“The Hour of St. Francis” is a radio program that began in December of 1946 and continued through the 1950s. The program was distributed through syndication. A radio station would receive transcription discs of episodes. Each fifteen minute episode presented a dramatic story — often a “modern day parable” which looked at a moral issue or a particular virtue. “The Hour, sponsored by the Third Order of St. Francis, is founded on the belief that sound Catholic teaching and religious inspiration can be combined with entertainment.” (The Sign, December 1949, p. 31)
It was the project of Fr. Hugh Noonan, O.F.M., of St. Joseph’s Church in Los Angeles. He wanted stories that tackled practical problems of modern men and women.
According to the article in The Sign, the programs were financed on a budget of $22,000 a year, which was a rather small budget for a radio show. A “series” of shows meant 39 or 40, and each year a new “series” was produced. “[The money] is raised through a tax of less than fifty cents a year per member of the Third Order Fraternities, supplemented by contributions of the Franciscans of the First Order and the Franciscan Missionary Union.” (ibid.)
The article also mentions the positive impact the show has had on people. “Letters from listeners tell the story of its value. An alcoholic is lifted from the brink of despair; a Catholic vows never to miss Mass again in his life; a young man bedridden and without religious contacts finds his way into the Church.” (ibid.)
Approximately 400 episodes were produces of the program. A few of these are in circulation among Old Time Radio Collectors.
Some episodes are available through this website, but it requires registration.
Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Steubenville, Ohio, has approximately 28 16″ transcription disks of the radio program, including the entire first series of programs. They have not been transferred to any other media, and there is no player to play them with at the library.
I have a few later episodes on reel to reel tape, and I have transferred some of them to MP3 files. A few of these episodes might be found online, but most are not in circulation.
The copyright to the program is held by the Franciscan Friars of California – Province of St. Barbara. The programs may have fallen into public domain due to a lack of action on the part of the Franciscans, but this is not certain. At present, it seems they have no interest in doing anything with the shows.
The quality of the shows varies, but some are real gems. Perhaps someday they will be available to the public — legally, that is. St. Francis, pray for us.
(Note: Here I only deal with the radio show. The “Hour” became a half-hour TV program in the 1960′s, and its history is also quite obscure. I have not seen any of the episodes of the TV show available anywhere.)