Three generations of faith in the media

By  Luc Rinaldi, The Catholic Register
  • July 28, 2010

In the early 1950s, Stephen Dunn spent his senior year of high school contemplating whether to become a priest or go into broadcasting.

Sixty years after deciding his vocation was to the media, his legacy spans three generations of Catholic television broadcasting in the Dunn family of Ancaster, Ont., near Hamilton.

“‘Faith, family, career,’ was always dad’s motto,” said Kevin, Stephen’s son. “He always encouraged us to bring our Catholic faith into our work.”

Kevin, 46 and one of Stephen’s six children, and Ryan, one of 29 grandchildren, now carry on Stephen’s work in the industry. Attracted to television through visits to the studio with his father, Kevin keeps a Catholic mindset in his career as his father taught, and encourages his son Ryan to do the same.

“You’ve got to have faith, and the family will work well in the faith,” explains Stephen. “And the job... God looks after that. It all falls in line.”

Stephen’s best-known project was Tiny Talent Time, a children’s variety show he created and produced that ran for 38 years on Hamilton’s CHCH TV. He also worked on faith-based programs like the Fr. Meehan Show, which starred the former Catholic Register columnist Fr. Matthew Meehan, and televised midnight Masses for the same network. For 30 years he taught at and chaired the Media Studies and Music department at Hamilton’s Mohawk College as well, where he taught Kevin.

Now that Stephen, 77, is retired, Kevin continues many of the traditions that his father began. In addition to being in the broadcasting industry, Kevin also teaches at Mohawk College in the program his father developed, from which 21-year-old Ryan graduated this spring. Together, Kevin and Ryan have co-produced vignettes of the 2010 March for Life campaign in Ottawa for YouTube, among other projects.

“I was immersed in it. I felt called to follow in their footsteps,” said Ryan about taking up the tradition. “It’s not a pressure. I’d say it’s more of a challenge. It’s getting more and more difficult to be religious in the industry.”

Each Dunn recognizes the television industry has become more secular with time, but none are discouraged. They simply find other ways of living out their faith on the job, trying to live by St. Francis’ words, “Preach always. If necessary, use words.”

“My rule in whatever I’m doing is ‘How am I going to empower good or instill good in people?’ ” said Kevin in explaining how he uses faith as a filter in broadcasting.

Whether producing a documentary for Discovery Channel with DunnMedia or performing a tribute through his own live entertainment company, DunnTributes, Kevin will never take a job that conflicts with his Catholic beliefs.

Ryan is trying to do the same.

“The TV world is obviously very secular so you can’t go around preaching,” said Ryan. “I just try to keep a good Catholic attitude.”

Recently hired by the CBC, Ryan will face the greatest challenge in keeping his faith on the job, according to Stephen. However, the Dunns are optimistic about the future of the industry. Young people like Ryan, his father and grandfather say, are key in bringing about a change.

“Bad television is not the norm, but the media has convinced people it is,” said Stephen.

“People will get tired of the nonsense and eventually go towards the good.”

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