By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
ATLANTA — The Diocese of Charleston television documentary “Fire Tried Gold” received a national premiere screening following the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (NCCB) afternoon session at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel here June 14.
About 70 bishops from across the country and staff members from the NCCB and United States Catholic Conference saw an advanced viewing of the film, which will be aired nationwide next month.
In his welcome to the assembled group, Bishop Robert Baker said that the inspiration for the “Fire Tried Gold” documentary came from his predecessor, Bishop David B. Thompson, who conveyed his enthusiasm for the project to Larry and Beth Burtschy, who funded the effort in thanksgiving for the ministry of the 11th bishop of Charleston.
A goal of the film was to help promote vocations to the priesthood, Bishop Baker said, with “Fire Tried Gold” providing the historical backdrop to the “Imagine” vocations video.
The documentary history highlights Bishop John England, the first bishop of the Diocese of Charleston who served from 1820 to 1842, and was in charge of a diocese which encompassed the states of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. These three states make up the present configuration of the ecclesiastical province of Atlanta.
“You are in store for a wonderful historical lesson on the origins of the church in the Southeast,” said Bishop Baker.
He then added, jokingly, “In the video you will see me shaking hands with Bishop Thompson, who must have been wondering with the diocese was bracing for then, besides Hurricane Floyd.”
The bishop also thanked Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops; Mary Jeffcoat, former diocesan director of communications; and Paulist Father John Geaney, the documentary’s executive producer; for their efforts in arranging the premiere showing in Atlanta.
In his concluding prayer, Bishop Baker cited examples of men and women of faith in “Fire Tried Gold.”
He said, “May the faith and good deeds flowing from their deep faith inspire us to greater efforts to proclaim that faith in joy and hope to those people we are called to serve. Today in prayer we give tribute to them.”
In his comments, Father Geaney told the audience that “Fire Tried Gold” has stories in every frame. He lamented, “Most ended up on cutting room floor. We just couldn’t use all of them.”
Echoing the words of Bishop Baker, the Paulist priest said the vision for the program came from Bishop Thompson as a way to help promote vocations.
The executive producer said the success of the television documentary “Trappist,” which was co-produced by Father Geaney and focused on the monks of Our Lady of Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, prompted the bishop to ask for a similar work about the Diocese of Charleston.
“It was an evangelization tool to make people proud of their faith,” Father Geaney said.
In addressing the financial aspects of the project, the executive producer said “the cost didn’t frighten Bishop Thompson; it challenged him.”
“When I asked Mr. Burtschy why he gave the money his answer was, ‘Because the bishop asked,'” explained Father Geaney.
The priest recounted that he “worked with a marvelous crew doing wonderful things,” and he again thanked Mary Jeffcoat as well as the diocesan archivist, Mary Giles.
Father Geaney also praised Gonzalo Accame, the producer and director of the documentary. “Working with him and the whole crew was a wonderful experience.”
In closing, the Paulist priest described “Fire Tired Gold” as “the story of a people — the people of Charleston and the bishops who love them.”
Then the lights in the hotel theater dimmed for the screening of the film, which was followed an hour later by a rousing round of applause.
Bishop Thompson spoke briefly prior to the airing of “Imagine,” the 10-minute vocations video produced in conjunction with “Fire Tried Gold.”
The bishop said the documentary was created for the millennium to promote vocations and as an instrument of evangelization.
Following the showing of the vocations video, the bishops adjourned for hors d’oeuvres and refreshments, and also to see the diocesan vocations display developed in conjunction with the video. The booth was manned by Father Dennis Willey, director of vocations; Deacon Joseph Cahill, associate director of vocations; Father Robert Sayer, pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Lexington; and Bill Iglesias, director of the diocesan volunteer program.