Digital signs invite youth to live holy lives
September 20, 2019
A colorful electronic sign catches Lauren Kopp’s eye as she leaves the St. John Paul II Newman Center and heads to class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).
The sign beckons her and other students at the center, grabbing their attention for a moment as they begin or end their school day.
Images of saints pop up with bits of information on their lives. Trivia questions challenge students’ knowledge of their faith. Invitations are issued for upcoming events and speakers. Quotes from St. John Paul scroll across the screen to inspire.
Kopp said she and her friends have been intrigued by the two digital signs at the center, one near the entrance and the other outside the oratory where Mass is held.
“When I walk out of the oratory after Mass, I look at the saint,” she said. “And if I know them, I’m like, ‘Nice.’ And if I don’t know them, I’ll think, ‘Who’s this saint?”
The multiple-choice trivia questions are fun, said Kopp, 21, and a senior at UNO. She said she keeps an eye on the signs for events she might be interested in.
The information is a nice addition to printed bulletins, she said, especially for students who might not grab a bulletin.
The digital signs are the brainchild of Patrick Fahey, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha and a longtime leader in the Serra Club of Omaha.
He has developed programming for the signs that includes information on about 800 saints, about 60 exhortations inviting viewers to live holy lives and consider religious vocations, and about 1,000 trivia questions, sometimes with a little humor inserted and written by an archdiocesan priest who prefers to remain anonymous, Fahey said.
Father Mike Eckley, who ministers to his fellow priests as servant minister for the archdiocese, is a fan of the signs. He was pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Omaha when they were installed there in 2017.
Having an electronic screen on the wall in the church’s narthex helped clear out the clutter of tripods and paper signs, which parishioners saw as unwelcoming, he said. The sign also helped the parish save money by making fewer posters and flyers, he said.
At St. Pius X/St. Leo School, four screens were installed in the lunchroom to introduce students to saints and to test their Catholic knowledge through the trivia questions – all while eating lunch.
The parish also decided to put one of Fahey’s signs in its worship space to help those sitting in pews where a drop-down screen already in the church was not visible.
The screen has been used in many ways: helping school children and adults follow hymn lyrics, displaying religious images and running photo slideshows at funeral visitations, Father Eckley said.
“I think it was a great benefit to the parish in the many ways we could use it,” he said.
As pastor at the time, he said, he saw the signs as informational and catechetical tools that required “very little effort to run.”
‘LIKE AT BUFFALO WILD WINGS’
Fahey came up with the idea for the signs about five years ago. As part of St. Wenceslaus’ vocations ministry team, he and others were considering forming Catholic trivia teams. Instead, he thought of a different way to have fun with trivia.
“I just had this flash,” he said, “that we could set up screens around the cafeteria, like at Buffalo Wild Wings.”
From there, his idea took off. He formed a company called Vocation Inspiration Inc. and partnered with Nanonation Inc. of Lincoln for the technology.
Fahey said he considers Vocation Inspiration more of an apostolate than a business. So far, he’s invested more than he’s made, he said.
“It’s not something I created to put bread on the table,” said Fahey, a retired business executive who worked for a cardiology medical practice and has a master’s degree in business. Instead, he said, he hopes the company will foster holy lives and holy vocations.
He’s forming a charitable foundation to help parishes and schools afford the signs and help him develop more programs for youth ministry and religious education.
A simple setup that uses just one 48-inch screen and a microcomputer would cost about $1,000 to $1,200 for the equipment, Fahey estimated. There would be additional costs for setting up the technology and programming from Nanonation and Vocation Inspiration, plus annual support and licensing fees, he said.
Organizations could run advertisements to help offset the costs.
YOUTH MINISTRY POSSIBILITIES
Fahey piloted his signs at St. Wenceslaus. They can be found in the church foyer, outside the school office and in the school lunchroom.
In June, thousands of people at ArchOmaha Unite saw Fahey’s trivia questions and saint vignettes appear on the scoreboard screens at the CHI Health Center. Audience members enthusiastically yelled out answers to the trivia questions as they waited for speakers and entertainers to begin. He said he hopes his signs can be a part of other Catholic conferences here and across the country.
Fahey – who has developed other ventures, including a patented, squirrel-proof bird feeder – sees endless possibilities for the sign technology.
Information and images can be tailored to an organization’s needs and could include logos, advertising or listings of donors and benefactors, he said. Fahey especially envisions possibilities for youth ministry, something he’s been a part of at St. Wenceslaus.
He said his trivia questions could be used on touchscreens and use Catholic-minded avatars like that of a pope, cardinal, bishop, priest or religious sister for faith-filled games and competitions.
“This has potential to transform religious education and youth ministry by creating an engaging, semi-competitive, fun digital-age method of catechizing and inspiring students,” Fahey said.
And the programming can be focused for specific needs, he said. “We could create lesson plans based on the curriculum and textbooks used in the classroom. Religious educators and youth ministers could also use our program to create their own content.”
Fahey has started work on another project – “CathOlympics.org,” – an online forum for religious educators and youth ministers to conduct Catholic trivia competitions within a school or parish, or with outside competitors. “Local, regional, national and international competition would all be possible,” he said.
The ideas keep coming to Fahey. And in promoting holy lives in an increasingly digital age, Fahey sees the signs of the times.