Archdiocese's effort links faithful via Web Technology drive buys parish, school computers

July 31, 1998|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Roman Catholics can't attend Mass or be absolved of their sins on-line, but in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, they will soon be able to conduct a lot of other parish and spiritual business via computer.

At St. Jane Frances de Chantal parish in Riviera Beach, parishioners can have the parish bulletin delivered by computer days before it's handed out in church and check the calendar for future events. Parents with children in parish schools can keep tabs on their youngsters' homework assignments and send messages to teachers, who have computers on their desks.

The technology at St. Jane's will soon be commonplace, thanks to an archdiocesan technology initiative and $250,000 in subsidies to help parishes buy computers and establish Internet service.

"It's our hope that every parish, every school, every school principal and every parish priest will be linked by September," said Richard Woy, the archdiocese's executive director of management services.

Not only will parish members be better connected to one another, but parishes and schools will be able to communicate more easily with each other and with the archdiocesan headquarters in downtown Baltimore.

"The [archdiocese] is very diverse geographically. We see this as a way of bridging the distance economically and geographically," said the Rev. James Reusing, the archdiocese's director of information services.

The technology initiative, announced in the spring, got a $250,000 boost from the archdiocese's recent capital campaign that has exceeded its $80 million goal. One of the first allotments of money was the computer subsidies that became available this month.

The archdiocese's 162 parishes and 99 schools have approached technology differently. Some, such as St. Jane Frances, are well along in the process. Other parishes have hardly begun. Generally, "the schools are ahead of the [archdiocese] as a whole," said Woy.

Reusing, formerly the pastor at St. Jane's, can attest to some of the benefits of Internet connections. "We got our census correct. We knew who had children in school. Our attendance went up. Our contributions went up."

St. Jane's office manager, Cass Moran, attributes increased attendance to the fact that visitors can find the church more easily, thanks to the map and directions on the church's Web page. Attendance at parish events is also up, probably because people can put them on their schedules months in advance, she said.

Because all the teachers in the 500-student school have computers on their desks, they can communicate with parents, and vice versa, often at nontraditional times. Busy parents often send e-mail to teachers late at night, when their children are in bed and they have the time, Reusing said.

The archdiocesan headquarters has established a Web site that contains local information and offers links to other dioceses, as well as to religious publications, secular newspapers and other news outlets.

Eventually, archdiocesan officials would like to do all of their correspondence with parishes by e-mail.

Archdiocesan officials also see a spiritual dimension to the new connections.

"The pages of prayers are well-traveled," Reusing said of those provided on St. Jane's parish Web site.

Because people can access the Internet anonymously at any time, Woy sees the church reaching those "who might be reluctant to ask others" about it. "It's a way that people can learn about the church," he said.

"We've never been here before. It's a very powerful and new tool."

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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