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Ayer, William Ward (07 November 1892–18 November 1985), Baptist pastor and religious broadcaster, was born in Shediac, New Brunswick, Canada, the son of George Walter Ayer, an employee of a marine construction business, and his cousin Sarah Jane Ayer. The youngest of the Ayers’ ten children, William suffered the loss of his mother at age five. After enduring seven years of his father’s mistreatment and neglect, he was taken to live in Brooklyn, New York, with one of his older brothers. After about a year there, in 1906 he went to the Boston area to live with other siblings. Ayer quit school in the ninth grade and began to learn the printing trade, leading the life of a roustabout printer’s devil for some ten years. In 1916, after attending ...

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Barnhouse, Donald Grey (28 March 1895–05 November 1960), maverick Presbyterian Bible expositor and broadcaster, was born in Watsonville, California, the son of Theodore Barnhouse, a contractor, and Jane Ann Carmichael. Raised in a devout Methodist home, Barnhouse underwent a conversion experience in 1910. Two years later he enrolled at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (later BIOLA), headed by the prominent revivalist/theologian ...

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Brown, R. R. (19 October 1885–20 February 1964), pastor and radio evangelist, was born Robert Roger Brown in Dagus Falls, Pennsylvania, the son of Scottish immigrants William Murray Brown, a miner, and Mary Elizabeth Rogers. One of fourteen children, he was raised as a Presbyterian but had little interest in religion until he was converted at the age of eighteen during a revival in a Presbyterian church. At a subsequent meeting at a local nondenominational church, Brown encountered a representative of ...

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Colson, Charles Wendell (16 October 1931–21 April 2012), political operative and evangelical leader, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the only child of Wendell Ball Colson, an attorney, and Inez (Dizzy) Ducrow. His father earned a reasonable income, but his mother’s spendthrift behavior often endangered the family’s solvency. Bright and often brash, Chuck, as his friends called him, learned about political intrigue as a volunteer in the Massachusetts governor Robert Bradford’s unsuccessful 1948 campaign for reelection....

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Coughlin, Charles Edward (25 October 1891–27 October 1979), Catholic priest, radio personality, and political insurgent, was born in Hamilton, Ontario, the son of Thomas Coughlin and Amelia Mahoney, devout Catholics of Irish descent. Thomas Coughlin was the sexton of the Catholic cathedral in Hamilton; Amelia attended mass daily and dreamed of seeing her only child enter the priesthood. Throughout his youth Charles was surrounded by the institutions of the church. His family lived on the cathedral grounds, and he attended local parish schools. At age twelve he entered St. Michael’s, a secondary school and college run by the Basilian order and intended to prepare young boys to enter the clergy. Coughlin remained at St. Michael’s through college and in 1911 entered St. Basil’s Seminary to begin formal training for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1916, at the age of twenty-three. After teaching at Basilian schools in Canada for seven years, Coughlin left the order in 1923 and moved to Michigan to become a parish priest. Three years later he was assigned to a new parish in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, where he spent the rest of his life. He named his church the Shrine of the Little Flower, for the recently canonized Ste. Thérèse....

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Jerry Falwell preaches during his visit to the Canton Baptist Temple 20 Jan. 1990, in Canton, Ohio. Photograph by Scott Heckel, 1990. Associated Press

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Falwell, Jerry (11 August 1933–15 May 2007), fundamentalist pastor, televangelist, and conservative political activist, was born Jerry Lamon Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia, the son of Carey Hezekiah Falwell, a businessman, and Helen Virgie Beasley. Helen was a devout Baptist, and Carey, whom his son described as an atheist, was an entrepreneur who started with a general store and expanded into a local network of service stations, hotels, and a regional bus company. The couple's daughter died at age ten, and Carey Falwell shot and killed his own brother in 1931, the culmination of a long dispute over their shared interest in profiting from bootleg liquor; he was later acquitted for acting in self-defense. Jerry Falwell attributed these events to his father's “lifelong struggle with the Enemy,” by which he meant Satan....

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Fosdick, Harry Emerson (24 May 1878–05 October 1969), liberal Protestant minister, was born in Buffalo, New York, the son of Frank Sheldon Fosdick, a public schoolteacher and principal, and Amie Inez Weaver. Raised as a Baptist, Harry underwent a conversion experience at age seven, pledging his life to Christian service. His parents, though pious, were not narrow sectarians, and his father, especially, was salty, questioning, and open to the disturbing new intellectual currents of the late Victorian era. The major strains of Harry’s youth seem to have been his family’s relentlessly tight finances, his mother’s periodic severe mental depressions, and, according to his later accounts, his own intense, persisting fears of divine wrath....

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Fuller, Charles Edward (25 April 1887–18 March 1968), radio evangelist, was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Henry Fuller, a furniture store owner, and Helen Maria Day. When Fuller was a child his mother’s asthma forced a move to the drier climate of Redlands, California, where the family ran a profitable orange grove. After high school Fuller attended Pomona College, where he majored in chemistry and captained the football team. Fuller graduated in 1910 and, in keeping with his father’s plans for him, returned home to work on the farm. In 1911 he married his high school sweetheart, Grace Leone Payton. Two years later, after a disastrous frost, the young couple decided to leave farming; they moved to Placentia, California, where Fuller managed a packinghouse....

