By Gordon Nary
Gordon: As the Pastor of St. Mary of the Angels in Chicago, congratulations on an exceptionally well-designed website that provides a digital welcome to your beautiful church and school. A priest who is also an experienced Internet technology expert, a software developer. a Thomistic scholar, and a well-published author is a rare combination of s talents.
You also have your personal website with your bio, your books (one of which - Letters Between a Catholic and Evangelical - was chosen by Amazon readers as one of the top 100 books of 2015), and several important articles that we recommend to all of our readers.
In your opinion, what is the emerging role of internet technology and social media in religious ministry and is this a topic that should be taught in seminaries?
Father John: Internet technology is a tool for communication. It may be a very powerful tool, but it is still just a tool. If one doesn’t know how to think, if one doesn’t have any depth in the content of his communication, then Internet technology is not going to help the Church fulfill its mission.
I would want to see seminaries focus on forming our young men in their relationship with Jesus Christ (spiritual formation), in their relationship with others (human formation), in their ability to think and engage other people’s thoughts (philosophical formation), in their knowledge of Christ’s teaching about God and his plan for creation and redemption (theology), and in their ability to shepherd Christ’s flock (pastoral formation).
The Internet component can be included, but not as a principal focus of seminary formation. It can play a role similar to knowledge of science or literature, giving us more ways to connect to people. But the Good News of Jesus Christ and the needs of souls must be the primary focus of evangelization and pastoral work.
Gordon: We are conducting this interview shortly after the November terrorist massacre in Paris and I know that our readers have prayed for the victims and their families. But it appears that violence has become endemic in our city, our nation, and in many countries, and that their is a growing number of young people especially, who disregard the value and dignity of human life.
In your opinion, what are some of the factors contributing to this new attitude towards violence - especially in our youth - and what can we do to help reverse this?
Father John: There are so many factors one could point to: violence in the media, computer games, viewing people as mere objects, especially objects of sexual desires and pleasure. The biggest factor is the breakdown of the family. In good families children learn to see each other as persons made in the image and likeness of God and their parents whom they love. They also learn to work out their differences in a peaceful manner, and if they have hurt others, to apologize, forgive, and let go of grudges.
The solution is the family; good, wholesome families. That is why the Holy Father has put so much effort into the recent synod on the Family and into his recent Wednesday audiences on the family. He has given us a lot of excellent material to chew on.
Gordon: Approximately how many parishioners does St. Mary of the Angels currently have and how many children are enrolled in your school?
Father John: The school question is the easiest. We have 255 students from pre-Kindergarten to 8th grade. That is up from under 100 students 7 years ago. On the parish side, we have a lot of people who are associated with the parish from the suburbs and from all over Chicago. More than 2500 families are on our address list. We get about 1100 to 1250 in attendance on a given Sunday, but many people go to the local parish one week and then to St. Mary of the Angels the next. Some come once a month, still others come just for special occasions.
Gordon: We continue to lose more and more Catholic schools which were once the foundation of our faith, and it appears that in some cases charter schools have been more successful in recruiting some Catholic children. Also, according to several Pew Reports. Young people are leaving the church at an unprecedented rate. Do you anticipate that this problem will continue, and , if so, what can we as individual Catholics do to reverse this?
Father John: Many more people would choose Catholic schools if they could afford it. Charter schools are successful in recruiting Catholic children because they—similar to Catholic schools—promise a better education but at no charge to the families. If School Choice becomes a reality in our State, then Catholic schools will become viable again. Regarding young people leaving, this is not new. Whenever Catholics fail to witness to the children and to the world with the heroism of a follower of Jesus Christ, then the Faith loses its relevance. I recall a conversation I had with a public high school student a few years ago. I asked him whether he noticed any difference between how his fellow Catholic students acted and those who were not Catholic… between how Christian students acted and those who were not Christian. He said No. Then I asked him whether that bothered him. Again he said No. How sad. No wonder why young people—and not so young people—leave: if the Faith doesn’t make a difference in how we live our lives, then why believe… why go to church.
We need to make the Faith relevant by living the full, unadulterated Faith of Jesus Christ as transmitted to us by the Catholic Church.
Gordon; One of the newer challenges that many churches such as St. Mary of the Angels is facing is the aging of our churches and the continuing need for repair and structural support. While there are many churches facing this problem, the way that St. Mary of the Angels has addressed this challenge with your Restore God's House webpage and video detailing the specific problems and the estimates for each repair is a model that other parishes may want to consider.
I hope that many of our readers will consider making a donation to Restore God's House regardless of their parish.
What is the total amount that you still need to raise to complete all of the projects?
Father John: People have responded quite well. I don’t think we are a model for anything, we just look for ways to let people know what the needs of the parish are and they respond. I’m sure Our Lady has a lot to do with it. It is her parish and the church is in honor of her. The emergency repairs to make the exterior of the church safe will come to about $125,000. In two months, our parishioners have already exceeded that number. We estimate—these are very rough estimates at this time—that need about 3 million dollars to do all the repairs necessary to put the church back in tip-top shape. This will include rebuilding the north bell tower, repair the cupolas, and the grand front entrance and parapet.
Gordon; With all of your responsibilities, how many hours are there in your average work week?
Father John: Ask that question to any mother and you’ll get a similar answer. Even when I go for a walk, play basketball, or go out of town for a workshop or retreat, I’m praying for my family and my flock. A father or a mother don’t take vacations from their vocation, we just change the activity that helps us fulfill in different ways and thus rest.
Gordon; Are you working on a new book? If so, on what topic?
Father John: I actually have a manuscript done and looking for a publisher. It is called the Evangelical Mary. It is a book on the Blessed Virgin Mary. In it I seek to uncover all the possible Scripture passages relating to Mary and then show how those passages would fit in with the Church’s teaching on Mary. It is really amazing how much the Bible says about Mary and how well it fits with Church teaching.
Gordon; As many of our readers (at least of our younger readers) know, internet techs are often referred to as geeks. In fact, St. Isadore of Seville is regarded unofficially as the patron saint of computer geeks.
Knowing that God loves geeks so much that he inspires them to join the priesthood and help use the internet and digital media to advance God's mission should be encouraging to many young geeks. In fact, you have made the term geek a badge of honor.
Father John: Geek or not, I hope to encourage our young people to be saints, wherever God calls them. As a saint, they will draw others to Christ.
Gordon; Thank you for an inspirational interview and I know that many of us are looking forward to Evangelical Mary.