HNP Communications Office Marks 40 Years of Ministry

HNP Communications Features

Several early staff members of the Province’s Communications Office recently touched base with the staff of HNP Today to recall the early history of the CO, which in 2009 reached a milestone. This article provides an overview of developments and contributors through the years. Details as well as some personal observations are available in reflections by both CO founder Roy Gasnick, OFM, and Janet Gianopoulos, a longtime staff member.

NEW YORK — The Communications Office is commemorating a major anniversary; it turned 40 years old last year.

Following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the Extraordinary Chapters of Renewal in the Order and the Province, Holy Name friars launched its communications office to help friars stay informed during a time of turmoil in the Church. Forty years later, the office continues to inform friars and the public about the many ministries of Holy Name Province through a variety of avenues and diverse tools.

Since its beginnings in 1969, when former English professor Roy Gasnick, OFM, took the leadership role, the office has seen many changes — going from producing a modest one-color photocopied newsletter to a colorful electronic e-letter and transitioning from friar directors to its first lay director in 2006. None of the changes, however, have been more significant than the digital revolution with the advent of the Internet. 

In the days before newsletters, e-mail and Web sites, friars kept up with each other and with Province developments through the Provincial Annals, Holy Name’s longest-running publication. Beginning in 1937 and originally printed on a quarterly basis, the book, edited by Julian Davies, OFM, of Siena College is now printed annually. 

Servants Through the Years
Over the decades, friars who served in communications ministry were Peter Fiore, OFM, now a scholar in residence for Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y.; Cassian Miles, OFM, of St. Anthony Friary, Butler, N.J.; Jim McIntosh, OFM, now in Bolivia; Timothy Shreenan, OFM, director of liturgy and communications for St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City; Allan Von Kobs, OFM, now a staff member of the Provincial Office, New York City; Richard Biasiatto, OFM, now at St. Francis Chapel near Albany, N.Y.; and Basil Valente, OFM, now at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y.  For more than five years, Octavio Duran, OFM, has been providing photos. 

Today, the vibrant office is staffed by two lay women, Jocelyn Thomas, director, and Rebecca Doel, coordinator, both graduates of St. Bonaventure University in Western New York. It produces several publications, including this e-letter, and maintains the Province’s busy Web site. It also designs advertisements including many for the Vocation Office and maintains relations with both the secular and religious media. 

After more than 35 years of friar leadership, the Province’s 2005 Chapter voted to hire a lay director. “Our reasons were several,” according to Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM.

“Our friars were already stretched thin, working in various ministries, and no one person came to mind as having the appropriate set of skills for this position,” Dominic said. “In addition, we wanted to bring in someone who could offer a new perspective on the communications function as well as handle objective crisis communications if needed. The Province’s Communications Advisory Committee decided to hire a lay professional. We were fortunate to find a graduate from one of our schools, which provides familiarity with our culture.” 

Early Beginnings
The Communications Office was born “in the midst of conflict between traditionalists and progressives and those who were pro-change and no-change,” said Roy, a resident of St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The administration of the late Finian Kerwin, OFM, which was moving to implement Vatican II, according to Roy, started the first newsletter in 1968. The Provincial Newsletter was printed in black ink on 17-by-11 inch paper, folded in half and written by then Provincial Secretary Giles Bello, OFM. Roy said the newsletter was sometimes perceived as a biased “party-line” organ, rather than an objective report of news.

At the Province’s Extraordinary Chapter in 1968, the friars, acting on a report from a widely-respected management consulting firm, established its Communications Office to provide swift and objective communication and to take a proactive representation to the media. 

Roy was appointed the first director of communications and given the resources to establish a “first-rate” Communications Office, he said. 

Roy recalls: “To ensure objectivity, I asked for — and was given — access to the minutes of the Provincial Council meetings, the Provincial’s incoming and outgoing correspondence (except for matters of privileged information) and the Provincial Office files. I worked equally for the Provincial Administration and for the friars of the Province, trying to provide a voice for both in those tumultuous days.”

Office Expansion
After a few months, Roy asked Cassian to join him in expanding the Communications Office. Cassian had been a journalist before entering the Order and worked with Roy on The Cord and Cowl magazine at the Province’s seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. 

One of their first accomplishments was to revitalize the newsletter, then named This Week. With a new format, brief content and the addition of visuals to break up the text, This Week became easier to read and could be folded to fit in a pocket.

At the same time, Roy and Cassian created Forum, an editorial publication mailed with This Week that gave a voice to friars about myriad topics in the Church, Order and Province. Two more publications also debuted: Close Up, a position publication about topics that required in-depth communication, and Special Report, which focused on friar ministries. Except for Close Up, all publications were produced in-house.

“Cassian and I were a perfect match,” said Roy, who appears in a photo collage behind the picture above. “My strengths made up for his weaknesses and his strengths balanced mine.” 

