Sheila Grove

ERIE — It comes upon the midnight clear or not clear that glorious song of old.   

Sam Hyman prepares for the
broadcast in 2017.
Photo/Anne-Marie Welsh

Thanks to the cooperative effort of the Diocese of Erie — with the support of the Catholic Foundation of Northwest Pennsylvania — Gannon University and WJET-TV, Christmas Eve Mass at midnight is broadcast into homes, care facilities, correctional facilities; anywhere people are — even nestled all snug in their beds. In this age of rapid technologies faster than Rudolph can circumnavigate the globe, the ‘how it happens’ part of this experience frequently goes unnoticed. 

In 2013, a mission in the minds and hearts of Gannon University’s Father Michael Kesicki, associate vice president of University Mission and Ministry, and Sam Hyman, director of the Waldron Campus Center, gave birth to a plan to broadcast Midnight Mass at St. Peter Cathedral after a few-year hiatus.  

Hyman’s friend, Don Grisé of Grisé Audio Visual, agreed to provide the equipment needed cameras, wiring, microphones, a producer’s desk and more to begin the project. Hyman, who had experience in sound technology, agreed to wire the cathedral, erect camera stands, run cable, install a press system into the sound system and produce the broadcast. Hyman has become a fixture in the church for the week or more before Christmas each year since.  

The commitment made, the challenge then was getting the broadcast on the air. Leslie Bebko, creative services director at JET, who had been involved with the broadcast for its first decade, joined in. JET had recently purchased backpack technology with the power of six cell phones that connects to a network and transmits a live feed through cell towers back to the studio from where it is broadcast.   

For that first year’s broadcast, two cameras were used. Hyman worked one camera and the other provided a stationary feed. The following year, Hyman’s sons Benjamin and Zachary offered to be involved.   

“You are there delivering Christmas to those who can’t make it,” they said. They agreed that if their father was planning to be at Midnight Mass, they would join him.   

Benjamin has since operated a camera in the choir loft and Zachary operates a second one on the floor. Hyman does not disguise his pride and pleasure in his sons’ commitment and creativity. He operates the producer’s desk which allows him to see the input from all three cameras. He chooses which shots are available for the audience, but trusts Benjamin and Zachary’s creativity with what to shoot.  

The result is a magnificent mix of views of the Mass, dissolves to the inspiring creche, the faithful attendees and video and audio of the choir under the direction of William Herring. 

Midnight Mass at St. Peter Cathedral, 2018.
Photo/Sheila Grove

It is a labor of love, quite a team,” said Hyman. “Gannon University is extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to help. It is an honor and a privilege.”

Lisa Louis, director of the Catholic Foundation stated, “The Catholic Foundation is happy that evangelization endowment funds are being used in this way; it is a very good use of the funds given the purpose of the Evangelization Endowment.”  

“We look forward to continuing the relationship with the diocese,” Bebko remarked. “This a way for those who cannot get to the church to share in the celebration. We are blessed with the ability to provide this for people. We serve as the platform by providing the television time and advance promotion. This is our community also.  We live here, work here and worship here.”  

The celebration begins at 11:30 p.m. with a selection of Christmas hymns performed by the Cathedral Choir. Mass begins promptly at midnight. The tradition of singing Silent Night by candlelight after Communion continues. Consider attending in person.

The Cathedral Choir sings hymns of praise, 2018
Photo/Sheila Grove

The broadcast extends to the WJET TV viewing area and through a live feed at www.YourErie.com for those outside the area.

It is, indeed, a Holy Night.