Parishes getting enthused about branding, collaboration

Jill Alberti steps down as diocese’s director of parish communications; Ashley Wiskirchen to succeed her


Jill Alberti began traversing the diocese’s great expanses last July, reveling in the people, history and unique culture of each parish she visited, coalescing enthusiasm for interparish collaboration, Catholic identity, and the spirituality of stewardship as a way of life.

But family must come first.

Mrs. Alberti has resigned as the diocese’s director of parish communications in order to spend more time with her parents, assist with decisions on the horizon and help establish future plans.

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight is adamant that her work must continue.

“My heart is filled with gratitude for Jill and for all who have worked with her to highlight the things that unite our local communities of faith, apply cutting-edge branding techniques to our work of evangelization, and promote a life of fruitful gratitude to God as an essential element of our Catholic discipleship,” he said.

“I’m counting on all of our parishes to keep doing what she has helped us see how to do,” he said.

Toward that end, Bishop McKnight has hired Ashley M. Wiskirchen, founder and creative director of Wisk Creative Services LLC in Jefferson City, to serve as the diocese’s new director of parish communication.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Mrs. Wiskirchen moved to Jefferson City with her husband in 2017.

They are members of Cathedral of St. Joseph parish.

Mrs. Wiskirchen holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in visual communications from Truman State University in Kirksville.

Faith in the marketplace

Bishop McKnight said the parishes must continue putting into practice the message and urgency Mrs. Alberti shared with them.

She was director of communications and stewardship at Bishop McKnight’s last pastoral assignment in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, before he became bishop of Jefferson City.

She was raised in a parish and diocese immersed in the stewardship way of life.

She embarked on a successful career in corporate communications after completing a master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing and communications.

She was delighted at the prospect of combining two of her life’s passions: marketing and the mission of the Church.

She helped then-Father McKnight and her fellow parishioners at Church of the Magdalen parish in Wichita create and implement a comprehensive communication strategy while cultivating stewardship in new ways.

She began learning about the Jefferson City diocese shortly after Bishop McKnight was appointed to be its fourth bishop in November of 2017, so she could help him through the transition.

Five months later, he hired her to facilitate stronger communication and branding in and among the parishes here.

Powerful symbols

Mrs. Alberti set about making pilgrimages to parishes throughout the diocese, encountering God in the pastoral beauty of each area and in people searching for ways to serve Him better.

With pastors, parish leaders and all who would listen, she discussed the rapidly changing realities of Church life, along with the necessity of working more closely than ever with other parishes and the diocesan staff to share the Word of God and put it into everyday practice.

“I absolutely believe that we are better when we work together,” she said. “This is not only the best but the only direction for us to be moving in if we want to stay relevant.”

She focused on evangelizing through branding, the process of using instantly identifiable symbols to represent and reinforce everything that’s good about a parish.

She would start by helping each parish create its own logo — a simple image that encapsulates the parish’s identity.

“The branding process is unique for each parish,” she noted. “The logo has to fit the parish’s character and tell its story. So you have to meet with the people and try to understand what really speaks about them.”

Eventually, that process would also yield a branding style guide of colors and typefaces that showcase the parish’s identity. .

Out of that would come fresh new designs for websites, bulletins, letterhead, brochures and other materials that help reinforce the parish’s identity by keeping branding consistent across all communication items.

“There’s a lot of excitement about this,” Mrs. Alberti said of the parishes that enlisted her services. “I like how it creates this feeling that you’re not just a parish but a parish family. This is your symbol and your call to action to do God’s work.”

Preserving memories

The branding process helps build up unity within the parish while projecting a positive image to the people beyond it.

“Branding is a huge part of evangelization,” said Mrs. Alberti. “In it, we’re really creating a way to move into some prime real estate — people’s minds and hearts.”

An effective branding strategy helps people who visit a Catholic parish for Mass or a social function or who benefit from a parish’s charitable outreach remember that experience.

“When someone hears a great homily or has a beautiful, faith-filled experience of worship, we don’t want those feelings to go away,” said Mrs. Alberti. “We want them to remember us! We want to establish ourselves in their brains and hopefully use that to bring them closer to God.”

