Q & A: The Hour of St. Francis

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me about television shows, made-for-TV movies or miniseries they remember from years or decades past. I try to answer each question as best I can. Every now and then I like to dig through my inbox and pull out a few choice e-mails to answer here at Television Obscurities for everyone to read. Keep reading for today’s questions and answers.

Do you know anything about The Hour of St. Francis? It was a weekly Roman Catholic show, consisting of dramas filmed in colour that ran from about 1959-66, if I’m not mistaken. The Provincial Archives of Alberta showed an episode last year at their annual film night, and it starred a young Jack Nicholson as a prospective priest.

Although called The Hour of St. Francis, this syndicated, dramatic anthology series ran for only a half-hour. It was based on a radio program of the same name, which began in the mid-to-late 1940s. The radio show was created by Father Hugh Noonan, OFM, who would later founded the St. Francis Center in Los Angeles (read more about Noonan here). The television version was produced by Noonan and three other Franciscan friars: Edward Henriques, Terenec Cronin and Carl Holtsnider.

Exactly when The Hour of St. Francis was on the air is unknown. Alex McNeil’s Total Television states that it aired in 1961 while Hal Erickson, in Syndicated Television: The First Forty Years, 1947-1987, says it aired from 1951 to 1963 [1, 2]. Television listings, on the other hand, indicate that the show debuted in the fall of 1960. Also in question is how many episodes were produced. If The Hour of St. Francis ran from 1951 to 1963, there could be hundreds of episodes. If, on the other hand, it was only in production for a single year, there may be as few as 13 episodes (the typical initial number of episodes ordered).

Episodes of The Hour of St. Francis featured the likes of Raymond Burr, Danny Thomas, Ruth Hussey, MacDonald Carey and Jane Wyman. One episode dealt with the reasons a boy decides to become a priest. Another focused on an invalid who leap out of his wheelchair. It may not have been a very popular show and thus not seen on many television stations.

The 24th Annual Provincial Archives Film Night that Jack attended was held on April 17th, 2009 in Alberta, Canada. It featured historical films from the Provincial Archives of Alberta and the Franciscans of Western Canada Archives. Here’s what a press release (which can be read here) for the event had to say about the episode in question:

Challenge (approx. 1958) – 27 minutes
This film was produced by The Hour of St. Francis in Los Angeles as a recruitment film for the Order of the Franciscan Friars and directed by Joseph Santley (who co-directed the first Marx Brothers feature film The Cocoanuts). Starring Hollywood legend Jack Nicholson, Challenge follows high school student Jim Evans as he struggles to decide between a pretty, blonde classmate and dedicating his life to the brotherhood.

According to Jack, “the archivists didn’t know anything about it and were just guessing. I got the impression it was part of a series; the cars and hairstyles seemed to me to be from the early ’60s. It’s a hoot to see Jack Nicholson take a vow of celibacy.”

Works Cited:

1 McNeil, Alex. Total Television. 4th ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1996: Page 393.
2 Erickson, Hal. Syndicated Television: The First Forty Years, 1947-1987. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1989: Page 81.

22 Replies to “Q & A: The Hour of St. Francis”

  1. I tend to take Hal Erickson’s history of the series as “gospel” (no pun intended- or WAS there?). The early episodes were filmed for the Franciscans by the same outfit that produced “WILD BILL HICKOK”, William F. Broidy Productions, which was out of business by 1960. As with most filmed religious anthologies of the ’50s and ’60s, young actors and actresses often appeared in them at the beginning of their careers- some later becoming “famous” {i.e. James Dean on “FAMILY THEATER”, Suzanne Somers on “THIS IS THE LIFE”}. I believe Jack Nicholson appeared on the “ST. FRANCIS” program around 1960…

  2. Jack Nicholson starred in the movie “The Challenge” which, as described above, is the story of a high school student who decides to become a priest. The movie begins as a flash back. The movie was made in 1962. Most of the scenes were filmed in Santa Barbara at St. Anthony”s Seminary. I recently obtained a copy. I was one of many students who participated in the making of the film as extras. We did not know who Jack Nicholson was and probably not too many other people did either.
    When I was watching the movies, Five Easy Pieces and Easy Rider, some years later, I kept telling people, “I know this guy.” They all just looked at me like I was out of my mind. Finally it dawned on me how I knew him. I was in several scenes and he was an interesting character even then.
    This movie was made specifically to recruit young men to the seminary.

    However, the Hour made numerous other films for television viewing. The original radio show, I believe provided fifteen minute stories and usually aired on Sunday mornings. It seems to me, it aired from the 1940’s through the mid sixties.
    In addition to the people mentioned above, Fr. Simon Scanlon was also an important part of the script writing and production.
    Well, I hope I filled in a few more pieces for you.

    1. Dear Vernon
      Just read your reply about the Hour of St. Francis and the episode “The Challenge”. I remember seeing this episode and was one of the influences upon me joining the Franciscans. I would love to have a copy of this episode. If you are able to make a copy for me I would be very grateful. I know this post was written sometime ago but if you read this would love to hear from you. I have been searching for this series for a long time on DVD but to know avail. Thanks and God bless Fr. Anthony

      1. Hello Father. I have a copy of one episode of The Hour of St. Francis, entitled, “The Third Devil”. Our local parish priest had a collection of episodes on 78 rpm records and I made a cassette recording of that one episode because it was quite funny.

    2. Hi Vernon:
      As I am writing about the acting roles of Jack Nicholson, I would be interested in any memories you would have of making this episode.

