Workers in the virtual vineyard

By Joel Schorn

Communications and technology are advancing at an incredible rate. Members of Catholic religious orders—as the following stories show—are keeping pace.

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Image: Like many members of Catholic religious communities, filmmaker Father Armando Ibáñez, O.P. uses contemporary forms of communication in his work.



WHETHER it’s film, blogs, media production, podcasts, internet instruction, television and radio, or online magazines, members of Catholic religious communities have taken up the challenge issued over 40 years ago by the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Means of Social Communication: “All the members of the church,” the document said, “should make a concerted effort to ensure that the means of communication are put at the service of the multiple forms of the apostolate without delay and as energetically as possible, where and when they are needed.” Here are some of these people who spread the news of the gospel and the work of their communities as well as use their skills and talents in creative ways.

Media production

Franciscan Sister Judy Zielinski, O.S.F. is the director of faith and values programming for NewGroup Media in South Bend, Indiana. The company produces media pieces for its faith-based clients—churches, dioceses, religious orders, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and national religious ministries, among others. It works with a variety of faiths dealing with issues such as worship and prayer, social and ethical issues, religious education and spiritual development, history, and mission.

Zielinski has written and produced documentaries, including Mary of Nazareth: From Icon to Woman and The 5th Gospel: The Land and Sea of Galilee, public television broadcasts set in the Holy Land, and the NBC-distributed documentary Jesus Decoded. Her work has won many awards.

Zielinski is also part of a sister act. Franciscan Sister Karen Zielinski, O.S.F. is sister to Judy and director of communications for the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio, where she coordinates the publication of print and online newsletters, works with the press, manages the sisters’ web page. and has recently initiated a line of Franciscan greeting cards. In her 32nd year of living with multiple sclerosis, she writes a monthly column for Healthy Living News and a regular column, “Nobody’s Perfect,” for Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis. She loves music and film and plays cocktail piano at various fundraisers.

Sister Rose Hoover, S.C., of the Cenacle Sisters, is involved with a number of multimedia websites: She is “Cybernun” on YouTube, www.youtube.com/cybernun, and is responsible for the recently redesigned Vocation Quest site, www.vocationquest.org, for women discerning a call to religious life. Hoover also runs the “Caught Up in God” website and blog, which contains written reflections from the Cenacle Journal webpage and also includes videos and podcasts.

Grand Rapids Dominican Sister Barbara Hansen, O.P.Grand Rapids Dominican Sister Barbara Hansen, O.P. works for the Grand Rapids Community Media Center in Michigan, which includes public access TV, a historic theater, a private FM radio station, and information technology services. There she coordinates services to the nonpublic sector. At GRTV she arranges the public service announcements for area organizations on Weekly View, an intern-produced program promoting local events, produces NPO Showcase, on which she interviews representatives of nonprofit organizations, hosts the mayor’s monthly call-in show, and produces a half hour show, Focus On Issues. She is also author and producer of a spiritual segment called A Time for Reflection which airs on GRTV and is available on the websites of www.domlife.org and www.grdominicans.org.

Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, Mission Helpers Productions, Inc.An independent company sponsored by the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, Mission Helpers Productions, Inc. is a full-service, nonprofit video production house “committed to the vision of a just and peaceful society.” They produce programs from scratch for many nonprofit organizations and religious communities.

Visual arts

Sister Ann Therese Kelly, C.S.S.F.Felician College professor of fine arts Sister Ann Therese Kelly, C.S.S.F., of the Felician Sisters, teaches stained glass and has designed stained glass installations for churches and other buildings in New York State. She also teaches in a number of other arts and crafts areas, including online classes. In addition to her work at the New Jersey college, she has a stained glass studio in Buffalo, New York and has designed book covers, one being an ebook. “Although I enjoy all types of art and art experiences, stained glass is one of my favorite mediums,” she says. “There is a wonderful sense of permanence to know these windows will last more than 100 years.”

Sign language

Philadelphia Redemptorist Father Tony Russo, C.Ss.R.Philadelphia Redemptorist Father Tony Russo, C.Ss.R. knew he had a slight hearing problem when he was young. What he did not know was that his “problem” would point the way for his priestly vocation. Russo is coordinator of the Deaf Apostolate program of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The program, operated through the Respect Life office, provides money and staff for services to the deaf community that include religious education instruction, Masses in sign language, summer camps, and young adult and family ministries.

