Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

For two years, members of the diocesan music committee have been using Skype to network and communicate with one another, and now others in the diocese are taking advantage of the technology as well.

Skype, a free, online video call service, allows groups to meet remotely, saving the time and expense of traveling and allowing more frequent face-to-face – or face-to-screen – communication.

“It isn’t exactly the same as a face-to-face meeting, but all things considered, it works pretty well for the most part,” said Paul Birch, director of the Office of Worship.

Another Office of Worship group, the adult formation/RCIA committee, has more recently started meeting oPrintn Skype, Birch added.

Peggy Schoenfuss, director of faith formation and superintendent of schools, is using the technology in her department as well. Two groups – catechetical leaders and school principals – will be meeting with their colleagues more frequently as a result.

“We’ve just started,” Schoenfuss said. “We just had our first one last week. What I’m trying to do is through using the Skype meetings … (is) allow for some mentoring with each other.”

Five religious education directors from throughout the diocese attended their first remote meeting, and all six new principals participated in the more business-oriented meeting for school administrators.

Schoenfuss said Skype enables more brainstorming and sharing of ideas, which participants can do from the comfort of their homes. Both groups will be meeting online monthly, unless a live gathering is planned.

“Everyone has such tight schedules, and driving to meet is so difficult,” she added.

Although this is the department’s first foray into the vast technological resources available online, Schoenfuss is considering webcasting or conferencing in the future. Webcasts could be a training tool for new employees, she said, but until now, there hasn’t been anyone to help her navigate the process. The diocese’s hiring of Fr. Don Kania as part-time webmaster may have solved that problem.

“With Fr. Don’s help, hopefully I can get that going,” she added.

Hot topics among religious education directors included curriculum; integration of families into the program; the certification process; and formation and professional development for catechists.

Schoenfuss said they are also trying to incorporate more multi-grade programs, because the majority of diocesan faith formation is in a multi-grade format.

Prior to the Skype meetings, catechetical leaders had fewer opportunities for networking, Schoenfuss noted.

“The diocese has offered different things, but not on as regular a basis,” she said.

Lost networking opportunities left some religious education directors feeling they were struggling with problems unique to their parishes. According to Schoenfuss, moral support is one of the biggest advantages of meeting more frequently, because participants can share their stories and their solutions.

“They shouldn’t have to run their programs alone,” she said. “There are more similarities between our parishes than there are differences.”