  3. I was the child (baby) actor who was the baby of Jack Nicholson’s high-school sweetheart that he left behind, when he joined the seminary. I cried on cue, during a mass said by Jack Nicholson, and then stopped, when given a lollipop. My uncle was a Franciscan Priest, and somehow got my brother and I a part in this film. He had access to this episode once, on film, and somehow procured a projector, and showed it to my brother and I when we were a bit older. I have not seen it, since. If you have a digital copy of this episode, I’d LOVE to get a copy of it. If always said that my claim to fame was that I was in a picture with Jack Nicholson. I’d sure like to have a copy of it for PROOF. Please contact me if you know how/where I can get a copy of this episode.

    1. Hi Charles ! I played your Mother in the “The Challenge” episode of “Hour of St Francis” Did see it on Youtube also.
      I did another episode later on but cannot find it. This is fun !
      Barbara Swink Littlemore (Kathy)

      1. Hi Barbara:
        I am writing a book on the acting roles of Jack Nicholson, and would be interested in your memories of making that episode– particularly being the girl he left behind to become a priest!
        All the best,
        Scott Edwards

  4. In his IMDB biography, Jack Nicholson also lists under ‘Other Works’: July 11, 1965: Appeared in the premiere episode of the religious program by the Hour of St. Francis called “Search!” called “Victory”…

    The episode went on to win a Gabriel Award and my mother, Darlene Artell Hartman, received the honor for having written “Victory”. My mother, who continues to publish under the pen name Simon Lang, went on to write for the original Star Trek series and sold scripts (that’s how they did things back then) to Combat! and The Fugitive. She has published a number of science fiction novels.

    She also raised twenty children, of which I am proud to be #2!

    A few years ago I was given courtside seats at a Lakers basketball game. At halftime, people in all of those favored seats were escorted into a private party area. Jack Nicholson is a big Lakers fan, so I tried to get close enough to speak with him about his memories of filming “Victory”. Alas, the crowd around him was too deep and loud for me to get his attention.

    Thanks for letting me share a few thoughts about Jack Nicholson, my mother, and her “Victory” at the Gabriel Awards of 1966 :)

  5. The way I know about the “Hour of St. Francis” is because my brother Ralph Romero used to work for the “The Hour” as a grip when he was just out of high school in 1965. He had a very happy time and got to work with professionals like Cinematographer Haskell Wexler and actor Jack Albertson. I think the studio was on Santee St. in the downtown L.A. The Franciscans should put the tv shows on YouTube.

  6. I’m trying to locate a copy of a “The Hour of St. Francis” episode named “The Third Devil.” Do you know if it might be available anywhere?

    Many Thanks,

  7. Our company purchased Franciscan Communications (Formerly the St. Francis Center) in 1994 and we obtained all the assets (that were still around) We have the Radio Show Masters (etc) all of which are “out of print” We are looking into resurrecting them so keep an eye out ! Some products, we are told were lost in a small fire. But thanks to Br. Kevin Schroeder, O.F.M we have a rather extensive Database..

    1. Did you also purchase the videos of The Hour of St. Francis TV shows..?
      If so, do you have the drama featuring Dan O’Herlihy as St. Thomas More,
      which I believe they titled :The Head of Thomas More” ?
      Not having a television at the time, I did not see the film. Karl Holtsnider
      had asked me for a script and I understand they filmed it at San Simeon…
      I would dearly like to buy a copy of the film.

      1. Unfortunately all we have are the Radio show Masters. Though there may be paperwork associated with the production. Upon searching our database nothing comes up other than the radio shows.

      2. I am also curious about the Sir Thoma More version starring Dan O’Herlihy. I am currently writing an article on radio actress Peggy Webber who played Anne Boleyn and Ray Middleton as Henry VIII. She said itvsjowed up around the Kennedy assassination in 1963.

  8. Karl Holtsnider. OFM approached me in Santa Barbara after my lecture to
    a sizable gathering of Franciscans, and asked me to do a script for the “Hour
    of St Francis” television show. I offered to do one on Thomas More. I was paid
    $750 for the script which I delivered a week later. I was told the filming utilized
    Hearst Castle, that Dan O’Herlihy played More, that Anne Bolyne was played by
    Anne Blyth, Henry VIII slips my mind. I did not own a television then and never
    saw the film. I would dearly love to have a copy of this film, which I would
    reformat to DVD. Franciscan Communications, headed by Holtsnider, became the Producers and Distributors of my “Survival” series, my “Creating Family” series, which appeared on 49 different channels, and various other
    series of mine, “COPING”, “INTIMACY”, :HOW TO RAISE PARENTS”—All of which continue to be marketed.

    1. Franciscan Media has these films in their archive. They are not reflected in the database mentioned in a prior segment as they are on film rather than video cassette, DVD or other format. The film would need to be transferred in order to access the productions. When I was with Franciscan Media, there was no authorized budget for such a project.

      1. I recently received a large donation of The Hour of St. Francis films and radio program reels to archives. On an off-chance that anyone sees this post, I was wondering if you might be able to clarify the copyright? I came across a few blogs that mentioned the Franciscan Province of St. Barbara holds the copyright. Is Franciscan Media related to the copyright in anyway? I’ve emailed around to find out and haven’t received any responses. Depending on the copyright status, I’m in the process of deciding whether I should keep the reels in the archives or find another institution that may be interested in taking them.

  9. For some background information on The Hour of St. Francis and other early Catholic radio and television programs, producers, etc., you can consult the archives of the Catholic Broadcasters Association of America and its successor organizations: Unda-USA and the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals. Those archives are housed at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

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