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Jones, Clarence Wesley (15 December 1900–29 April 1986), pioneer missionary broadcaster, was born in Sherrard, Illinois, the son of George Jones, a Salvation Army captain and part-time coal miner, and Emma Detbrenner, a Salvation Army captain. In 1907 the family moved to Chicago, where Jones’s father managed an apartment building and worked for the Salvation Army. In 1918 Clarence entered the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, an evangelical training center known as the “West Point of Christian service.” He graduated in 1921 as valedictorian. Jones was a gifted trombonist, and his brother Howard played trumpet. Together they became well known performing and recording artists. Their recordings were released on 78 rpm discs, the most famous of which include “Christ Arose” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.” While traveling as an evangelistic musician Jones met Katherine Welty, a minister’s daughter, in Lima, Ohio, in 1924. They were married the same year and had four children who survived to adulthood....

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Maier, Walter Arthur (04 October 1893–11 January 1950), radio minister and seminary professor, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Emil William Maier, a piano and organ builder, and Anna Katharine Schad, a grocer. Raised in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Maier was educated at Concordia Collegiate Institute in Bronxville, New York, between 1906 and 1912 and received his B.A. in 1913 after a year’s study at Boston University. He earned his B.D. at Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis, where he was enrolled between 1913 and 1916. Maier also studied at Harvard Divinity School (1916–1918) and at the Harvard Graduate School (1918–1929), from which he earned an M.A. in 1920 and a Ph.D. in Old Testament studies in 1929. Ordained to the ministry in 1917, he served as pastor of Zion Church in Boston and provided pastoral care to German soldiers at a nearby prisoner-of-war camp during World War I. In June 1924 he married Hulda Augusta Eickhoff, a former schoolteacher, with whom he had two children....

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McIntire, Carl (17 May 1906–19 Mar. 2002), Bible Presbyterian clergyman and religious broadcaster, was born Charles Curtis McIntire, Jr. in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the oldest child of the Rev. Charles Curtis McIntire and Hettie Hotchkin McIntire. His father served as a Presbyterian minister in Michigan, Utah, and Oklahoma; his mother worked as a missionary to the Choctaw and as teacher and dean of women at Southeastern State Teachers College in Durant, Oklahoma. His father having been committed to an asylum after a nervous breakdown when he was six, most of McIntire’s childhood was spent in economically fraught circumstances, suffused by his mother’s strong evangelical convictions....

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Michaux, Lightfoot Solomon (07 November 1884–20 October 1968), radio evangelist, was born in Newport News, Virginia, the son of John Michaux, a fish peddler and grocer, and May Blanche. Lightfoot, whose ancestry was African, Indian, and French-Jewish, spent his formative years in Newport News among Jewish and white gentile merchants on Jefferson Avenue, the main commercial street where the Michauxs lived in quarters above the family’s store. He attended the Twenty-second Street School, quitting after the fourth grade to become a seafood peddler. Impressed with the town’s commercial atmosphere, he aspired to be a successful businessman. While engaged in one business venture, he met Mary Eliza Pauline, a mulatto orphan. They married in 1906; the couple had no children of their own but helped raise Michaux’s two young sisters....

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Poling, Daniel Alfred (30 November 1884–07 February 1968), Protestant clergyman, author, and editor, was born in Portland, Oregon, the son of Charles Cupp Poling, a circuit rider, and Savilla Ann Kring, a gospel singer. As a boy Poling admired an elementary school teacher who made him proud of his country, he later recalled, “without making me blind to its unfinished work.” While attending Dallas College, a tiny school his father helped to establish, Poling became a part-time reporter for the ...

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Rader, Paul (24 August 1879–19 July 1938), fundamentalist evangelist and radio pioneer, was born Daniel Paul Rader in Denver, Colorado, the son of Daniel Leaper Rader, a minister and official in the Methodist Episcopal church, and Eugenia Shackleford. After spending time as a ranchhand in Wyoming and Colorado as a youth, he became a gifted college football player and boxer who spent time as a sparring partner of heavyweight champions ...

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Russell, Clayton (1910–1981), minister and political activist, was born in Los Angeles, California. Primarily educated in Los Angeles area schools, Russell also studied theology in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the early 1930s at the nation’s International College. Russell later remarked that his experiences studying abroad profoundly influenced his thinking about the plight of fellow African Americans in the United States. Foremost among his overseas memories was a visit to prewar Germany, where the Los Angeles cleric witnessed firsthand the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) party and its racist ideology. The eventual Nazi political triumph in Germany made him keenly aware of what a German victory in the Second World War would mean for American blacks....

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Fulton J. Sheen Photograph by Louis Fabian Bachrach, 1939. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-91049).

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Sheen, Fulton John (08 May 1895–09 December 1979), Roman Catholic bishop and electronic evangelist, was born in El Paso, Illinois, the son of Newton Morris Sheen and Delia Fulton, farmers. Although he was baptized Peter, he adopted his mother’s maiden name as a youth and used it throughout his career as one of the most famous American Catholic priests of the twentieth century....