After making a name for himself spotlighting feel-good stories on local TV news, Vince Gerasole is bringing his talents and passion to bear on behalf of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
A few years back, Vince Gerasole, the beloved general assignment reporter for CBS 2 Chicago, took one of those mail-in DNA tests you see advertised on television. The Pittsburgh native, who proudly traces his ancestry to Abruzzo and Calabria, was ecstatic to discover he was 85 percent Italian, with a smattering of other European descent to round it out.
Gerasole, who speaks Italian fluently and worked as a teacher and disc jockey in Italy after college, is quick to mention how proud he is of his ethnicity. He even jokes that his children liken him to an Italian version of the effusive father in the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” singing the praises of his culture and excitedly embracing the paesani he happens upon in everyday life.
“I just love my heritage,” Gerasole told Fra Noi. “I couldn’t be prouder of my heritage.”
So it came as a bit of a letdown when the ancestry firm contacted Gerasole with a follow-up after refining its data. The modified numbers felt like too much salt in the pasta water: Gerasole was only 75 percent Italian after factoring in some Balkan ancestry the company had unearthed. It made sense, Gerasole says — the Balkans are right across the Adriatic Sea from eastern Italy — but the revelation still left a mark.
“I was wounded,” Gerasole jokingly bemoans. “I was so depressed. I was 85 percent before they modified it!”
Gerasole grew up in a multigenerational home with grandparents who immigrated to America. He fondly recalls them telling stories of the old country, playing scopa with their nieces and nephews, singing opera and working tirelessly for their family. Gerasole’s maternal grandfather was a steelworker, and his grandmother was like a second mother to him — sending him to school with fresh bread, sautéed peppers and Delmonico steak while the other kids lunched on PB&J. Both grandparents lovingly fielded all the questions a young journalist-in-training could throw at them.
“Even as a child, I could tell they were something special, how selfless they were,” Gerasole says. “We’re all so proud of our heritage and the sacrifices those generations made.”
An Evanston resident since he joined the Chicago CBS affiliate in 2001, Gerasole tells these tales with the warmth and charm of a gregarious Italian uncle at the Sunday dinner table, with a deep broadcaster’s voice straight out of central casting. It’s just who he is. Gerasole has built a long and successful career around being an honest, engaging and effective storyteller.
A graduate of Northwestern University, he has spent more than three decades as a journalist, with stints in Pittsburgh, Reno, Atlanta, Honolulu and Washington, D.C., before settling in the Windy City. During his years on screen in Chicago, he earned 14 local Emmy awards while specializing in what he calls the feel-good, inspirational stories that deserve to be told. When the Archdiocese of Chicago approached him with an offer to serve as its director of multimedia content, Gerasole saw it as an opportunity to use his well-honed skills to create purposeful content rooted in a faith-based community.
“A lot of people want to have a second chapter in their lives, and the desire to do something else was always in the back of my head,” Gerasole says of the position, which he started in mid-August. “I’m glad this came my way. It’s a wonderful team to be a part of, and I like the challenges that are ahead of us.”
The career move comes at an inflection point for both his previous and current employers. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted in-person worship and religious outreach across the country, forcing much of it to virtual platforms. Meanwhile, the news media are in a perpetual push-pull of upheaval and evolution that makes it harder for journalists to do the kind of work that shines a positive light on the human condition. While he didn’t seek out his new position, and he was still under contract at CBS 2 when the Archdiocese rang, Gerasole decided to take the plunge, seeing it as an opportunity to tell the sorts of stories that were struggling to break through all the noise in today’s newsrooms.
“I believe, in recent years, because of the immediacy of online platforms, that local newscasts seemed to be losing their relevance. As a reporter, I felt that,” Gerasole says. “But with the onset of COVID-19, social unrest and attacks on the media, it became clear to me that reliable local journalism is needed now more than ever, and journalists working in this environment deserve our support and respect.”
Despite this renewed importance, Gerasole felt called in a more spiritual direction.
The Archdiocese has been proactive in its digital and traditional media outreach, especially since the start of the pandemic, according to Gerasole. A Sunday Mass broadcast from Holy Name Cathedral on ABC 7 reaches approximately 100,000 households, rivaling “Meet the Press” and “Face the Nation” on competing stations in the time slot, he says. With a flock of more than 2.2 million spread across nearly 300 parishes, the archdiocese produces other Catholic TV programming, but Gerasole was brought on board to craft shorter, more immediate content that builds a sense of community at a time when people can’t always share the same physical space.
“The idea is to create more ‘snackable’ content: videos we can share on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube,” Gerasole says. “We want to present people who can’t get to church right now with inspirational tales. The idea is to tell the really rich stories about the good work the Archdiocese does and shine the spotlight on ways to help people in need.”
Those stories include the Aug. 23 journey of Sr. Stephanie Baliga, who runs the Chicago Marathon every year for charity and remained undaunted after the event was canceled due to coronavirus. She instead successfully completed the 26.2-mile journey on a treadmill while being live-streamed on YouTube and Zoom. By the end of the “race,” she had raised more than $130,000 for the food pantry at the Mission of Our Lady of Angels in Humboldt Park.
“When we see those stories, we are inspired to do good works as well,” Gerasole says. “I could try to pitch those stories in a traditional newsroom, but they wouldn’t always rise to the top. Now I have a platform.”
Gerasole is especially grateful for his family — including his wife, Heidi, and two children — for supporting him throughout his career. From a hardscrabble upbringing to working as a broadcast journalist in a major U.S. media market to now heading digital operations for one of the most cutting-edge and trendsetting religious organizations in the country, Gerasole says he’s proud of the personal and professional life he’s built in Chicago.
“I’m a very lucky human being,” Gerasole says. “I grew up really poor, and I’ve been lucky to have a wonderful partner in life with my wife. And we’ve been lucky with the children that we’ve had. It’s not just because I work for a church, but I feel very blessed.”
The above appears in the November 2020 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.