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I have wondered about Alex Trebek’s faith for a while.
My curiosity was piqued last May when the longtime “Jeopardy!” host — battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer — cited prayer as a factor in his “mind-boggling” recovery. He later revealed a setback that required him to undergo more chemotherapy.
In advance of ABC’s special prime-time series “Jeopardy!: The Greatest of All Time,” the 79-year-old Trebek sat down for an interview with Michael Strahan that aired Jan. 2. Yes, the subject of prayer came up. More on that in a moment.
But first, in case you weren’t among the 13.5 million viewers Tuesday night, this is how the competition turned out: Ken Jennings prevailed over fellow quiz show legends James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter and claimed the $1 million prize. The Bible even made a cameo in one of the Final Jeopardy clues.
Back to Trebek: As noted by Newsweek, he talked with Strahan about matters of faith and morality:
“I believe in a higher power….he or she is busy enough looking after more serious problems in the world. But I don’t minimize the power of prayer,” he said.
“Most of us have an open-ended life. It’s no longer an open-ended life, it’s a close-ended life,” he said, given the poor survival rate for pancreatic cancer.
“I’m not sure I always have this positive frame of mind.” He later admitted, “My self-deprecating humor is worth its weight in gold.”
So, does Trebek have a specific religious affiliation?
This much is known, as I’ve pointed out before: He grew up in a Catholic household.
Encyclopedia Brittanica notes that the Canadian-born American television personality attended Jesuit schools until age 12.
And just last week, Catholic-affiliated Fordham University recognized Trebek and his wife, Jean, with one of its top honors for individuals who have dedicated their careers to “wisdom and learning in the service of others.”
That news was reported by Crux national correspondent Christopher White, who quotes Fordham President Joseph McShane:
The Trebeks’ son Matthew graduated from Fordham with a degree in philosophy in 2013 and has gone on to open two restaurants in Harlem. In honor of their son’s decision to stay in New York and invest in the community, the Trebeks’ established a scholarship fund to help students from Harlem attend the university.
McShane said that since Matthew’s arrival in New York, he’s “grown to know and love” the Trebek family, adding that the university has previously awarded Alex with an honorary doctorate.
In addition to Matthew, the Trebeks’ daughter Emily also attended a Jesuit institution, graduating from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles in 2015.
Both Alex and Jean, McShane told Crux, are “quiet about everything they do.”
“Since his diagnosis, he’s taught us how to live and to live generously,” McShane continued. “His graciousness as a public figure is what we’d like to see in all of our students.”
“They see themselves as stewards of things God has made possible in their life,” he said of their generosity.
Later in the story, White notes:
At the dinner, Trebek highlighted the importance of prayer in getting him through his illness.
“If there’s one thing I have discovered in the past year, it is the power of prayer. I learned it from the Jesuits when I was a kid. l learned it from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate when I was in boarding school,” he told attendees, fighting back tears.
“Jean is the same way,” McShane told Crux. “She’s very prayerful.”
So, is Trebek a practicing Catholic? The story doesn’t say. The answer, it appears, is complicated.
P.S. A “Jeopardy!” clue concerning the location of the Church of the Nativity made a little news of its own.
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].
This piece was originally published by the online magazine Religion Unplugged, where I write a weekly column called “Weekend Plug-In.” Read the full column, featuring analysis, insights and top headlines from the world of faith.
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