100.com/bertshow. He will be speaking at the teen track for the annual Eucharistic Congress June 17 at the Georgia International Convention Center as well as at “Revive!” on Friday night, June 16, for young adults. For more information visit www.archatl.com/congress/2006.