January 22, 2014 — Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa didn’t plan on a career in media, but through his television ministry at Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), the world’s largest religious media network, he reaches more than 220 million homes in 144 countries.
As a child growing up in Chicago, Fr. Pacwa didn’t dream of hosting a television show. “I wanted to be a cowboy,” he recalls. But when he made his First Communion, he began to admire the priests in his parish. “I thought, ‘I’ll do that too.’ That was all that it took,” he says.
At first, Fr. Pacwa felt a draw to become a diocesan priest and he attended high school at Quigley North in Chicago, a minor seminary. “But during my junior year, one day I was thinking about it and it just came to my mind that I’m not going to be a diocesan priest, and then a little while later I thought, ‘I’m going to be a Jesuit.’
“I’d never seen or met a Jesuit in my life!” says Fr. Pacwa. “But I did remember in the third grade watching a movie about St. Ignatius Loyola. That plus the story of St. Francis Xavier evangelizing people also impressed me.”
He applied to the Jesuits but wasn’t accepted the first time. So Fr. Pacwa headed to Loyola University Chicago, applied again and was accepted after his freshman year, entering the Society of Jesus in 1968.
As a novice, he worked with street gangs as a community organizer at Holy Family Parish in Chicago. After witnessing a murder, Fr. Pacwa realized that community organizing wasn’t the right fit for him. He studied philosophy at the University of Detroit Mercy and then taught at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati for two years. After theology studies at Loyola University Chicago, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1976.
Next he taught for two years at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Ill., before earning his Ph.D. in Old Testament studies at Vanderbilt University, where his broadcasting career began. It started when he heard an anti-Catholic radio show on a local station in 1983, and he complained to the station.
“They said I could come on their live call-in show and explain Catholicism. So I did it, and they got such a response to that show that they kept asking me to come back,” he recalls.
Eventually some Catholics in Nashville asked Fr. Pacwa to do his own radio show, and from there he was invited to EWTN as a guest on “Mother Angelica Live” in 1984. Mother Angelica, the founder of EWTN, enjoyed his appearance and during one of the breaks she told Fr. Pacwa she wanted him to come back. Despite fulltime teaching jobs at Loyola Chicago and, later, at the University of Dallas, Fr. Pacwa kept coming back. EWTN, which is based outside Birmingham, Ala., has been his fulltime home since 2001.
“I didn’t plan on any type of career in the media at all. I wanted to teach. I still love teaching very much,” Fr. Pacwa says.
Currently, Fr. Pacwa hosts two television shows a week and a weekly call-in radio show, "Open Line," which is broadcast on EWTN's 350 radio stations in the U.S.
On “Threshold of Hope,” he explains various writings of the church, such as Blessed John Paul II's Faith and Reason encyclical. “I’ve certainly learned a lot from doing the show,” he says. “I find it tremendous to do that as a service. I often explain to people that my education as a Jesuit was a gift of the people of God. They donated money so that I could go to school, and I have a responsibility to use this education for the service of the church because ultimately this education is theirs.”
On his other show, “EWTN Live,” which was formerly “Mother Angelica Live,” Fr. Pacwa interviews guests who perform a variety of different ministries in the church. EWTN’s programming also highlights the Catholic Church’s pro-life values. “One of the things we do at EWTN is cover the March for Life in its entirety every year,” Fr. Pacwa explains.
“We frequently have programs in which we cover what is at stake in these issues regarding human life, not just the events of the March, but all kinds of events, movements and individuals who are strongly committed to promoting the right to life,” Fr. Pacwa says. “It has been a privilege to be part of that kind of effort.”
In addition to his work at EWTN, Fr. Pacwa also leads pilgrimages to and writes books about the Holy Land and travels around the country to give retreats. He’s often on the road 20 to 25 weekends a year. “One of the other arguments for priestly celibacy,” he says, laughing. “If I had a wife, she would have killed me.”
Fr. Pacwa is also an avid hunter. He sees no conflict between living pro-life values and hunting. “Animals don’t have immortal souls — humans do,” he says.
Fr. Pacwa recently began offering hunting and fishing retreats, which have attracted retreatants who Fr. Pacwa says he would not reach through a regular retreat. “Various men’s groups started asking me to do this. A number of the guys who come on the retreats say, ‘I would never go on a retreat, but this I’ll go on.’ ”
It’s not uncommon to see Fr. Pacwa at the Bass Pro Shops in his clerics. “I was walking out of a sporting goods store once, and a man and little boy walked in and the boy did a double take and said, ‘Where does he go to church? I want to go there!’ ”
Fr. Pacwa knows some people don’t approve of hunting, but he says there are ethics that he follows. “We choose animals to help the herd and make sure it flourishes.” He also stresses sharing the fruits of the hunt with those in need. “Last year, two of my bucks were sent out to be made into jerky for the troops in Afghanistan. Two other bucks went to a prison ministry.” He also fills the freezers of some poor families near him in Alabama with meat from his hunts.
Through his various ministries — his TV shows, retreats, pilgrimages and books — Fr. Pacwa says that “it’s such an honor to be able to teach so many people around the world. I only hope that I can do this well as long as possible.”