The Golden age of radio had already passed when I was a boy in the early 60’s. But there were still a few serial melodramas and mystery shows hanging on and, of course, plenty of radio talk shows. I loved the way a story heard in the dark transported me to another place and time, but still left my own imagination to do the work of making scenes and characters vivid and real. And as long the host could steer guests and call-ins away from the crazy fringe—or at least skillfully cut them off—I could listen for hours.
To make the point in Ignatian terms, few things were more consoling for me than real, reflective, reassuring voices on the radio. The first time I heard the BBC on a late-night drive across the country, I was hooked. NPR had me at the first chords of All Things Considered. These days, an episode of Radiolab goes down like a long, cool drink: slaking an intellectual thirst for reality and satisfying the craving for narrative with surprise twists and evocative sounds that coax me into the story—just as they did when I pulled the sheets up over my head as a boy and listened through the static hiss of a transistor radio to episodes of CBS Radio Mystery Theater with E. G. Marshall.
I don’t know when it occurred to me that I wanted to be one of those voices—or that I might actually have the voice and temperament for it. I remember recommending Podcasting to a counselor friend who wanted to do a live-audience advice show.
“You’ll get your voice and message out to a wider audience,” I said. “And they can listen whenever they want!” Within a few years, podcasts were ubiquitous, but I was still on the sidelines.
Then St. Louis U. High began to talk about plans for a very big 200-year birthday party. How could we tell our story? How could we add more voices to the telling? Could those voices and stories even point beyond our school to the wider mission of Jesuit education? Could they not only take us “down the hall at Backer Memorial,” but “across the St. Louis metro region and around the world” as well? I knew I wanted to coax those voices out and share those stories with folks who might not visit our website or get our outstanding Alumni Magazine via snail-mail or inbox.
A Latin title seemed right as a way to honor our roots in a 400-year Jesuit tradition. For the first program of “Insignis” (adjective: notable, distinguished) I picked the surest home-run bet for a great interview I could find: our brilliant, funny and endlessly inventive Improv teacher, Kevin McKernan. We called the program “Mission: Improv.” The conversation was effortless, great fun and even—surprise, surprise!—mission-centered. In no time we found ourselves talking about “Finding God in all things” in terms that felt fresh and authentic. Our first few listeners said we were actually entertaining! That was a credit to Kevin, of course. But it was also the product of the sharp audio-production skills of our I.T. guru, Jonathan Dickmann. Our Jazz band guys and their teacher, Jeff Pottinger, wrote a cool, late-night-jazz theme and freshman in a 2D Design class created the logo. “I love this cool new job you’ve got, Jim!” Kevin said as we signed off the air on the first show. I was delighted to agree.
We’ve got some listeners in the wider St. Louis University High School community these days. And we’re hoping more ears beyond SLUH will find their way—through our website or iTunes—to hear these insightful, passionate and engaging voices. Whether my guests name articles of faith and matters Ignatian explicitly or not, I’ve been moved by their testimony to a world of grace, a dimension of depth and meaning underlying every discipline, potentially enlivening every human experience. From the program introduction we share with our guests:
Insignis hopes to build awareness and support for Ignatian education and formation and to inspire our extended community to continue a journey of faith and lifelong learning. Each episode reflects our conviction that robust, inter-disciplinary, academic inquiry and authentic spiritual practice—deeply rooted in both tradition and human experience—belong together.”
If you make your way to our program via the website or search for us on the iTunes store, (coming soon to Spotify!) you’ll find three more episodes since our inaugural program.
In “Making Makers” we talk to students, educators and engineers about the maker movement in education and explore how doing things with your hands is a unique and irreplaceable way to open the soul and make room for God.
In “SJ at SLUH” we talk with members of our Jesuit community about who St. Ignatius is for them and how the core values of Ignatian education can animate classrooms and activities in Jesuit schools.
And our most recent episode, “Finding a Voice”, presents a wide variety of voices on topics ranging from entrepreneurialism, art, music and racial equity and inclusion in search of insights about the fundamental challenge of becoming one’s self and finding enough faith to share our unique gifts with the world.
So if you’re looking for voices that reflect our unique and common mission in Ignatian education and formation—even in today’s crowded podcast landscape—take us along on your commute, bring us into your classroom or just pull the sheets up over your head late at night, in search of consolation.
Jim Linhares is Assistant Principal for Mission at St. Louis University High School. His work includes Faculty and Staff professional and spiritual development and supporting the Jesuit and Catholic identity of the school which just celebrated its 200th anniversary. He served for many years as a teacher of Theology and English and coached Cross Country and Track and Field. He has three sons who graduated from SLUH. He and his wife, Mary, live in Kirkwood, Mo. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.