New Parish Phone App Introduced in Diocese
By Amanda Hudson
November 23, 2017
DIOCESE—Communicating better to parishioners in all parishes as a mission was the goal of two one-day workshops presented by the Diocese of Rockford and Diocesan, the company that developed a smartphone application — or app — launched in the diocese Nov. 18-19. 
At the workshops, Diocesan shared ideas for bulletins, websites and social media and introduced its myParish app to staff members from more than 50 parishes. 
The workshops were held at St. Mary in Huntley on Nov. 15 and at St. Rita in Rockford on Nov. 16.
“I’m not texting, I’m praying” emblazoned on a myParish app t-shirt illustrated how the new app can provide useful tools for parishes to reach and engage their members. They include things from diocesan messages, prayers, daily Mass readings, a confession guide and more. 
The app was to be launched and promoted in most parishes the weekend of Nov. 18-19. It will be available to all parishes free for the first year.
Five staff members from Diocesan presented the workshops which ran from 9 a.m to 3 p.m. each day. Company representatives specialized in a specific type of communication, including the app, other social media, bulletin and website design. 
Each day began with a prayer inspired by Blessed James Alberione (who was introduced as the “media apostle”) and continued with a quote from Pope Francis: “It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.”
Two morning talks on “The Heart of Communication” and “Understanding and Optimizing Your Channels” were followed by a question-and-answer time and roundtable discussions.
“Pray and expect miracles to happen,” said Michael DiCosola of Diocesan, who created the myParish app. He encouraged participants to not stop at communicating information but to seek to inspire those with whom parishes communicate. 
He recommended using stories, testimonies and images of people in bulletins, websites and all forms of social media. 
He and others shared ideas for more effective design, along with examples of what kind of information is best provided by the various communication platforms. 
After hearing suggestions about static and changing bulletin covers and homepage designs, each person at the worskshop participated in exercises to critique and providesuggestions, based on what they learned from the presentations for a bulletin and website from a parish at the session.
“A parish app should not be a repeat of the parish website,” DiCosola said. The two should cross-link, directing users to the other media for particular kinds of information. 
The myParish app, he said, can provide reminders for prayer and Mass and otherwise encourage parishioners to better practice their faith. 
He explained that people in his Michigan office use their phones to prompt them at noon to pray the Angelus together.
“The app is an engaged space,” he said, with faith features and a balance of inspiration and information.
Such a balance was recommended for bulletins, websites and other forms of social media as parishes continue to strive to evangelize and make disciples of too-easily-disconnected parishioners.
“The channel doesn’t matter,” DiCosola said, adding that what is said and how it is said is what matters.
“Feedback from the workshop has been very positive,” Penny Wiegert, Rockfod Diocese director of communication said. “Our diocesan goal is to assist and support all those who work so diligently to spread the Good News of their faith and parishes and help them communicate effectively and through every means possible,” she added.
“I was glad I attended,” said Gail Quinn of St. John Neumann Parish in St. Charles. “I learned some things today.”
Kathleen Behrens, office manager at host parish St. Rita, held a soft launch of the app with a Bible study group last week.
“People were saying, ‘This is like Christmas morning,’ ” when they tried the myParish app, Behrens said.
— Penny Wiegert and Sharon Boehlefeld contributed to this story.