by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When were you appointed Communications Manager at Catholic Theological Union and what were your primary responsibilities?
Zach: I had the privilege of serving as Communications Manager for CTU from October 2016 until this past July 2018.
My primary role there was to amplify the good work happening both in and around Catholic Theological Union, helping promote lectures, courses, and other activities of the faculty, as well as promote the academic offerings of CTU. It really has been an honor to promote the work of such an amazing community of scholars. CTU’s commitment to interfaith dialogue as well as its commitment to empower Latino/a and African American leaders in the Archdiocese of Chicago particularly resonated with me.
In addition to the promotion work—which I did through email and social media primarily—I also was the editor for CTU publications, like our biannual newsletter, Logos, which highlights programming at CTU and accomplishments of CTU’s many excellent students and alumni.
Gordon: You are also a poet and a playwright. How have these gifts affected your skills in communications?
Zach: As a writer, I’m somebody who has an eye on two things at once: both discovering insight and truth through the process of writing itself, as well as honing the insight so it’s better able to be communicated to others through careful revision. I’d say the second quality was more valuable in my work as Communications Manager—and probably the one I need to grow more in! I’ve never had problems generating material as a writer (poet, playwright, and essayist), but as a reviser of my own work—in that respect, I know I can improve. I hope I served CTU well both in generating and editing the stories I helped bring to the public, but I was also helped by a number of careful eyes on our Marketing and Development team.
Gordon: What social media platforms have you found most effective in religious communications?
Zach: The two platforms I’m most familiar with our Twitter and Facebook. Of these two it seems to me that Twitter is an excellent platform for making connections with journalists and media personalities, while Facebook is very well-suited, with its event page capacity to “get the word out” for important upcoming events.
Gordon: What social media platforms would recommend that parishes consider using?
Zach: My two years as Communications Manager hardly qualifies me as an expert in this field! But again, I’d say both Twitter and Facebook are very helpful platforms—both for amplifying an individual message or event, as well as expanding an organization’s network of contacts and supporters.
Gordon: As a high school teacher, what are some of the social media risks that can affect students?
Zach: Funny story: I hadn’t actually used either Facebook or Twitter prior to starting with CTU. As a consequence, my knowledge of the platforms as they relate to experience as a teacher is pretty limited.
I do remember being surprised how many real-life arguments (and sometimes scuffles in the hallway) had their origin in students “flaming” each other online. But we know this phenomenon isn’t limited to adolescents! (Funny how a social media handle and the medium of Twitter and Facebook makes some people feel invincible and ready to say things they would never dare say to someone’s face.) From a pedagogical perspective, social media platforms definitely seem to offer opportunities to instruct in ways of civility and dialogue. I’m not sure how to go about that at present. I’m sure other teachers have much more and better responses to this question!
Gordon: What is your favorite play and why?
Zach: Over the past year, I’ve read every single play by Stephen Adly Guirgis. A friend and collaborator of numerous wonderful actors, directors, and artists (including Jesuit priest, James Martin, SJ), Guirgis brings to life ethically profound questions in a funny and profane way and honors people that other plays and playwrights overlook.
All of his plays are terrific, but I found myself reading and re-reading his The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, a dramatic re-creation of a “trial” of Jesus’ betrayer, complete with cameos from key figures in history, such as Pilate, St. Monica, Peter, Sigmund Freud, not to mention Jesus, Lucifer and Judas himself. It’s funny and profound and the characters are unforgettable. I strive for that level of quality (and fun) in my own work as a playwright.
Gordon: You wife is a popular singer. Please share with our readers some of the places she performs.
Zach: Cristina is Soprano section leader and soloist at Winnetka Presbyterian Church where she performs every week. She’ll also be auditioning for opera roles in the coming year, so keep an eye out for that as well as her availability as a singer for weddings and funerals here.
Gordon: What is your favorite song that she performs and why?
Zach: Any time she’s singing beside me at the church on Sunday is a favorite song! But seriously, I love the way she does “Ballad of Baby Doe”. In addition, she has sung some solos in Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass that make me cry.
Gordon: In closing, could you share one of your poems with our readers?
Zach: I’m incredibly grateful to Commonweal Magazine’s poetry editor, Rosemary K. Deen, for publishing two poems that anchor my first book, “Saint Paul Lives Here (In Minnesota)” and “Flesh is Funny.” Both of them are great entry points into the full manuscript.