E-learning and instruction

Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia Monica Katusz, O.S.F.The 24 Catholic parishes of southwestern Alaska have only enough priests to visit each community every five or six months. In this situation parishioners and religious sisters like Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia Monica Katusz, O.S.F. have assumed leadership responsibilities.

Katusz has used various forms of technology to bring the parish ministry to the isolated churches of the Yukon. Computers and video and digital photography have allowed her to provide resources and training opportunities when travel is difficult. She has helped to produced several videos for adult formation and catechesis, and her weekly email newsletter has kept each parish informed about what’s going on in the diocese. She has worked on publication of the Sunday gospel readings into the native Yup’ik language, and she oversaw the recording and distribution of 70 hymns in Yup’ik.

“Meet modern needs with modern means,” said Father John J. Sigstein, founder of the Victory Noll Sisters, and Sister Margarita Moreno, O.L.V.M. is doing just that. She has moved beyond slide and overhead projectors to closed-circuit television and PowerPoint presentations in her work with the formation program for ministry coordinators for the Diocese of San Bernardino, California.

Sister Margarita Moreno, O.L.V.M.“Once I visited a parish,” she says, “and the person who welcomed me greeted me like a long-lost friend. She said, ‘Sister Margarita, your last class was so interesting!’ I was surprised and asked myself: Where? When? ‘I am a student in the CMFP program,’ she told me. This has happened in various places and I am so happy to have these kinds of relationships. . . . But what is most important for me is that it is a new means to evangelize!”

Videos

Oblate Media & Communication offers “Videos with Values,” a wide selection of videos and DVDs for adults, teens, and children on life lessons and issues, religious education topics—including reflections by Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser—and seasonal subjects as well as classic family films, at www.videoswithvalues.org.

Sister Baya Clare, C.S.J. of the St. Paul (Minnesota) Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet is the webmaster and multimedia designer for the province. She has begun putting together a series of instructional videos about technology called The Five Minute Expert, and for a recent chapter meeting of her community she created a website, including video and audio clips, to keep members who did not attend the meeting informed about the proceedings. Her community also podcasted its annual online Advent calendar for the first time last year.

Television

The Passionists are represented by Father Cedric Pisegna, C.P. (www.frcedric.org), who hosts a television series called LIve with Passion! airing in various parts of the country. Pisegna has also appeared on YouTube and has published several CDs, DVDs, and books.

Film production

Besides being a published poet and an award-winning writer, Southern Province Dominican Father Armando P. Ibáñez, O.P. is the founder, president, and CEO of a nonprofit film production company, Pluma Pictures, Inc., www.plumapictures.com, which is dedicated to producing films with universal values. Ibáñez produced and directed the company’s first feature documentary, Not Broken, which was completed in late 2007 and made the festival circuit. The documentary was juried for screening at the AFIA Film Festival in Aarhus, Denmark and was selected as one of the top 3 films of 500 entries submitted from across the globe. The musician and actor Kris Kristofferson said of Not Broken: “This powerful, moving documentary of the Katrina disaster is a testament to the courage and integrity of the human spirit.”

A former newspaper reporter in Texas, Ibáñez has a master of fine arts degree from the American Film Institute. At press time he was directing the company’s first feature narrative film, Just Like a Dog.

Antonio “Ton” Sison, C.PP.SAntonio “Ton” Sison, C.PP.S., in formation for the brotherhood with the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, was born in Manila and has a Ph.D. in theology. He works as digital filmmaker whose latest short film is ICHTHUS, “a cinematic parable” and religious reflection on a poor fishing community in the Philippines, which premiered at the 2006 Christian WYSWYG Film Festival in San Francisco, California. He has an award-winning screenplay to his credit, 9 Mornings, which the major Philippine producer Star Cinema released as a feature film. His first project as a digital filmmaker was Mariken’s Divine Stampot, a mockumentary about searching for clues to faith in Dutch culture. He has shot all of his films with a consumer camcorder and has edited them with freeware, and he points out that the total cost for shooting ICHTHUS was $75.

