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Fr Michael Melvin SVD

30 November, 1999

Finbarr Tracey SVD, pays tribute to Fr Mick Melvin, SVD, Director of Kairos Communications, who died last September (2008).

On 27 July 2008, the Sunday Mass on RTÉ 1 was broadcast ‘live’ from the peak of Croagh Patrick, Co Mayo. It was an historical event and judging from the extraordinary number of phone calls and emails to RTÉ and to Kairos afterwards, it was also a stunning piece of television. For Fr Michael Melvin, the producer of more than 100 ‘live’ broadcasts of the Sunday Mass, it was the fulfilment of a dream.

The staff in Kairos have provided many insights into the kind of person Mick was. Many of his personal qualities came into clear focus on the slopes of Croagh Patrick. Mick led from the front and in spite of his poor health climbed the mountain himself days before the broadcast. ‘Live’ broadcasting presents all kinds of logistical challenges and a ‘live’ broadcast from the top of Croagh Patrick on ‘Reek Sunday’ was always going to be a gigantic undertaking. With Mick Melvin the challenge was also going to be understated. In his way of approaching the task, he did not exaggerate the difficulties but always managed to make it sound achievable. People had said, “It couldn’t be done”, and Mick was very dismissive of this kind of thinking. His staff and closely-knit crew drew great strength from this attitude.

Kairos began as a catechetical magazine back in the early 1970s. As a student of philosophy in Donamon, Mick was given the opportunity to teach catechetics in the local schools in Roscommon. These experiences led him to the realisation that there was room for a catechetical magazine in secondary schools to contextualise the Gospel in everyday language for a generation of young people facing a new kind of Ireland. Kairos magazine carried articles with themes related to pop music, drama and literature, the Scriptures, sociology and many other topics.

Constantly moving with the times and the evolution of electronic media, Kairos also produced an interesting drama series for schools on video. With an eye to producing the best quality video programmes in the market, Mick quickly took on the task of producing documentaries for various institutions and corporate bodies. Tireless in his pursuit of innovation in the religious sphere of communication, Mick sought a commission with RTÉ in the early 1990s to produce a series of programmes called Missions in Crisis, which documented the growth and expansion of Ireland’s contribution to the great missionary movement of the 19th and 20th centuries. Other commissions from RTÉ dating from the same period included the very popular A Prayer at Bedtime, later to become An Evening Prayer and I Witness which is currently filling the traditional slot after the Late Night News on RTÉ 1.

But it is the ‘live’ outside broadcast that most inspired Mick, most especially for programmes related to liturgy and worship. The advantages are sevenfold, relating to the special and unique qualities of various Irish localities, parish congregations, variety of music and culture, local community involvement, the challenge offered to local talent when their Sunday liturgies are presented nationwide and the inspiration to produce better and better liturgies.

Some 40,000 people climbed Croagh Patrick during Reek Sunday this year and millions watched the programme on TV in Ireland and throughout the world. Everyone was surprised by the weather. The pilgrim’s mountain is usually misty, wet and cold for Reek Sunday. This year the sun shone and the air was still – incredibly unusual! Those who worked with Mick on the mountain observed that Mick believed that God was with him. Never one to presume anything, Mick prepared for the worst but it is quite evident that God was with him. There is quite a large crew involved in these outside broadcasts and each felt moved to tears at the end of the Croagh Patrick Mass. The impossible had been achieved against all the odds, including budget limitations, logistical and physical limitations, and a host of imponderables, most especially the weather. Mick would have smiled at the thought that perhaps his ‘friend’ God should have had His name on the credits not only for the weather but for the wonderful heritage of climbing the Reek and the solace and cleansing powers for the soul which are so much a part of the Croagh Patrick experience.

Although a helicopter was employed in bringing some of the heavier equipment to the peak, it was not available for de-rigging. And so the downward journey was completed with the help of donkeys and mules. Mick had always held that these humble but honest workers held the secret to conquering the logistical problems presented by Croagh Patrick.

Fr Michael Melvin died on 9 September leaving behind him a legacy in religious broadcasting which aspired to great heights and achieved phenomenal success. He will be remembered by his relatives and friends as a low-key, down-to-earth, unpretentious man. He will also be remembered for his courage and faith and the power of a good idea to move mountains and bring people together.

This article first appeared in The Word (November 2008), a Divine Word Missionary Publication.