Q&A: From sports news to the Good News

Meet Mark Haas, the new Public Relations Director for the archdiocese

Aaron Lambert

Mark Haas thought he would be a sports anchor for much of his career. God had other plans.

Now, Haas is the new Director of Public Relations for the Archdiocese of Denver — a position that the communications office for the archdiocese has never traditionally had. Haas has enjoyed a fruitful career as a TV sports anchor — including a four-year stint on CBS 4 here in Denver — and brings a unique skillset to the archdiocese.

So how did Haas go from being a sports anchor covering the Denver Broncos on Super Bowl 50 to the director of public relations for the Archdiocese of Denver? We sat down with him to find out.

Denver Catholic: What sort of background do you come from?

Mark Haas: I grew up in Fort Collins and became very interested in the combination of sports and media, so I wanted to create a career out of that. I went to the University of Southern California, and then spent the next 12 years working my way through small television markets, with stops in St. George, Utah, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Calif., and then four years here in Denver at CBS 4. I’ve spent my career working on the media side, so I have an understanding of how newsrooms work and I’m hoping that in this role, knowing how journalists work will help me to spread the stories and message of the Church in northern Colorado.

DC: How does a sports anchor end up as a PR director for the Catholic Church?

MH: I was born and raised Catholic, and like a lot of young adults, I went through some ups and downs in terms of my faith, but in the tough times, I’ve always been drawn back to a relationship with the Church and with God. Especially within the last year – I thought I was going to have a long career doing sports television. It was something I liked, it was something I enjoyed, it was something I thought I was good at. But I was faced with an unexpected job loss, and looking at what was important to me in terms of staying in Colorado, starting my family here and wanting to find a career that had value, I really turned the situation over to God. To best of my ability, I said, “Whatever you have planned for me next, I’ll do.” Through a long process of applying for jobs, interviewing for jobs, and trying to figure out what my skills could translate to, I ended up at the archdiocese and found a group of people that saw some value in my previous experiences and how I could translate them into some new experiences. There was a disappointment in leaving a career I loved, but there is excitement now in getting to start a new chapter and work for my Church and work in a capacity where I can better live and grow my faith.

DC: What are your goals as the PR director for the archdiocese?

MH: I think that for a long time local news coverage, in general, focused mostly on negative stories, but I’ve seen that start to change and local media give more attention to positive stories, and is there any better news than the news of Jesus Christ? My goal is to help highlight some of the great things that are happening in the Catholic Church and to make sure people are aware of the services that are offered by the Catholic Church.

I’ve also seen in my career, that many people have a negative opinion of the media and are hesitant to trust them, but it’s been my experience with the reporters, anchors and journalists I’ve worked with that they sincerely want to do a good job – they want to tell fair and truthful stories. So, my goal is to bridge the gap and be a great liaison between the media and Catholic Church, helping the local outlets do their job, and inviting them to tell our great stories.

DC: Who’s the most famous person that you’ve met?

MH: Peyton Manning. Peyton was very smart with the media and he knew how to avoid questions that he didn’t like. During tough times with the Broncos, he had a way of making a joke that we would all kind of bite on and that would become the headline as opposed to talking about the struggles with the team. He was very skilled – but professional – with the media.

COMING UP: Art: A needed sacrament of faith

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A sacrament is an outward, material sign of an inward, spiritual reality. The seven sacraments are signs instituted by Jesus to communicate his grace to us. In addition, we have sacramentals, signs and practices that draw us more deeply into our faith. We do not have an abstract faith; it is sacramental and incarnational, centered on the coming into the flesh of the Son of God and his continued presence in the Church through the Eucharist.
Art, following this sacramental identity, expresses our faith, draws us into prayer, and mediates divine realities. In a time of relativism, which shuns proposals of truth and goodness, we need to rely more upon the witness of beauty. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this opportunity and need: “I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.”

Does this approach actually work for evangelization? Elizabeth Lev details one example, the crucial role of art at a time of crisis in the Church, in her book, How Catholic Art Saved the Faith: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art (Sophia, 2018). As core Catholic doctrines faced opposition from Protestants, the Council of Trent called for the creation of art to assist in renewal. The Council said that art should instruct, help to remember and meditate divine realities, admonish, provide examples, and to inspire the faithful to order their lives in imitation of the saints (4). Lev adds her own synthesis of how art assists the Church, asserting that “art is useful in evangelization…. can bring clarity…. [and] is uplifting” (6). The Catholic Reformation and Baroque periods, particularly in central Italy, were ages “of unprecedented art patronage from the top down, effectively a very expensive PR campaign meant to awaken the hearts and minds of millions of pilgrims who were making their way to the Eternal City” (5).

And it worked. It was not art for art’s sake that led Catholics to stay true to the faith, but art’s ability to express the deep spiritual vision of the Church as articulated by the great Catholic reformers. Lev lists the main protagonists of this cooperative work:  “The spiritual insight of Charles Borromeo, Robert Bellarmine, Federico Borromeo, St. Philip Neri, and Paleotti fused with the creative talents of Caravaggio, Barocci, the Carracci School, Lavinia Fontana, and Guido Reni, making for a heady cocktail designed to entice the faithful into experiencing mystery” (16). Lev provides a masterful overview of the key theological issues at stake and how artists were commissioned to visualize the faith in these areas, including the sacraments, mediation of the saints, purgatory, and practices such as pilgrimage.

Developments in technique enabled art to come alive, actively mediating faith, by using theatrical characteristics that invited the viewer into the drama of the scene. Altar pieces beckoned down to the action of the altar, pointing to the reality occurring there, such as Caravaggio’s The Entombment of Christ (37), and others drew the viewer into the scene, as with Frederico Barocci’s extended hand of St. Francis bearing the stigmata, inviting an imitation of Christ (145). Other paintings inspired religious sentiments such as contrition, as found in Reni’s St. Peter Penitent, who models how to weep for one’s sins and to beat one’s chest in repentance (45), and Titian’s good thief who reaches out to Christ as one would do in confession (52). The book beautifully presents the artwork, and Lev seamlessly combines art criticism and religious commentary.

The time period of Lev’s book bears some striking similarities to contemporary struggles. Many Catholics continue to question the faith, and we have experienced a return to iconoclasm in the last fifty years, bent on the destruction of the Church’s sacramental vision. We, too, need the inspiration of art, which calls us to renew our faith: “Art no longer allow[s] the viewer to stand at a safe distance, as a passive recipient of grace, but exhort[s] everyone to act” (180). For the success of the New Evangelization, we need a return to beauty. This will require us to invest in a renaissance of the arts, knowing that this investment will support the Church’s efforts to communicate the truth of our faith, for the salvation of souls.