By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you and your family join Sacred Heart of Jesus in Wadsworth, Ohio and what aspects of parish life do your find most helpful?
Tony: My wife and I moved to the Akron, Ohio area from Atlanta Georgia in 1976. One of the things we regretted giving up in Atlanta was our involvement with the Search program for young adults. When we moved to Akron we found out in a rather miraculous way that they had been praying for a couple to lead the program for months. Before we had even found a place to live, we were asked to take over the Search program. We met some wonderful people from Wadsworth and Sacred Heart who encouraged us to look in Wadsworth. We never regretted the decision.
Our parish has become the center of our spiritual journey offering daily mass, perpetual adoration, men’s groups and genuine friendships.
Gordon: Could you provide our readers with some background on your radio broadcasting and the role of Catholic radio in communications?
Tony: I began broadcasting while still in high school and this past year was my 50th year in Radio. I am a member of the Radio and Television Hall of Fame. Twelve years ago I was asked to meet with two women interested in starting a Catholic radio station in nearby Canton, Ohio. My intention was to talk them out of it, but after I was convinced of their sincerity, I told them that if they were successful in getting a station, I would consult them for free. That was 12 years ago and I am still working with them and have been a member of their board of directors the entire time.
Catholic radio can and does play an important role in the New Evangelization that Saint John Paul II spoke so eagerly about. We can reach literally thousands of souls via radio and and share with them the fullness of the Catholic faith.
Gordon: You may have set the standard on the role of blogging In Catholic communications Your website is a resource that I know that many of our readers will find helpful. When did you start blogging and what social media tools do you primarily use?
Tony: I started blogging in 2012 with the idea of sharing my faith with those people who have a lukewarm faith, have left the church, or have never been exposed to Jesus. My intention was to evangelize in a soft, non-judgmental way, to encourage people to find strength in tough times, and grace through forgiveness, gratitude, kindness, and the virtues. I am not a theologian, have no credentials other than a strong fire for serving Christ. I invite people to spend some time and sample some of the stories, reflections and podcasts that I share each week.
I use many social media tools and feel that it is the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to reach the target audience. I use Facebook, especially Catholic Groups, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Google+ to reach a growing audience. I also email every new story to a list of subscribers who receive a new story every Monday morning before 7AM. I also do a Wednesday podcast that is available at iTunes, Google Play, Podbean, Stitcher and TuneIn Radio.
Gordon: What social media tools would you recommend parishes consider and the reasons why?
Tony: I think I would start with a Facebook page and create a group where parishioners can get the latest information on happenings at and around the church, mass scheduled, school news, and other current information.
I would also consider using Instagram to post pictures of parishioners in action whether doing projects in the community or social events at the parish.
Gordon: What has your experience been in the use of social media as an evangelization resource?
Tony: Let’s face it, church attendance is at an all-time low. We need to reach people where they are and it isn’t in the pews. If we can touch even one heart with something we post that might bring a lapsed Catholic back to the faith or interest someone in learning more about Jesus, we have a chance of turning these numbers around.
Gordon: Could you provide our readers with an overview of your work in prison outreach?
Tony: In August we began our 11th year in jail ministry through the Diocese of Cleveland. We have four teams that go into the county jail weekly and meet with the jail population. We get a chance to share Jesus with many who have never been exposed to the Catholic faith. In all of that time, I have never met a bad person, just normal people who have made really bad decisions. Drug; especially heroin, meth, and prescriptions pain-killers are the single biggest problem. The moral compass of Christianity helps them to make the right decision about getting off drugs and alcohol. In these 10 years I have never seen an inmate successfully recover without help from God. It’s a joy to help provide that encouragement.
Gordon: You are also a homeless advocate. Based on your experience, what are some of the greatest challenges affecting the homeless?
Tony: People become homeless for a reason. For some, it’s mental illness and the inability to get the needed expensive medications without a job and health insurance. But, they can get a job because of the mental challenges. It becomes a vicious circle.
For others, it’s the loss of a job or home, divorce or abandonment. When we realize that the homeless are just like us and we can help get them through the quagmire of politics, judgmental prejudices and legal entanglements, we will do better job of eliminating homelessness.
Gordon: What are some of the challenges that you predict will affect Catholic communications within the next ten years?
Tony: I am afraid that many well-meaning people in the church have allowed partisan politics to become part of the fabric of our faith. We begin to view each issue as conservative or liberal and fail to examine the issues through the lens of or Catholic faith.
Our other biggest challenge is reversing the trend and getting people, especially young people, back into the pews. We also face a shortage of priests and need to encourage young men to consider the priesthood. No priests, no sacraments.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview. You insights into our mutual challenges as Catholics and your experience in addressing these challenges is inspirational.