Province Launches ‘Text a Friar’ Initiative

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

“If the pope can tweet, the friars can text,” said David Convertino, OFM, last week, when the Province launched its “Text a Prayer Intention to a Franciscan Friar” initiative.

People can now send messages to the HNP friars using their cell phones. Since learning of the new service — through media outlets and social media — many people have submitted requests. As of Monday, less than a week after its launch, the service had received more than 4,000 requests, said David, the Province’s executive director of development.

“We have sent out 4,100 text responses since the inception of the program,” added staff member Ed Chaudron.

News about this initiative was spread round the world through a variety of media outlets. Many picked up a story by Reuters, including NBC and The Huffington Post. By the weekend, other outlets, including the BBC and Mashable, a website focusing on technology and social media, had published reports.

A photo of two friars — Richard McFeely, OFM, and Robert Frazzetta, OFM — in a church looking at their cell phones on the Development Office’s webpage appeared with many of the articles.

Ringing in the New Year
On Jan. 8, the Province announced its service, created by the HNP Development Office, through which people can submit prayer requests to the Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province. “We are very pleased to ring in 2013 with this program,” said David, who has led the office since June 2011.

The reaction on the Province’s Facebook page was mainly positive. Comments on Jan. 9 included “Texting God – I love it,” and “Franciscans were always super cool. I would imagine they’ll be swamped.”

David said he and his team came up with the idea after noticing that “a lot of people text everything now, even more than email, so why not give people the ability to ask us to pray for them by texting?”

“With technology changing the way we communicate, we needed to offer people an updated way to ask for prayers for special intentions and needs, either for themselves or others,” according to the Development Office website.

“Many of our requests are from people who have no way to get out and to ask for prayers,” said David in an interview by the BBC that aired on WFTV Orlando, Fla.

“Every morning and evening, we pray for all those who asked for our prayers at St. Francis of Assisi Friary in New York City,” said David. “I plan to ask the friars at our retirement houses to also join in.”

To send a request, people text the word “prayer” to the number 30644. A welcome from the friars appears, along with a box to type the request. When the Development Office gets the request, the sender receives a reply, confirming that their prayer request has been received and will be prayed for, according to the website announcement. The reply also includes a link to the Development Office’s website.

People wishing to email a prayer request, rather than to text, can email to send their prayer intentions to the friars. They will receive a response within approximately one hour of submitting their request, said Chaudron.

The Province is not the first religious organization to encourage people to submit their prayer intentions digitally. For example, St. John the Baptist Province’s St. Anthony Shrine in Ohio has a website for people to write in their prayer requests.

This electronic prayer requesting is one of several new ways that the HNP Development Office is communicating with people, using modern methods to inform people about the lives and ministries of the friars.

Last month, David’s team organized a musical Christmas greeting, videotaping two groups of friars — in Butler, N.J., and New York City — singing “We Wish you a Merry Christmas.” The video can be found on the Facebook page of St. Anthony’s Guild, one of the HNP entities that comprise the HNP Development Office.

Modernizing the Ministry
For many years, the Province, like all religious communities, relied on mail solicitations and on donations made at church services to raise money. Now, the Province is adding more digital media methods to the mix.

Since 2009, the Province has been using social media to communicate information. The community began usingTwitter in 2009 and Facebook in early 2010. Just last month, Pope Benedict XVI began tweeting.

Holy Name Province is broadening the variety of ways to reach people. The objective of the staff, restructured since last year when the office relocated to New York City, is to help the friars’ constituents – a variety of parishioners, staff members, past donors, alumni of St. Bonaventure University and Siena College – to get to know the personal side of the friars.

“We’ve learned that people enjoy seeing the personal, informal side of the friars. It helps them know how we live,” said David.

The Development Office, which comprises several fundraising entities of the 112-year-old Province — St. Anthony’s Guild, the HNP Franciscan Missionary Union and the national shrines of St. Anthony and St. Jude — is planning a series of events around the Province to describe to constituents the ministries of the friars.

Over the past two months, the Province has been successful in raising money for people affected by the Oct. 29 hurricane that hit much of the New York metropolitan area, including Long Beach Island where the Province has a parish. Since November, when the Province’s Franciscan Relief Appeal was established, the Province has distributed more than $60,000, David said.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.