Dominicans Order Up Preaching for the Digital Age

Friars in the U.S. are using the creativity afforded by the internet to bring an 800-year tradition to people who need to hear the Gospel.

(photo: Screenshot of the app via Amazon)

SAN FRANCISCO — St. Dominic preached the Catholic faith in the squares and taverns of France where people congregated, and 800 years later, his Order of Preachers is now taking that Dominican tradition into the digital sphere.

The Western Province of Dominicans, Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, have now upped their digital preaching game by rolling out a new OPWest App, available on Android and Apple devices, in order to correct misinformation and confusion about the Catholic faith and bring people to know and love Jesus Christ. The app rolled out on Nov. 7.

“We Dominicans, charged with preaching the Gospel, must preach the Gospel where people are and bring the Gospel to the public forum,” said Dominican Father Brad Elliot. “This new app is a way for us Dominicans in the Western United States to respond to the real needs of the people to whom we minister.”

The app features recent content from the Western Province Dominicans, short videos called “Truth in 60” to answer people’s questions about the Catholic faith and how to live, and introduces people to the real lives of today’s Dominicans.

The “Truth in 60” video series covers topics such as “Culture and Morality,” “Religious Life,” “Religion and Spirituality,” “Scripture,” “Tradition and History” and “The Supernatural.” The topics break down into smaller subtopics, such as “Virtue and Vice” and “Family Life.” The videos are a few minutes long and can be either watched or downloaded as audio.

In one such video, Dominican Father Jerome Cudden addresses the question, “Should I force my kids to go to Mass?” In another, Dominican Father Michael Hurley answers the question, “Do angels influence the world?”

Father Elliot explained that the new OPWest App just takes “what Dominicans have done for 800 years,” proclaiming the Church’s unchanging truths, but through the medium of the internet. The OPWest App is the latest way they can do that, and “put words to some of the more difficult answers the Catholic Church gives to some of life’s toughest questions, and give it to people in a digestible way.”

Casey O’Leary, digital media director for the Western Province, told the Register that the term “parish 2.0” describes the reality of how Catholics today are now engaging with the Church in the digital sphere. He explained that Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron, with his Word on Fire ministry and direct engagement with people of no religious affiliation or the “Nones,” has also been “a trailblazer,” showing how the Church’s preachers have to use the digital media to get the message of the Gospel to those who need to hear it.

“As the Order of Preachers, in a secularized culture, the friars can’t expect to preach to a lot of people on Sundays,” he said. “They have to go online and preach online, and our hope is the app will help them accomplish this.”


‘Friars and Brimstone’

Across the U.S., Dominican friars are using the internet’s digital tools in creative ways to engage people and share Christ’s Gospel.

The Dominican Southern Province, the Province of St. Martin de Porres, has prioritized  online preaching, engaging visitors to its website with YouTube videos and podcasted homilies from university communities they serve.

Dominican Fathers Francis Orozco and Father Thomas Schaefgen, who both have been Catholic university chaplains, had worked on creating video shorts during seminary. But following ordination, they decided that podcasting would be a flexible and fun way to reach young adults with the Gospel and answer their questions about Jesus and the faith. The podcast also meant that it could be listened to by people whether they were driving in their cars or traveling by airplane.

“We thought we can enter in this, too, and bring a Dominican flavor to it,” Father Orozco told the Register. He said he and Father Schaefgen first thought of its name, which would be a humorous take on the stereotype of a fiery Southern preacher.

“We definitely wanted to have fun with it, hence the name ‘Friars and Brimstone.’”

The “Friars and Brimstone” podcast has three main facets, with the heart of the podcast giving a more in-depth answer to a question people have.

“People want more than just the 30-second answer,” he said.

But whether the topic is purgatory, or “adulting,” they have fun making the presentation. The format is augmented further with Father Schaefgen’s light-hearted “rant of the day” and Father Orozco’s “crazy idea,” an amusing, far-fetched take on an issue.

Father Orozco explained Dominicans have a reputation for serious preaching, which is true, but he said it is also important for people to realize that “priests are real people who can have fun with each other.”

Because Dominicans are frequently on the move, they decided that podcasting would be a way to reach out to people online, but require much less time editing than a video series.

“One of the reasons Dominicans were founded were to be itinerant preachers,” he said.

Father Orozco is on the move as the vocations director, and Father Schaefgen is busy as a campus minister at Tulane University. Father Orozco said that often means he will call in from a quiet place to do the podcast.

But they can also do the podcast from just about anywhere. Father Orozco explained that one time they were in Honduras for a mission trip, and Father Schaefgen just “pulled out his phone and did a recording, right then and there, and uploaded it when we got back to the U.S.”

He added that lay Catholics are also key players in helping Dominicans spread the digital message.

“The thing people can do is to share it,” he said. “That’s how to keep that preaching going, by sending private emails or hitting that ‘share’ or ‘retweet’ button.”


Preaching Christ Crucified

The eagerness of Dominicans to make themselves present on YouTube, social media, podcasting and radio is “really about preaching Christ crucified,” according to Dominican Father Thomas Petri, vice president and academic dean of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

“That’s what St. Dominic founded the Dominican Order to do, and everything else in our life is really at the service of that,” he said.

Father Petri, of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, explained the digital era “is simply an extension” of that Dominican mission of “persuading and convincing others to know the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.”

Father Thomas explained one such initiative is “Aquinas 101,” which the Register profiled in a separate story. The program, which helps unpack St. Thomas Aquinas’s teachings and insights, now has 18,000 subscribers.

“It’s been really well-received,” said Father Petri, who is a contributor to the program.

Overall, he said Dominicans look at the digital sphere as an opportunity to bring their founder’s preaching mission into “one more area.”

“We’re always going to be preaching in the digital world,” he said, “and we hope it brings more people closer to Jesus Christ.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.