GILBERT, Ariz. — Dee Tamminen knows a thing or two about Catholics who come back only at Easter and Christmas.
She also knows about those fallen-away Catholics who decide that they won’t come back at all. She used to be one.
Tamminen’s father died in 1966 when she was 8.
“I took my anger out at God,” said Tamminen. “I was confused with what I was doing [in church] and why I was there. The first opportunity I had to not go to church, I didn’t.”
Tamminen started walking away from the Church at the age of 16 and didn’t return until her late 20s. Her return came about through her husband and a Virginia pastor who took an interest in the couple.
“God kept putting people into my life to bring me back,” said Tamminen, who now helps build children’s faith through her work at St. Anne Little Flower Montessori School in Gilbert, Ariz.
This Easter, as catechumens enter the Church and many non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics grace the doors of churches, a Catholic non-profit media apostolate is taking advantage of the opportunity to call those who have fallen away back home.
Roswell, Ga.-based Catholics Come Home has produced a professional television campaign and website to speak to those who have been inactive in their faith.
According to the recent U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, that number is significant.
The survey found that 28% of Americans have given up the religion they were born in and turned to another faith tradition or none at all. Among Catholics, the survey showed that one in 10 has left the faith they were brought up in.
That’s who Tom Peterson, Catholics Come Home founder and president, hopes to reach with their media campaign. From March 3-23, the organization is airing its television commercials in two test markets — Phoenix, Ariz. and Lexington, Ky. Peterson hopes to recreate the success he had with a similar campaign in Phoenix 10 years ago.
After experiencing his own powerful reversion in the Catholic faith, Peterson used his advertising skills and experience to create a three-week ad campaign that aired in Phoenix in January 1999.
“That campaign brought at least 3,000 people back to the Catholic Church,” said Ryan Hanning, coordinator of the Office of Adult Evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix.
“We calculated it out and figured that God was bringing people back to the Church at the cost of about $10 per soul,” said Peterson.
After that, Peterson started VirtueMedia.org, a nonprofit organization devoted to developing pro-life television ads. About two years ago, Peterson revisited his earlier success, realizing that bringing people home to the Church and re-catechizing them would help to create individuals who uphold the sanctity of life. So, Peterson approached the Diocese of Phoenix again.
This time, the ad campaign is part of a much larger effort. In addition to the television commercials and testimonials, which have been making their way across the Internet, CatholicsComeHome.org has also created an extensive website that offers resources such as a parish-finder, commonly asked questions, and a host who welcomes visitors to the site and helps guide them through the online resources.
They’ve also received assistance from high-profile Catholics, such as renowned speakers and authors Matthew Kelly and Patrick Madrid. Madrid helped write the website’s content, and Kelly has made available his book Rediscovering Catholicism, which CatholicsComeHome.org is giving away free to fallen-away Catholic website visitors.
The apostolate has also received endorsements from bishops.
“The videos are excellent,” said Diocese of Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan. “I really liked the ‘live’ intro to the site.”
“I am deeply grateful to Catholics Come Home for the projects they have undertaken in support of the Church and of virtuous living,” said Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix.
The ads — one which is known as “Epic” and covers the history, beauty and spiritual richness of the Catholic faith, and another known as “Movie,” has people viewing movies of their own lives and tells them that with Christ they can rewrite the ending to their life’s “movie” — will air 950 times on television stations in Phoenix and 367 times on stations in Lexington, including two at prime time during the television program “American Idol.”
According to demographic market data obtained by the Diocese of Phoenix, organizers expect that 99% of households will view the commercials about 14 times.
Prior to finalizing the commercials, the organization ran extensive focus groups and dial-testing — a sophisticated system used by movie producers and political pollsters, which uses electronic dials to measure emotional appeal — in Cincinnati and Phoenix to obtain feedback on the commercials.
The response, says Peterson, was overwhelmingly positive, even among non-Catholics.
“Seventy-eight percent of viewers had an extremely positive impression of the ads,” said Peterson. “Nearly 50% had a much more favorable impression of the Catholic Church after viewing the ads only once. About half of the people who were not attending church or were not Catholic said they were likely to consider visiting the site, attending church or coming back.”
At the Local Level
The Diocese of Phoenix has prepared priests and parishes to handle inquiries from those who may desire to return to the Church. Hanning’s office has spent the last six months working with parish leadership, catechetical leaders, and pastors in ensuring that the local church can deal with any influx.
In preparation, Hanning’s office did a survey of the available research that looks at why people leave the Church.
“What we found is that the vast majority don’t leave over doctrinal or marriage issues,” said Hanning. “They just fall away. They live in a society that tells them their faith isn’t important in their life.”
To help welcome them back, or prepare those who have never been Catholic, parishes throughout the Diocese of Phoenix are making materials, classes, and talks available during, and after, the ad campaign.
“Parishes are making available resources from organizations such as Catholic Lighthouse Media and Our Sunday Visitor,” explained Hanning. “Several dozen parishes are offering six-week, eight-week, and 10-week series between Easter and Pentecost for folks who might be returning to church.
Hanning said that there has already been great excitement and buzz about the campaign, as the commercials have been circulated by bloggers online.
“The website went live the first Friday of Lent,” said Hanning. “We’ve already had e-mails from as far away as the Philippines and Italy.”
Hanning estimates that there are between 250,000 and 400,000 inactive Catholics in the Diocese of Phoenix who could respond to the campaign. Yet, he’s excited not only about what the campaign might do for those who are away from the Church, but also what it could do for those already in the pews.
“It’s an opportunity to catechize those who are active,” said Hanning. “One viewer said after seeing the Epic commercial, ‘It’s nice to be proud to be Catholic again.’”
After airing in the Dioceses of Phoenix and Lexington, CatholicsComeHome.org plans to take these powerful Catholic messages nationwide, with the support of fellow Catholics.
Said Peterson: “Imagine how our culture could be positively impacted by seeing these powerful Catholic commercials during popular network programs and even the Super Bowl.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Catholics Come Home, Inc.
560 W. Crossville Road, Suite 101
Roswell, GA 30075
678-585-7886 ext. 6