A significant amount of the funding for the diocesan Communications Office’s digital evangelization work and efforts to help parishes become more responsive to their parishioners’ needs comes from contributions to the joint Catholic Communication Campaign (CCC) and The Catholic University of America Collection.
It will be taken up in parishes throughout the diocese the weekend of Pentecost Sunday, May 22-23.
“Your generous support for the Catholic Communication Campaign and for The Catholic University of America ensures that many people, from villagers on remote islands to the next generation of lay leaders being educated at Catholic University, can receive the Gospel and have their lives transformed,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight wrote in a letter to the people of the diocese.
Half of the money for the CCC portion of the collection will stay in this diocese to help pay for projects involving social media, video creation, and ongoing help with the digital transformation of parish communications and record-keeping.
The other half will help support similar work throughout the nation and beyond.
A growing need
Helen Osman, diocesan communication director, noted that more people are doing research online, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
She pointed to the story of a young man she knows from Cameroon, who heard a wonderful homily one year on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.
He went home and searched the internet for more information on the Trinity, and came across the website of a religious order, the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity.
“He is now a member of that order,” she said.
Mrs. Osman told of a woman from a very rural part of the country who was interested in what the Catholic Church teaches.
Finding the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website set her on her road to becoming Catholic.
“If it wasn’t for usccb.org,” she told Mrs. Osman, “all I was finding online was very dark, rigid posts and threads which I now know didn’t reflect the true depth and breadth of Church teaching.”
Many such stories have motivated Mrs. Osman to focus on making sure this diocese’s digital communications are authentic, reflective of the faith, and intuitive for “digital natives.”
“As with most things that matter, to make something that is elegantly simple requires a good deal of effort,” she noted. “We want data systems that are simple, straightforward and secure for everyone who uses them.”
Here at home
The Jefferson City diocese’s website, diojeffcity.org, has been a God-send to many people, especially during the pandemic.
The site has had more than 437,000 unique page views since March 23, 2020.
The site’s top four pages in that time period were the landing page on the pandemic; a post with links to parishes’ livestreamed Sunday Masses; an April 28, 2020, post giving instructions for returning to Sunday Masses in person; and the Spanish translation of Bishop McKnight’s Prayer to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
At the same time, online support helped almost 450 people volunteer to serve on parish disaster response teams in the early months of the pandemic, while 1,763 people in 10 counties in the diocese answered an online survey to help plan for the future staffing of parishes. This was known as the Ten County Initiative.
Ashley Wiskirchen, parish communication director for the diocese, has been helping parishes launch functional, attractive new websites that integrate local and diocesan information.
Forty-six parishes are in some aspect of website development: launched, in progress or discovery phase.
She has also been instrumental in livestreaming diocesan Masses and events and producing videos with messages from Bishop McKnight.
Kelly Martin, graphic designer for The Catholic Missourian, has helped design newsletters, programs, the diocesan directory and other printed materials for diocesan events and ministries.
Members of the diocesan communications staff are also helping parishes move to uniform, secure and much more interactive software for staying in touch with parishioners and keeping track of their information.
Christi Garcia, parish bookkeeper and communications coordinator, and Rene Magelky parish secretary for St. Anthony Parish in Camdenton began learning Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge software with help from the diocese in 2019.
“We both like streamlined, integrated programs and were excited to jump into something new and exciting,” said Mrs. Garcia. “We met Helen Osman during that time, and we both immediately knew that we had a friend in the Communications Office — that’s just who Helen is.”
With help from Mrs. Osman and diocesan communications specialist Denise Barnes, the parish explored expanding into Blackbaud’s online Church Management system.
“We knew Helen was there if we needed her,” said Mrs. Garcia. “However, she also gave us the room that we needed to learn and develop our version and use of Church Management as our parish needed.”
The software is very useful for organizing parishioner data.
“We use it for everything,” said Mrs. Garcia.
She and Mrs. Magelky stayed in contact with Blackbaud’s software development team about the specific needs of Catholic parishes.
“Today, many of the ideas and suggestions that we made are a permanent part of the Church Management solution,” Mrs. Garcia noted.
Bishop McKnight is eager to see parishes throughout the diocese follow a similar path.
Donna Long, director of faith formation for Holy Rosary Parish in Monroe City and St. Stephen Parish in Indian Creek, also seized the opportunity to help implement the new Church Management system.
“The diocesan Communications Office has been very supportive of our office staff while we learn the various components of the system,” said Mrs. Long.
The database offers great flexibility in various aspects of Church management such as communicating with parishioners and recording sacramental records.
“There are many other tools in this new system that will benefit our parishes that our staff has yet to learn,” said Mrs. Long. “It has great potential to help the parish Finance Council administer the financial needs of each parish and serve the parishioners more effectively.”
Halls of ivy
Money from the annual collection also helps pay for scholarships for students at The Catholic University of America, located in Washington, D.C.
The nation’s only university chartered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic University offers a wide range of degree programs that are focused on helping clergy, religious and laypeople become more effective leaders in the Church.
Father Brad Berhorst, a priest of the Jefferson City diocese, has been studying at Catholic University for the past three years and is completing a licentiate in canon law.
Many of his studies have been online due to the pandemic.
“While I can’t say that I’ve been a big fan of ‘remote learning,’ I am grateful that Catholic University and the School of Canon Law, specifically, were able to adapt so quickly to meet the needs of students who were unable to return to campus this year,” he said.
This allowed his classmates and him to finish their degrees on schedule with minimal loss to the quality of their education.
“After all that has happened in the last year, it’s no mean accomplishment on the part of the university faculty that I will be returning to the diocese having completed my degree at the same time I had planned to before ‘COVID’ and ‘Zoom’ were even part of my vocabulary,” said Fr. Berhorst.
He noted that Catholic University is the only university in the United States that offers a licentiate (and doctorate) in canon law.
“I believe that I have received a thorough canonical education here, and I look forward to putting that education to use in service to the Diocese of Jefferson City,” he said.
Minding the mission
Father Simeon Etonu — pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Edina, St. John Parish in Memphis, the Mission of St. Aloysius in Baring, and chaplain of the Kirksville Newman Center — has been studying canon law through Catholic University’s online program while working in his parishes.
“This is my first experience with online classes and so far, it’s been a good learning experience,” he said.
He takes part in interactive classes with fellow priests throughout the US, Europe and Asia, including a bishop.
“Apart from the lectures, we have the opportunity to learn from the experiences and perspectives of one another,” he said.
His courses have helped him see more clearly the connection between canon law and the theological tradition of the Church.
“Canon law is not merely a body of do’s and don’ts,” he noted. “It is pastoral. Its core objective is to assist the Church in the salvific mission entrusted to her by Christ.”
His studies have also helped him recognize individual canons in light of their relationship to the supreme law of Christ — the salvation of souls.
“This is certainly a help to my pastoral ministry,” he stated.
Father Jason Doke, diocesan moderator of the curia, studied ecclesial administration and management in person and online at Catholic University to prepare for his supervisory role at the Chancery.
This included courses in communications, finance, and canon law as it pertains to diocesan properties.
“All of these topics are areas that I work in on a daily basis,” he stated. “The online program allowed me exercise my priestly ministries and work in the Chancery while going to school.”