WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Web enthusiasts Nicholas Macpherson, left, Jennifer Hart, Brooklyn Love and Mitchel Nash created the new website.
Students at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic High School in Spruce Grove have come to the rescue of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Devon and its desire for a parish website.
The pastor, Pallotine Father James Bodula, said he talked with a few computer-savvy parishioners about designing a website, but the project never came to fruition.
"In order to communicate more between the school and the church, we want to have a website, so Evergreen Catholic Schools came to help us," said Bodula.
The parish website - www.smgparish.ca - will be stocked with features ranging from the parish bulletin to a biography of its patron saint to forms for registering for sacramental preparation.
Expressing an interest in developing the site were Jennifer Hart, Brooklyn Love and Mitchel Nash, Grade 9 students from Devon, as well as Nicholas Macpherson, a Grade 10 student. They have shown a keen interest in graphic design, videography, robotics, computer programming and photography.
The students were learning WordPress, and creating some of the first pages that will go on the site. WordPress is a content management system that was originally used as blogging software. It is simpler to use than other website design software, and anyone updating the site won't be required to know complicated coding.
Overseeing the website project is Mike Landry, full-time chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools.
Landry said the blogging software is also great for interaction because people can post comments or ask questions online, and the administrators can reply.
"The parish bulletin used to be the way you found out everything you needed to know about the church. Even if you missed Mass on the weekend, you could pick up a bulletin from the parish office so you'd know what you missed," he said.
But times have changed, and in this digital society, people now turn to the Internet for that same information, he said.
Today's adults are digital immigrants, thrust into a world of computers and social media. "The teenagers of today are digital citizens. This is where they live, and this is where they interact with each other. They are amazed if they get a birthday card in the mail because usually they get an e-card," said Landry.
Likewise, he gave students a worksheet, and assigned them to find answers about the sacraments. The answers to the questions could be found in three textbooks in the classroom, or via any computer. Of the 28 students in the class, 24 looked up the answers online.
"Web presence is critical for a lot of reasons - information, evangelization and just the ongoing health of the Church. The more we can connect with people in the digital realm, the better," said Landry.
Bill Veldhoen, who teaches career and technologies studies at the school, is providing the technical support for the website project. He has worked with designing and maintaining websites with Evergreen Catholic and other organizations.
"I am really hoping that this project will help connect the parish to the younger demographics because they are web savvy and want websites for everything from their hockey teams to their Church," said Veldhoen.
His hope is that these students will create a template for the entire archdiocese. He lamented that 60 per cent of the parishes in the archdiocese do not have websites.
That amounts to a "technological black hole" when the younger generation is trying to connect to the churches, he said. Many with websites do not update them regularly.
Jennifer Hart told the WCR, "We are in a very technological-based age where people go on the Internet to find information about anything, really. If you need to find out when church starts, of if you're visiting the town and you need to find the church, the Internet provides easy access."
Brooklyn Love has been taking photos and is also writing a biography of St. Maria Goretti. Other features include the parish bulletin, Mass times, church history, contact information, information about the church band, Bodula's weekly homilies, and links to other websites.
Parishioners will be able to print off downloadable forms to register for sacramental preparation, Confirmation, Reconciliation and First Eucharist.
For people who are sick or unable to attend Mass, Nicholas Macpherson said the website will be useful.
"They can go to the website and find out what they missed. It's going to be right there, and it can help a lot of people," said Macpherson.
The site will allow for ministries and parish groups within the church to have a presence. This would include the Catholic Women's League, Challenge Girls Club, Knights of Columbus, and the youth group.
The website cost is under $200, a significant cost savings from hiring professional website designers.