To avoid any confusion caused by the word “Province,” Roy and Cassian named the office The Franciscan Communications Office of New York. “That way,” Roy said, “our press releases got better attention than ones coming from simply Holy Name Province.”

The Province was a newsmaker in the post-Vatican II days, according to Roy, and the CO engaged a full-time public relations firm to help in developing “a uniquely Franciscan style of public relations.” 

The office had close ties not only to the Catholic News Service, the Catholic Press Association and many of its member newspapers, but also to the secular media, especially New York City newspapers and local TV stations. 

Roy and Cassian were also responsible for founding the National Franciscan Communications Conference, a network of communications offices from all the Franciscan Provinces in the United States, as Roy recalls. He, together with the office’s public relations consultant and Rep. Peter Rodino (D-NJ), led the challenging drive to have the U.S. Postal Service issue a commemorative stamp in honor of St. Francis during the 800th anniversary of his birth. Mathias Doyle, OFM, gave the invocation on the first day of issue ceremonies in San Francisco in October 1982. 

Changes in the Mid-1980s
In 1985, Roy stepped down as director to take a position in Los Angeles, Calif., with Franciscan Communications, a producer of religious audio/visual material and now a subsidiary of St. Anthony Messenger Press. Roy was vice president for development and public relations. Cassian was appointed HNP communications director, replacing Roy. Since post-Vatican II communications pressures had decreased, no assistant was initially appointed. He stayed in this position until 1987 and later returned in 1996.

One of Cassian’s key responsibilities was editorial management of The Anthonian, the publication of St. Anthony’s Guild that has been published since 1927. 

Timothy took over direction of the office in 1987 after initially helping Cassian write stories for various newsletters, later becoming his replacement.

“The big thing that happened during my time was the transition to desktop publishing,” said Timothy, recalling the debut of the first Macintosh computers, laser printers and the advent of do-it-yourself design. “Desktop was in its infancy and we jumped onboard as much as we could with technology. The look of the Province’s communications changed dramatically.” Video technology was also embraced, he added, and a former friar, Walter Laskos, made videos that were distributed to Province ministries.

In 1990, Peter came on to direct the office. With a doctorate in English, Peter enjoyed writing for the office’s many newsletters. “I did all the obituaries,” he said, “and the news bites. There was always a feature story on, for example, a friar who wrote a book or did something else of interest.” 

Digital Age 
Peter added: “Technology has really changed over the years. We didn’t have the kind of set up they have now. We did everything by hand. We had computers, but that was about it.”

In the mid 1990s, Holy Name Province entered the World Wide Web. “Circa 1996, the Province’s first Web site was born,” Gianopolous said. “Its home page featured a photo of smiling friars outside of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Manhattan.”

For eight years, she and Cassian led HNP’s communications efforts, focusing on distributing news about the Province to the public and developing publications and tools. 

“Those were exciting times,” Gianopolous said, mentioning the launch of HNP Today newsletter and the magazineHNPeople.

Since then, HNP’s Web site has been redesigned several times, to enhance both the look and the goals of the Province. It tries to feature HNP’s ministries and partner organizations (i.e. St. Anthony’s Guild), while keeping appropriate individualism. A logo was developed for the Province to help give the friars a graphic identity, and the domain name was secured. 

“The Web site seems to have evolved into a primary communications tool for the organization, which is something I see in many of my non-profit clients,” said Todd Coopee of Industrial Media, who was instrumental in updating the designs of the Web site. Today, the Web site is the main source of information for men considering joining the friars’ formation program.

After joining Communications Office in early 2005, Jim McIntosh arranged to create the electronic version of HNP Today, now in its fifth year of circulation in this format. 

COHISTNew Decade 
Jim ran the office until fall 2006, when Jocelyn Thomas was hired as the first lay director. With more than 25 years in the communications business, Thomas was poised to lead the office into the next phase of Province communications. 

In addition to enhancing the Web site, working to integrate the message and the look of Province communications, and providing design and editing resources to the Vocation Office, Thomas and her team help publicize Holy Name through the mainstream media. In the past year, the Province’s “life shift” ad, first shown on New York City subway cars, was featured on CNN, National Public Radio and NBC’s Today show. 

“The ‘life shift’ theme made a big impact, for which we are pleased,” said Thomas, adding that the Province’s foray into social networking in 2009 has greatly helped to spread the Franciscan message. The CO staff is beginning the new decade with greater use of Twitter and Facebook, the redesign of several pages of the Web site, and a heightened focus on communicating Franciscan ideals to the public.

“Since the interest is out there for information and a hunger for spirituality seems to be growing, this is a perfecttime to further communicate the ministry of the Franciscans,” Thomas said.

 Wendy Healy, a freelance writer based in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to this newsletter. A collage of photos showing both staff members and publications can be found by clicking on the photo above.