In case you haven’t heard about the archdiocese’s new plan for the Catholic online learning platform FORMED.org, I want to share some information I gathered this past weekend. Much of it came during an interview with Dr. Timothy Gray, president of the Augustine Institute, which is spearheading the initiative in conjunction with other trusted Catholic organizations and speakers.
I wrote a story about FORMED.org in our Sept. 1 issue, but that was before I took a “test drive” on the new digital platform, along with 50 or 60 parish leaders from around the archdiocese, at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie on Sept. 24. The day was conducted by leading staffers from the Denver-based Augustine Institute, who were in New York last week leading four similar training meetings in different parts of the archdiocese.
Dr. Gray told me that the one-year-old initiative, which has 14 or 15 dioceses enrolled in subscriptions and a like number in the discussion phase, has high expectations for what will happen here in New York. “The Archdiocese of New York is huge,” he said. “We are very excited to partner” with the archdiocese.
Thanks to support from a generous anonymous donor, as well as funding from the archdiocese itself, Cardinal Dolan made the decision to provide a one-year subscription to all of the archdiocese’s parishes and parishioners, which will enable them to take advantage of features including Catholic study programs, movies, audio presentations and ebooks from popular and reliable Catholic sources. (The subscription, which began on Aug. 15, will actually run for 13 months.)
The cardinal, Dr. Gray said, has been clear about saying that “we have to embrace the new methods for the new evangelization,” and he wants to encourage parishioners to take advantage of what FORMED can offer them.
The Augustine Institute has partnered with Catholic evangelization and media apostolates such as Ignatius Press and Word on Fire, Lighthouse Catholic Media and several others to mount an outstanding array of faith formation materials that can provide a dependable resource for parish leaders and groups as well as individual Catholics.
Many parishioners who use FORMED will be familiar with contributors such as Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles and Father Michael Gaitley, M.I.C.
Forming such a partnership, even with like-minded organizations, requires a lot of work. The common denominator is the ability to use the internet’s power to create “access to all this great Catholic content,” Dr. Gray said. “We want to spread the faith.”
At the training session I attended, the parish leaders asked practical questions about access to the materials that showed both engagement and a desire to make the most of the opportunity.
Dr. Gray’s assessment of the parish leaders he encountered in New York caught me a bit by surprise. He praised them for their “openness and humility” in wanting to learn how to use digital tools to share the faith.
Those might not be the first attributes that come to mind when you think of a group of New Yorkers. As he explained himself, though, his assessment resonated with my experience with many of the parish leaders I’ve met in the archdiocese. They openly told him that they understand the importance of what FORMED has to offer, and also that they didn’t know exactly how to go about accessing it before now.
“I find that really refreshing and honest,” Dr. Gray said.
If the other sessions were like the one I attended, the participants got a good head start in learning how to use the FORMED platform. The Augustine Institute also has an eight-member Parish Care Team back at the home office to help get parishes up and running smoothly.
Brenda Lopez Flores, the coordinator of religious education at St. Bernard’s parish in White Plains, said that she could envision a lot of uses for FORMED in her work and was looking forward to enthusiastically recommending it to the parish’s pastor, Father Robert Morris.
“We definitely need to implement it in our parish,” she said.