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Lucky there’s a ‘Catholic Guy’: Radio host taps into male zeitgeist

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

By Jonathan Liedl

MINNEAPOLIS (CNS) — Lino Rulli doesn’t have any children of his own. Married two years ago, the 46-year-old and his wife, Jill, are hoping that changes soon.

But the Minnesota native and Catholic media personality is already the pater familias of his own unique brood: a devoted community of listeners to “The Catholic Guy,” a weekday afternoon drive program on Sirius XM Radio’s Catholic Channel, which Rulli has hosted since it started in 2006.

About 200 members of this tight-knit crew came to the Twin Cities Aug. 17-18 for “Catholic Guy Con,” which sold out in 24 hours. The main event consisted of a recorded show and presentations from Rulli and his co-hosts, preceded the night before by a meet-up at a downtown Minneapolis brewpub. Mass celebrated by co-host Father Jim Chern, dinner catered by a St. Paul Italian eatery, and a visit to Rulli’s high school alma mater, Hill-Murray in Maplewood, were other features.

“My biggest takeaway from this experience is just a feeling of gratitude,” said Rulli, who admitted he had no idea the event would be such a success when it was being planned. “I’ve found myself thanking God over and over again for this career, and for our audience, and how lucky I am to be able to be in people’s lives.”

While the event was the first official Catholic Guy Con, for many fans it was not the first time they had gathered with each other and Rulli, who hosts several pilgrimages for Catholic Guy devotees each year. One Catholic Guy Con attendee had been on five.

But for listeners like Chuck Fanelli, who went to the Holy Land with Rulli in 2017, Catholic Guy Con was something special, a unique opportunity to be together with all four current members of the show and hundreds of other Catholic Guy fans.

“I said there’s no way I’m missing this,” recalled the 33-year-old New Jersey native, who has listened to every episode of “The Catholic Guy” since he first came across the program two years ago — and still came even after he found out his wife was due to deliver their third child only days after the fan fest.

“(The Catholic Guy community) energizes me, renews my faith, and really helps me get back to being a better husband and father,” said Fanelli, who made it home in time for the birth of his son, Michael Paul. “We all feel like family. A big, weird family.”

For many Catholic Guy followers, the show provides the type of community they don’t find elsewhere. When they listen to “The Catholic Guy,” they’re plugged into a relatable community of Catholics, and are encouraged in their Catholic faith.

During the show recording at a Minneapolis comedy club, attendees wore shirts with Catholic Guy catch-phrases, tweeted from Twitter accounts named after on-air gags, and called on Rulli to play favorite sound bites from the show.

“Wow, I feel like I’m the leader of my own cult,” joked Tyler Veghte, the show’s quirky but beloved atheist producer, after attendees sang along by heart to the musical introduction of the popular “What’s on Tyler’s Mind?” segment.

But while Veghte and co-hosts Father Chern and Mark Hart have their own unique followings among fans, make no mistake about it: “The Catholic Guy” begins and ends with Rulli, the Catholic Guy himself.

The show is infused with his personality, from the sarcastic, self-deprecating sense of humor that targets his big nose and his co-hosts alike, to the soundtrack provided by the Foo Fighters, his favorite band.

The show’s approach to Catholicism is also Rulli’s own. He believes being Catholic shouldn’t be “compartmentalized,” and mixes faith freely on air with humor and discussions on everything from sports to what he’s watching on Netflix. It’s this playful and occasionally irreverent style that makes “The Catholic Guy” “your home for pure Catholic pleasure,” as its tagline states.

But the show isn’t all laughs. For Rulli, who has won three Emmy awards for his previous media work as a television host and producer, it’s also a craft he takes seriously. As his co-hosts noted at Catholic Guy Con, Rulli’s goal is first and foremost to make a great radio show, one that normal people will want to listen to.

Rulli acknowledged this might be especially important now, in the midst of the unfolding crisis of cover-ups of clerical sex abuse. He briefly addressed the controversy on-air recently, but also recognizes that his program has a different role to play than news analysis.

“I think people need a respite from the bad news,” he said. “So, without saying it explicitly, every day I go on the air and say — in as entertaining a way as possible — ‘Here’s why I’m Catholic. Here’s why I love it. In spite of it all, here’s what’s beautiful and true about the faith.'”

“The bottom line is I host a funny Catholic radio show,” Rulli told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “That’s what I get paid to do and people seem to enjoy it.”

Rulli began honing the skills from his days in theater at Hill-Murray, to the campus radio program he hosted at St. John’s University in Collegeville, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s in theology. Rulli also got his television start in the Twin Cities, working for WCCO and KMSP before launching “Generation Cross,” a Catholic TV show that combined fun and faith.

Though Rulli now resides in New York City, where he also serves as media advisor to Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, he says his Minnesota upbringing shapes the way he sees the world and the church. As he put it, “If it wasn’t for my time on TV here, there wouldn’t be ‘The Catholic Guy’ show anywhere.”

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Liedl writes for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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