Fr. Adam MacDonald, SVD, is in the business of connecting with people. As a vocation director, his job is to contact young men who are interested in attending Divine Word College and becoming a Divine Word Missionary. Typically, that involves phone calls and emails, but in this digital world, more and more people prefer social media to communicate.
“I’d say probably seven out of ten of the young men I try to reach will have Facebook pages,” Fr. Adam said. “You have to meet them where they’re at.”
He first signed up for Facebook in 2008, but only because so many friends and family members encouraged him to try it. Like many busy people—at that time he was the assistant secretary of education for the Chicago Province at Techny—he just saw it as one more thing to do. That changed over time.
“I came to this position last August, convinced of Facebook’s value for me on a personal level, for connecting with friends, classmates, and family and for posting pictures, interacting that way,” he said, “But I had never really thought about it in terms of its importance to my professional work.”
But his first few months in vocation work were sometimes frustrating. Names of interested young men come into the Vocation Office via referrals, phone calls, email and websites. Their contact information is listed on a form and handed to vocation directors like Fr. Adam. He then makes an initial contact to gauge their interest and determine if they would be a good fit for the SVD and vice versa. If all goes well, the vocation director will make a personal visit to meet the young man and his family, and arrange a Come-And-See visit to DWC. If that goes well, hopefully the young man will enroll.
The hitch is that first contact. Today, often times, phone calls and email messages go unanswered, which can be very frustrating. One day last fall, Fr. Adam brought the issue up during a lunch conversation with students in the DWC dining room. Why weren’t these young men—who voiced interest in religious life—answering his calls and emails?
“You are wasting your time calling people. Young people don’t pick up their phones,” one student told him. “But if you get them on Facebook, you are much more likely to get a hold of people.”
Not long after that conversation, Fr. Adam was sitting at his desk wondering why a young man, who appeared to be very interested in DWC, hadn’t responded to his string of emails and phone calls, so he gave Facebook a try. He typed the young man’s email address into the search function and his name popped up, showing he had a Facebook page.
“I sent him a private message to be ‘Friends’ and I kid you not, within five minutes he had accepted my request and apologized for the fact he had not responded to my multiple messages,” he said. “Three weeks later, I was in Louisiana visiting him and now am I in the process of following up to hopefully get him to come for a visit and think about applying.”
Since that “ah-ha” moment, Fr. Adam has been increasingly active on Facebook, not only contacting potential students, but he also posts inspirational content on the Divine Word College Facebook page. In this way, he performs another valuable function.
“I think a big part of what I do as vocation director is bringing to prayer all the young men that I accompany,” he said. “For a young man to have that kind of openness in this day-and-age is something that we can only go to prayer with and give thanks to God, whether they become an SVD or not.”