Interview with Sister Elaine, Advocate of Social Media

PAT WELLENBACH | ASSOCIATED PRESS

PAT WELLENBACH | ASSOCIATED PRESS

I recently came across an article about Sister Elaine Lachance, Vocation Director for the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec, and how she is using social media to spark interest and renew awareness in the religious lifestyle. I instantly loved her story.

Growing up I attended weekend camps at a local convent, and as a child I made the assumption that all sisters were older—as if there were an age requirement. As I grew up I always found it inspiring when I would see a younger sister, though I didn’t see many. After reading about Sister Elaine, it’s exciting to see religious orders migrate online to share with the world the wonderful work they do in our communities.

I reached out to Sister Elaine to ask about her experience with using the Internet as a recruiting tool, and I’m pleased to share the following interview with CatholicTechTalk:

Q: I think it’s wonderful how the media has been covering your journey of using social media in your ministry. When did you first decide that perhaps the Good Shepherd Sisters needed to increase their web presence?

A: We had a beautiful website but little activity, except requests for prayer intentions. The website didn’t seem to be working for us. Nothing much was happening in the area of vocation interest or vocation contacts.

Up to this point we had tried everything—talking in Catholic Schools, faith formation sessions, a monthly evening of discernment, homemade flyers, brochures, posters, a 30-second television ad which was also put on YouTube, exhibits at Job Fairs, and participation in the activities initiated by the Diocesan Vocation Awareness Committee (Nun Run, Journey Retreat Weekend, on-campus college overnight and weekend retreats, etc.). With all of the above, very little seemed to be happening. A few contacts were made but those contacts came to nothing.

So my volunteer Lay Administrative Assistant talked about getting help from an advertising or marketing firm. After our leadership team considered this costly venture and its possibilities, it was decided to take the plunge and forge ahead—always placing our trust in God while using the latest technology.

With the help of Burgess Advertising & Marketing, a totally new website was created, and professional brochures and a seven-foot banner were produced. But even with this professional help, very little was taking place.

After trying all of the conventional ways, the Advertising & Marketing firm encouraged us to use social media because our target group of young adults would be there. This led to blogging and Facebooking. Ah, contacts were being made and conversation was taking place. I reconnected with young adults I had met along the way and some interest was coming about. Not that we were talking vocations just yet. But doors began to open and I could see possibilities. This has given me renewed energy and new hope. Now I needed to keep connected and keep the conversation going.

The challenge is to keep up with the abundance of Facebook posts and comments, and be creative with the posts. My question is always: “What is it that grabs the attention of the young adults and invites them to get involved in the conversation?” Pictures definitely speak louder than words.

The fact that we, SCIM Good Shepherd Sisters, are using social media caught the attention of the press worldwide.  The article On the Web and Nun too Soon by Associated Press was distributed worldwide over the AP wires and picked up by over 400 media outlets (newspapers, radio, television, etc.). I believe God is doing something for us, religious, that we could not do on our own. God IS working in the hearts of young people throughout the world and I believe He is doing it “His Way,” and in “His Time” we will have vocations to religious life. I thank Burgess Advertising & Marketing for putting us in touch with Associated Press and Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

Q: 50 years ago, sisters were extremely visible in our communities, our hospitals, and our schools. Unfortunately today, fewer women are exposed to the religious lifestyle, and therefore may not even know about a vocation God could be calling them for. Are you hopeful that as more women become familiar with sisterhood, we may see an increase in the number of recruits?

A: I am very hopeful that as more women become familiar with sisters, we will see an increase in the number of vocations. Research, at the national level, shows that this is already happening.

Q: Should more sisters increase their web exposure as your order has? 

A: I would encourage sisters to increase their web exposure. It is a wonderful way of keeping up with the young people we meet at different activities and it’s a great way to get      exposure and visibility. In addition, it is a wonderful way for us Sisters to show young adults what our life is like. It’s a great way to be visible while waiting for them to be ready to visit our convents.

