Commencement lessons from the Facebook priest
Through many of his 40-plus years, Fr. Adam MacDonald, SVD, has had one mild lament. He’s never had a nickname. That changed late last year after he arrived at DWC to assume new duties as a vocation director. Delivering the commencement address to the graduating Class of 2012 on Saturday, May 12, he recounted his discovery of social media as an effective tool for connecting with young men considering religious life. In the process, he realized his dream.
“At long last and for the first time in my entire life, I was given a nickname—The Facebook Priest,’” he said to laughter and applause. “It’s not exactly the nickname I was hoping for, but I’ll take what I can get!”
Born in Michigan and a 1993 graduate of DWC, Fr. Adam was ordained in 2000. After going on mission to the Philippines, he accepted an assignment to the province office in Techny where he served in management roles in education and was Rector of the SVD house there. Last year, he decided to make a career change and enter vocation work. He arrived at DWC last August, but as the months passed by, he became frustrated by the lack of response from young men he tried to contact by phone or email—especially those who showed a definite interest in Divine Word College and the SVD. Finally, at breakfast one day, a student told him that if he wanted to connect with young people, he had to get on Facebook.
At first skeptical, he decided to give it a try after a string of phone calls and emails failed to generate a response from a very good prospect. So Fr. Adam fired off a “Friend” request to the young man.
“Not five minutes later I had a response,” he said. “He accepted my request to connect and two weeks later, I was visiting with the young man and his mother in Southern Louisiana.”
Since that experience last fall, Fr. Adam has made Facebook one of the essential tools in his vocation-ministry tool box. He has also taken on the responsibility of updating the DWC Facebook page.
“Before you know it, I was being called ‘The Facebook Priest,’ he said. In the process, Fr. Adam has observed a number of things, which he then shared with the graduates. His reflections stressed the importance of relationships.
The first lesson he shared with the graduates came from the term, “social media.” It underscores the fact that we are social beings and the popularity of Facebook drives home the point. People seek to connect with other people and create relationships. In the same light, the driving force behind the SVD is reaching out to establish relationships with God and others.
The second lesson he learned from his Facebook experience is the importance of meeting people “where they’re at.”
“The people to whom you will be sent may not have the degrees you do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know anything,” Fr. Adam said to the graduates. “They will have plenty to teach you, so meet them where they’re at and be ready and willing to receive and learn from them as well.”
The third lesson is that the world is constantly changing, which brings on a need to continue learning, growing, and changing right along with it in order to remain true to the relationships in our lives.
His experience with Facebook revealed a number of cautionary thoughts, as well. First, as the growing popularity of social media reflects our desire for social interaction and the desire to connect with others, the downside is that people can spend more time on Facebook than they do living their lives and cherishing personal interaction.
“Facebook and other forms of social media can sometimes distract us and cause us to forget that the most important relationship in our lives is with God,” he said.
A second cautionary note related to meeting people where they are at. The challenge is to actually take the time to connect with them face-to-face and not on a computer screen.
The third note of caution related to the speed of change. Though there is a need to keep up with change, it is equally important to hold on to the core values, beliefs, morals and ethical principles that they learned during their formation and education at DWC.
“Though the world around us may change, our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and so is His love for each one of us,” Fr. Adam said. “Let the unchanging love of God be the anchor of your life’s journey.”