She said Kelly Martin, advertising coordinator for The Catholic Missourian, has provided essential support throughout the parish branding process, which will eventually lead to more a more cohesive, effective branding strategy for the whole diocese.

“I’m so grateful. I don’t know what I would do without Kelly,” said Mrs. Alberti. “And the parishes I’ve worked with have been so thankful for her happy and helpful attitude as she assists with establishing their branding.”

Stepping out

Branding is not a magic wand for drawing people into the fold. It won’t work unless parishioners are lively, welcoming, charitable and centered on Christ.

“Very often, it’s simply a matter of stepping out of our comfort zone,” said Mrs. Alberti.

Toward that end, she worked with parishes to articulate clearly the spirituality of Catholic stewardship and Bishop McKnight’s vision of parishes as centers of charity and mercy.

“I love being able to talk about these things,” said Mrs. Alberti.

She worked to help parishes plan for the realities that are likely to be present in the future.

When establishing a communication plan, Mrs. Alberti looks at the two-year, five-year and 10-year marks. She believes a parish communication plan needs to make sense at all three of those milestones in order to be a truly successful map to put in place.

“We want to set them up for success now and down the road,” she said. “We have to start planning now so we’re not in a panic when we reach that 10-year mark.”

She waged a battle against the tired “parish island” mentality.

Communities in that mindset might be able to survive for a while, as long as that island contains most of the resources they need.

But the world is changing rapidly, and parishes cannot settle for merely surviving. They must pursue excellence in all things, especially evangelization. We don’t want to be surviving.  We want to be thriving.

“The world can be a really cruel place,” Mrs. Alberti noted. “Rather than living on an island, we need to be reaching out and working with other people in our diocese. We’re so much stronger as a group than we are as individuals.”

Carry on

Mrs. Alberti is confident that under Bishop McKnight’s direction, parishes will continue to pursue this important work.

DeAnne Wickens, stewardship director for Holy Family parish in Hannibal, said Mrs. Alberti’s hand in stepping up communications in all areas of social media has been impressive.

“Her marketing skills gave a different slant to how we move forward in working together, and not just as individual parishes,” said Mrs. Wickens.

She appreciated Mrs. Alberti’s role in helping Holy Family develop its voice, locally and beyond.

“I appreciated the time she spent here advising us on issues in our diocese and bringing us into the conversation,” Mrs. Wickens stated.

Pud Webb, religious education director at St. Anthony parish in Camdenton, said the positive energy Mrs. Alberti brought to the parish is contagious.

“Jill is very knowledgeable, which made the process smooth,” said Ms. Webb. “I hope we have the opportunity to work with her again. She has a vision for the future of our diocese.”

Father Matthew Flatley, pastor of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Vienna and Holy Guardian Angels parish in Brinktown, said he prays for the diocese to continue the vital work Mrs. Alberti has started.

He’s especially grateful for her emphasis on parish identity and collaboration.

“Our new bishop consistently says we are better together,” he said. “I believe this proverb wholeheartedly, especially in light of all the challenges we are facing in the Church and our diocese.”

He said Mrs. Alberti helped his parishes unpack the truth of that proverb practically and effectively.

“I pray that we can all embrace the vision that we are better together,” he said.

Mrs. Alberti asked for prayers for health and strength for her family as God continues to reveal His plans to them.

Each week in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, she continues to pray for Bishop McKnight and the people of this diocese and for God to lead the parishes in their efforts to work together more effectively.

Let us give thanks

Bishop McKnight said he recognizes the Holy Spirit hard at work in the interaction Mrs. Alberti has had with the parishes and in people’s animated response to the call to collaboration, Catholic stewardship, and communication evangelization.

He’s looking forward to Mrs. Wiskirchen helping to continue all of that, perhaps in new and even unforeseen ways.

“We have been very blessed,” he stated. “Jill Alberti has given us a good foundation to build on, and people are excited about the message she shared with them.”

“Ashley Wiskirchen brings her own impressive credentials to the task, and I’m confident and delighted that the good work will continue with her help and guidance,” he said.