A bridge to parish engagement

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

We’ve all seen it — a group of friends at a party or a family at a restaurant, communing with their smartphones, ignoring the people around them.

“Software can divide or atomize,” says Ryan Kreager ’11M.A., “or it can be a jumping off point for community.”

Supporting parish communities was the goal of Kreager, Shane O’Flaherty ’89 and Tim Connors ’89, who founded the business venture Growing the Faith. So the Notre Dame threesome spent a lot of time listening to church leaders and congregants, and discussing how they could build an app that would unite rather than divide. Additionally, says Kreager, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese “served as a kind and helpful adviser.”

In 2013, the trio — Kreager calls them “good Catholic guys” — rolled out the OneParish app, mobile technology that addresses both individual spiritual growth and parish organizational needs.

The “Grow” portion of the app, for instance, was put together with the objective of “helping people to make faith a daily practice,” says Kreager. It offers Twitter messages from Pope Francis, homilies from Catholic talk radio, Mass readings, beloved Catholic prayers, Saint of the Day information, and even a Mass Finder that, Kreager says, lets travelers discover Mass and confession times and places almost anywhere in the world.

The “Engage” section answers the question the co-founders heard frequently: “What can you do for my local parish?” With the app, parishioners can access a calendar of events, weekly pastor messages, volunteer opportunities, the parish directory and a donation page.

Behind the scenes, the software gives parish workers an easy organizational tool, and the company extends a helping hand to train administrators. “It’s not enough to build a really good system,” notes Kreager, “service and education are paramount.”

So far, at least 8,000 parishes have signed on to use OneParish, which is available at a reasonable, flat monthly fee. “We are a socially conscious for-profit,” says Kreager. “This shouldn’t be software for only the rich parish.”

Nor should it be static. A Spanish language version is in the works; more languages eventually will be added. And, as technology changes, other updates will be made as needed.

The three founders of Growing the Faith don’t live anywhere near each other — O’Flaherty is in Chicago, Connors in Menlo Park, California, and Kreager is working out of Innovation Park at Notre Dame. But they stay connected, keeping an eye on the product they designed to keep people connected to their Catholic faith.

Carol Schaal is managing editor of this magazine.