A good number of sisters have been on the web for many years and they have seen results. We, SCIM Good Shepherd Sisters, are rather late getting on board in the area of social media. But I must say our presence on Facebook is certainly hopeful, especially for visibility, exposure, conversation, and contacts. I do believe we will reap the benefits, the more we learn how to use this medium. It’s not only our message that matters, but the way we put the message out there. I keep asking myself, “Does the message create interest, create a desire to know more, surface questions, stimulate conversation?”

Q: Since the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec’s website redesign, have you seen an increase in young women who are interested in touring the convent, or who have general questions about the vocation?

A: No, the website and the blog have had no apparent impact on vocation promotion. However, I believe that we are tilling the soil and preparing the way for the young people to hear God’s call. I believe that Facebook has great potential. That’s why I continue to put time and energy into it.

Q: I also read in an article that you were a little frustrated at first with Facebook, which is a common feeling among parishes that are starting a social media campaign. It seems they’re either worried about privacy issues, or people leaving negative comments on their wall. Have you had any problems with negative comments, or have you found that the people writing on your wall are positive and generally interested in your ministry?

A: The people writing on the SCIM Good Shepherd Sisters’ wall are very positive, interested, and grateful for the Facebook page. The young people think it’s great.

The first time I got negative comments was the day I posted, I had gone to see the documentary 2016 and I encourage people to see it.” I realized that I had touched a very sensitive nerve and three people reacted very vehemently.

Then I remembered what the Public Relation person told me: “Stay away from controversial issues.” At that moment, I understood what he had said and I removed the post and comments since I didn’t want to continue inviting reactions. That was a very good experience for me.

Q: Do you have any advice, tips, or words of encouragement for anyone out there working on, or about to kick off a social media program at their parish?

A: You need to be patient. If you are just learning how to go about these social media ways of communicating, it’s good for you to know that it’s a slow process. Even the social media person at the Advertising & Marketing firm told me that there is so much to learn and it can be confusing. I find this to be true. I’ve been blogging and Facebooking for about a year and I still get confused at times and I find I still have so much more to learn in order to get the full benefit from these means of communication.

Know that the more social media technology you use, the more time consuming and overwhelming it can be to keep up with the volume of e-mails, bloggers, and Facebookers. I chose not to add anymore [social media outlets] like LinkedIn or Twitter.

However, I now have Skype which should be very helpful in the vocation ministry, especially with contacts at a distance. I am presently learning how to use this new social media. It’s an interesting and wonderful technology but it is challenging to keep all of this going, especially if you are alone and have no team to work with.

It’s also good to remember that there’s nothing like personal contact—one-on-one. I think that’s why Skype may be very valuable to me as a vocation director.

In summary, begin slowly, be patient, know that there’s a lot to learn and it can be confusing.  However, whatever you do, no matter how little at first, is better than nothing at all. Slowly and surely you’ll get into it, you’ll like it, you’ll develop your creative skills, writing skills, and communication skills. At times, you’ll be challenged, frustrated, and overwhelmed, but it will all be well worth the time and effort.

Many thanks to Sister Elaine for taking the time to share her story with CatholicTechTalk! We wish you luck as you continue to spread the Gospel in the digital world.

For more information about the Good Shepherd Sisters, visit their website, read Sister Elaine’s blog, and like their Facebook page. Be sure to share their page with your friends, you never know who may be waiting to discover that God is calling them to a religious life.

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Author:Clare Zajicek

Clare Zajicek is a Catholic wife, mom, and Marketing professional working in the Milwaukee area.
  • Phil

    Thanks for this article, it is an interesting story.

    Sister Elaine should know that Facebook isn’t just confusing for her. I’ve made my living online since 1995, as a technician, and I find Facebook rather puzzling too. It’s not that I don’t like people, as I LOVE internet forums. But the format of other social media like Facebook and Twitter, which seems to place a priority on little random bits of this and that in sentence fragment form, can be an acquired taste, perhaps especially for we older folks.

    I hope you’ll continue to follow Sister Elaine’s progress with her Facebook campaign. Perhaps she can even accomplish the impossible, and get me going on Facebook.