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St. James students, pastor tape Masses airing on WPXI, sister channels

The Rev. Thomas Burke, at center, along with students from St. James Catholic School in Sewickley, visited WPXI-TV studios to tape Masses that aired on the PCNC-TV Cable News Channel. Front row: Mary Rose Ceccarelli, Billy Garrision, Matthew Hajdukiewicz, Burke, Eyleen Bermudez, Sodi Kunde and music teacher, Caitlyn Waruszewski. Back row: Victoria Michalenko, Mia Cuccaro, Ryan McNeilis and Catie Conroy. Submitted

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By Joanne Barron
Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Several students at St. James Catholic School in Sewickley took a field trip for God to give shut-ins the opportunity to experience a church service in their homes.

The Rev. Thomas Burke, St. James priest, along with 10 students in grades six to eight, traveled to WPXI television studios in Pittsburgh last month to tape two Masses that aired on the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel, PCNC, and ME-TV.

The last time St. James participated in the volunteer taping was in 2007 with the Rev. Clint Zadroga and before that, in 2004, with the Rev. David Poecking.

Burke said the Masses are taped in a separate studio at the station, complete with pulpit and altar. A green screen behind the priest seen during the taping shows up as the image of a chapel on TV.

The service is a shortened version of the Masses that Burke presented at St. James, with a homily of about 4 minutes and a 27-minute Mass.

Students, who also sang, and parents, chaperones and drivers sat in the audience and gave responses.

Burke explained the Masses, which first were seen on WPXI every week for more than 30 years, began airing on PCNC in 2010. Over the years, priests in the area rotate to perform the Masses each week. They are taped every Wednesday afternoon and air on Sunday.

Burke said sometimes people think the broadcasts are live. Some see him at 6 a.m. on television and a little while later at St. James and don't understand how he got back to the church so fast.

Burke said he performed the televised Masses many times when he was pastoring at other churches. Just as he has done the past few years, this year he again agreed to perform two Mass tapings on the same day to give the WPXI staff a break for the holidays. He said it is hard for the staff to find priests to agree to do the tapings around the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

“It's surprising how many people watch the Masses. My sisters works at UPMC Shadyside, and when she goes to draw blood, she said there are lots of people in their rooms who are watching the tapings,” he said.

Burke said he also has received several comments from people saying they saw him on television. And, having graduated with bachelor's degree in broadcasting and communications in 1992 from Clarion University and formerly completing internships at several radio stations, he said he loves being part of the program.

As he walked students back to the “church” studio, he told them a little about the newsroom, pointing out where the producers were, along with the main studio where anchors Peggy Finnegan and David Johnson read the news and also pointed out the weather desk.

“It was like a field trip for them. They loved it.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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