A new vocations tool

Franciscans utilize podcasts to promote vocations
By connie cissell / SUN editor

The Conventual Franciscans are not letting technology advances pass them by these days. By looking at their Web site viewers can take virtual tours of Syracuse’s northside ministries, purchase some Franciscan merchandise, listen to a daily spiritual message or listen to Friar Phil Kelly talk about living life the “Franciscan way.” The Web site is easy to navigate and is full of interesting options.

One of the main elements of the site is the vocations component. Catholic SUN columnist Friar Phil, offers a weekly podcast where he describes the people he has met over the years as a Franciscan. He is letting potential candidates in on what modern life is like for a friar.

“I write a story of about 500 words,” Friar Phil said. “And basically I am just sharing what life is like for a Franciscan.”

Friar Phil said he sends his story to an editor who “cleans it up” and sends it back. Then he calls a telephone number in New York City and dictates the stories into the telephone. From New York City, the podcast makes its way to Toronto where it is posted on the site.

“Some of my stories are nice with a soft ending and some are nasty. They don’t all end well,” Friar Phil said.

Peter Rajchert is the communications coordinator for franciscans.org in Toronto. He explained that recording the podcast is similar to leaving a message on an answering machine. Rajchert retrieves Friar Phil’s stories and posts them on the site. A Web site utilizing moving pictures and sounds brings some humanity to the experience, Rajchert explained.

“You can see that these are real people,” Rajchert said. “The Web site tells a story and engages people so they can see what Franciscan life is really about.”

Bringing what the friars do into the mainstream is the goal of the Conventual Franciscans. Michael Ryan works in communications with the friars in Toronto. The Web site connects all the North American friars. All the contact information for vocations directors for each province is included on the site. Visitors to the site can “talk to a Franciscan” with the touch of a keystroke.

“This is a way to create another channel of communication,” Ryan said. “This is a little more real and gives people a sense of the variety in the life of the friars.”

Ryan also said the number of hits to the Web site has grown 35 percent since the podcasts were included a few months ago. “We average 1,200 to 1,500 visitors a day to the site,” Ryan said.

The Web site is not just a place to gather information, Ryan said. “It’s a place to connect with your faith. There are a lot of people out there who are interested in finding a way of belonging.”

For Friar Phil, the podcast is another way of storytelling. Stories about his childhood growing up in Ottawa, about his personal struggles, about his vocation and also about all the people he comes into contact with as a friar on Syracuse’s northside are now part of the World Wide Web.

“I want to let a young man who happens to stumble on one of these podcasts see that a friar can live a very rich life and he can meet people that he would never have a chance to meet if he didn’t happen to be blessed with being a Franciscan,” he said.

The vocation director for the Immaculate Conception Province, which includes the Syracuse Conventual Franciscans, is Father Michael Lorentsen. He works from the Alibrandi Student Center at Syracuse University. He said the Web site has allowed him to make contacts with prospects he would not have met otherwise.

“The development of the Web site was geared to 18-35 year olds, although others may certainly visit it,” Father Lorentsen continued. “This is just a broader way to get out there who we are and what we’re about.”

Father Lorentsen said that the Franciscan Web site used to be on page four or five of the Google search engine. It is now found on page one. The move up the interactive ladder is just one indication that what the Franciscans are doing is working.

The Web site brings  people in touch with the Franciscan community and can also allow them access to information about St. Francis.

To hear Friar Phil’s stories about life “the Franciscan way” and to see the Franciscans in action visit the site, www.franciscans.org.

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