Mister Rogers’s Surprising Ties with Catholicism

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Those of us who grew up between 1968 and 2001 had a good neighbor—and teacher—in the form of Mister Fred Rogers. As children, he taught us the importance of expressing ourselves and our feelings, learning how to deal with new and scary things we would experience, and simply make us feel valued as human beings. Everything he did on his show was done intentionally as he knew how important brain development was in early childhood.

Although he was a life-long Presbyterian and was ordained a minister in that Faith, Mr. Rogers had ties to Catholicism that oftentimes inspired his own ministry. Here are 3 major, and surprising, ties Mr. Rogers had with Catholicism.

He was close friends with a well-known Catholic priest

Mr. Rogers had a great fascination with religions in general, even beyond his own Presbyterian upbringing. He respected ideas from across the religious spectrum, including Catholicism. In fact, he counted the controversial Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen as a close friend.

Not only were they friends, Fr. Nouwen’s ideas and works inspired Mr. Rogers own life. Speaking of his friend, Rogers once said that Fr. Nouwen helped him “grow into a thoughtful person who cares about the essentials of life.” It is even said that in Mr. Rogers’ final days, he and Fr. Nouwen would read the Bible together.

He frequented a Benedictine archabbey for Mass and prayer

Mr. Rogers was also good friends with Fr. Douglas Nowicki, archabbot of Saint Vincent in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. In fact, Mr. Rogers was a keynote speaker at Saint Vincent twice, first at a dinner that followed Archabbot Nowicki’s Mass of Installation, and again for the archabbey’s 150th anniversary. Here, Mr. Rogers’s frequent visits to Saint Vincent were accompanied by Mass and prayers.

Situated in his childhood hometown of Latrobe, Mr. Rogers also chose Saint Vincent College to create his education center: the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children’s Media. He even wrote that the college was “part of my very first neighborhood. I was always aware of its presence; nevertheless, the bonds of friendship are what made it real to me.”

Mr. Rogers Received the Last Rites from a Catholic Priest

Although Mr. Rogers remained a Presbyterian throughout his entire life, his wife allowed Archabbot Nowicki (with whom he’d traveled to Mexico to visit orphanages) to administer the Last Rites to him. At this point, Mr. Rogers could no longer speak so we cannot say that he had a deathbed conversion. However, in an interview, his widow said that she knew he would’ve loved to have received the last rites, especially from his good friend.

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