Radio

Missionaries of the Holy Spirit Sister Miryan Ines Céspedes Cañete, S.Sp.S. Missionaries of the Holy Spirit Sister Miryan Ines Céspedes Cañete, S.Sp.S. hosts two radio programs based in Antigua in the West Indies. On her programs Cespedes Canete reads and comments on the gospel readings and takes calls from members of her audience, who for the most part have come from the Dominican Republic to find work. She also prays and plays hymns. All, she says, “is focused on finding God in the midst of our daily realities.”

Many of her listeners are Catholic, but not all. They include families at home, shut-ins, people driving, hairdressers, inmates at the prison, and even, she says, prostitutes waiting for their “clients.” Her broadcasts also serve to bring together the Spanish-speaking community through her announcements about parish gatherings and meetings, courses, RCIA programs, retreats, Mass times, feast days, and fundraisers.

On the West Coast, Missionary Servant of the Most Holy Trinity Father Roberto Mena, S.T. is part of Catholic Spanish radio and television programs broadcast in the Los Angeles area and nationally on the internet. He hosts a weekly radio show that deals with religious themes in the movies. He is also an authorized contact person for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and appears as a commentator on major Spanish network television.

Paulist Father Dave Dwyer, C.S.P. Tuesdays are Vocation Night on The Busted Halo Show” with host Paulist Father Dave Dwyer, C.S.P. Before entering the priesthood, Dwyer produced and directed television for MTV and Comedy Central before entering the priesthood. He now serves as the publisher of BustedHalo.com, the Paulist website for young adult seekers, and hosts his weekday call-in radio show, which began last December. “The move to satellite radio is a natural progression of sorts,” says Dwyer in an interview by Bill McGarvey posted on BustedHalo.com. “I feel proud to stand on the shoulders of Paulists of years past who were pioneers in Catholic book publishing, radio, film, and television.” The Paulists are also involved with Paulist Productions, which produces creates films and television programs “that reveal God’s presence in the contemporary human experience . . . and encourages other entertainment professionals to help unify the human family through the power of media.”

Also with the Paulists, Father John Geaney, C.S.P. currently serves as media relations spokesperson for the Diocese of Memphis, assists with the diocesan weekly newspaper, and blogs on the local TV station’s blogs. For over 30 years he hosted the Sound and Sense syndicated radio program and was president of Paulist Communications, among other positions. A producer, his documentaries have aired in syndication on PBS, nationally on ABC, and locally in South Carolina.

The religious priests and brothers of the Comboni Missionaries, an organization of, claim the world as their parish and reach it through radio stations, magazines, news agencies, publishing houses, websites, and television, including World Mission, the Missionary Service News Agency (www.misna.org), Nimedia, the first internet radio site in Italy dedicated to global church news, and the community radio station Radio Espoir in Togo, Africa. Italian-born Comboni Father Renato “Kizito” Sesana, M.C.C. Where once Africa was viewed as a passive recipient of news and information, Kizito works to develop and sustain authentic African media for transmission both in and outside the continent, in the spirit the order’s founder Saint Daniel Comboni’s vision for the regeneration of Africa through Africa.

Podcasts

Many communities have embraced podcasting as a way to deliver spiritual resources and publicize their activities. Sister Sean Douglas, O.S.B. of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri posts podcasts of her community’s celebrations of the Divine Office as well as reflections by individual sisters, all at www.monasterypodcasts.org.

Online magazine

The Dominican Sisters of the Northeast, made up of the Dominican communities of Amityville, Blauvelt, Hope (Ossining), and Sparkill in New York, Caldwell, New Jersey, and Elkins Park, Pennsyvlania, have collaborated on an online magazine, Dominican Life—USA, at www.domlife.org.

If you know of other religious working in the virtual vineyard and using technology and media arts in ministry, please post their stories online at www.vocationguide.org in the comment section of this article.

Joel SchornJoel Schorn is managing editor of VISION. He wishes to thank the representatives of religious community who generously supplied information for this article. For a listing of blog related to Catholic religious life visit the “Blog Index” on the VISION Vocation Network website, www.vocation-network.org.

2009 © TrueQuest Communications

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