By Kenneth J. Souza
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — As a Franciscan, Friar John Mary, F.I., has witnessed signs of faith throughout his life.
Now he’s hoping others will notice one of the signs that recently went up in the Greater New Bedford area promoting WPMW Radio CorMariae and its mission to spread the Good News.
The “micro FM” Catholic radio station that broadcasts at 88.5 on the dial and originates from studios above Our Lady’s Chapel in downtown New Bedford recently contracted with Boston-based Clear Channel Entertainment to advertise its mission via large billboards in three key locations.
“The station has been doing OK financially, and we found we could afford to do another campaign, which is always good because we’re always trying to look for ways to increase our listenership,” Friar John recently told The Anchor. “I think this is one of the most effective ways, other than a bumper sticker campaign.”
The billboards prominently feature a beautiful stained-glass image of Our Lady next to a Scripture passage — “Mercy and Truth have met” (Ps 85:10) — and are located near the intersection of Cove Road and Rockdale Avenue in New Bedford; near St. Mary’s Cemetery on Route 6 across from Shaw’s Supermarket on the New Bedford-Dartmouth line; and on Route 6 (State Road) in Dartmouth, about halfway between Reed and Cross roads.
“The first two went up in mid-January and the third is (going up this week),” Friar John said. “I’m happy with the locations. The one (at Cove Road and Rockdale Avenue) is very conspicuous, near a pretty busy intersection. You can see it as you slow down for the stoplight — it’s very viewable.”
Friar John explained how the billboard on Route 6 in Dartmouth, which can be spotted driving from Westport heading towards New Bedford, was actually a replacement for one that had originally been planned for Coggeshall Street in New Bedford.
“There’s been ongoing construction there,” he said. “It did get put up, but when I went to see it, there was (construction) equipment parked in front of it — it wasn’t a good location. I talked to Clear Channel and told them about it and they found out from the construction crew that the area isn’t going to be cleaned up anytime soon, so they very graciously did the right thing and moved us to the Dartmouth location.”
Friar John said he likes the relocated site better.
“The station is heard pretty well between New Bedford and Westport, and that’s where our signal originates,” he said. “Those coming from Westport heading to the (Dartmouth) Mall will see it.”
Unbeknownst to Friar John, there is also a notorious strip club not far from where the new billboard is located.
“One of our volunteers said that was a good location because the area needs it,” he said. “So I guess they need the prayers and they need to see Our Lady up there.”
The story behind the eye-catching image of the Blessed Mother that dominates the new billboards is perhaps proof positive of Divine intervention in the radio station’s latest advertising campaign.
Friar John first noticed the depiction of Our Lady on the Facebook page of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary — a group that did a recent recording session at Radio CorMariae.
“I contacted them to see if they had a high-resolution image of it and they said they found it on the Internet and they didn’t know much more about it,” he said. “They didn’t have the source to give me.”
Thankfully, a graphic design artist named Mary Flannery who does work for the Franciscan Friars was able to do a little digital digging online and discovered that the image, entitled “Immaculate Heart of Mary,” was a photograph taken by Loci B. Lenar and was prominently featured on his Flickr page, blog and website (www.christian-miracles.com). She contacted him and he graciously gave WPMW permission to use it in the billboard campaign.
Ironically enough, Lenar has also been featured several times on the syndicated radio program “Sacred Treasures,” which currently airs on WPMW Radio CorMariae.
“He has all these websites and blogs about miracles and conversion stories,” Friar John said. “The thing that got me is this image could have been from anywhere in the world, but the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart found it, used it, which got me to see it, and then it all led back to someone with a connection to our radio station. I really believe it was Divine providence that it’s now being used on our billboard.”
Since we are in the midst of the Year of Mercy as proclaimed by Pope Francis, Friar John said he also wanted to connect that with what the radio station was doing.
“In our last (advertising) campaign, we used the phrase: ‘Behold your mother,’” he said. “I know Our Lady can work with her own image — she doesn’t need words — but I just didn’t want us to have a blank billboard on one side, so I was looking for a good Scripture quote.”
Friar John did a quick Bible search for quotes relating to mercy and came across the line “Mercy and Truth have met” from the Book of Psalms.
For him, it was the perfect quote to include alongside the woman praised in “Hail Holy Queen” as the “Mother of Mercy.”
“I believe that in Pope Francis calling for the Year of Mercy to start on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, he had Our Lady in mind,” Friar John said. “Of course, we always talk about mercy, but we have to accompany it with truth — the truth being our faith, the Church, the Sacraments, and Our Lord Himself.
“So we have a merciful, motherly figure in Our Lady and then the Church being the truth — so God knew what He was doing when He put the two together. They go hand-in-hand.”
Friar John said the plan is to keep the billboards up at least throughout the month, but hopefully with additional funding they might be able to extend the campaign even further.
“We want to have the billboards up as long as possible while the funds are coming in,” he said. “On our website we have a page specifically for making donations to support the billboard campaign. People can either use a credit/debit card on the website, or send us a check.”
Since Radio CorMariae doesn’t subscribe to the costly Arbitron ratings system to gauge how many listeners they have, Friar John said it’s important to get feedback via advertising campaigns like this and through word-of-mouth.
“For a station like ours we wouldn’t be involved in the techniques they use and we wouldn’t be able to pay for those services,” he said. “They say if you receive one call during a show, that means there are probably another 99 listeners out there. It’s always pleasant to hear when someone does give you feedback, because then you know someone is getting something out of it. This is why we meet on a regular basis with our volunteers to help publicize the station.”
Tax-deductible donations to support the billboard campaign may be sent to: Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, P.O. Box 3003, New Bedford, Mass. 02741-3003. Please write “Billboard Campaign” on the memo line of the check or money order.
For more information about the campaign or to make a donation online, visit www.radiocormariae.com.