First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Editor's Report
Encountering the Dominicans Sisters of Hope, Digitally
Editor’s Report
John Woods

February is Catholic Press Month. It’s been that way for a long time, although the month is usually a lot like the one we’re having, with more attention paid to enduring the snow and cold weather than any celebrations.

You’ve got to hand it to the Dominican Sisters of Hope. Perhaps without realizing it, they’ve made more of the occasion this year than most existing Catholic Press entities, at least in these parts.

On Feb. 10, they launched their new website—www.ophope.org—which they hope will bring a new audience and hopefully increased interest and participation in their work and ministries. They did it in style with champagne toasts and a muffin basket full of goodies at a morning brunch at Mariandale, their headquarters in Ossining. (I wasn’t there but the photos sure made it look like a festive occasion.)

You may think it a bit of a stretch to connect Catholic Press Month with a website for a congregation of sisters, but please indulge me for a moment and you’ll see why the claim is being made.

The website is the starting point for a lot of new initiatives. It will feature new content three times each week. That will be the domain of 24-year-old digital journalist Gina Ciliberto, a Fordham University graduate who began her work with the sisters last April.

Speaking with Ms. Ciliberto, you can feel the energy and hopefulness she brings to the new venture. She noted that it has received some attention and publicity from other media outlets as well. As important as that is, she sounded just as excited about the prospect of connecting with her own audience of readers and viewers.

She told me she plans to bring new stories to the site, and by extension, to the sisters’ Twitter and Facebook initiatives. In other words, it’s not a Web 1.0 project but one meant to attract some younger viewers like herself.

As we talked last week, Ms. Ciliberto said she believed the sisters’ mission and ministries would be relevant to a younger audience interested in the traditions of the Church and in causes with which they can become personally involved.

The Dominican Sisters of Hope, numbering approximately 170, are spreading the message of the Gospel through their service in 17 states and Puerto Rico. With a median age well into their 70s, this web initiative is important not only in telling their stories but also in attracting a new audience of collaborators to help carry on their mission.

For her part, Ms. Ciliberto said she’s been totally impressed with the Dominicans Sisters of Hope that she’s met so far and has not had a single bad interview. In fact, she calls those personal interviews the best part of her job. The flexibility and joyfulness that they have extended is an inspiration to her, and she believes it will be to others through her work.

“They believe something else is in control of their lives…They take on the world with these huge hearts,” she said.

Another part of the new initiative is a phone call-in center where it is expected a community relations strategist will soon interact with those who are interested in learning more about something they’ve read on the website. The sisters see an opportunity to gain volunteers, donors and perhaps even some young women who will be interested in exploring a religious vocation.

Sister Louise Levesque, O.P., who is serving as the congregation’s consultant to the project, said she is helping Ms. Ciliberto and others understand the culture of the Dominican Sisters of Hope so that they can do their work more effectively. They don’t have everything figured out yet, but they are enjoying the journey so far. “It’s been a happy experience, a joyful experience for both Gina and myself,” she said.

Maybe the reason we in the Catholic Press don’t go overboard in celebrating the month dedicated to our craft is we’re too busy doing the work. During this Year of Consecrated Life, it feels good to shed some light on a worthy initiative that’s a little daring too.

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