Father Richard "Duke" Zajac knows the importance of communication. During his 40 years in the priesthood, he has used nearly every form of communication to deliver his message.
From talking one-on-one to the patients of Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo where he serves as chaplain, to the written word in the form of his four volume set of homilies ("Life Injections I-IV"), to his many spots on the Sunday Televised Mass and Western New York Catholic Weekly radio program, he knows how to get the word out.
This is what makes Father Zajac the perfect person to serve as honorary chairperson for the 2016 Catholic Communication Campaign. In this role he will again work with the diocesan Office of Communications to get the word out. This time the word is about the office itself. The 20 staff members report on diocesan news in the Western New York Catholic newspaper and social media, record radio shows, tape the Daily Mass, and produce award-winning documentaries.
"The Western New York Catholic, I think, is a great vehicle," said Father Zajac, who has had his books reviewed in the paper's Arts & Entertainment section. "We are fortunate that everyone receives the paper. It has enough material inside that makes it an attractive paper for the parishioners. I think a lot of times the stories that come out of the paper, some of the advertising included, are very helpful to people, in terms of living their daily lives, learning where the Church stands on certain issues, and your basic human interest stories. I think all of those things are attractive to the person in the pew and I think the paper does a good job trying to reach people on different levels, whether it be theological, spiritual or human interest."
Father Zajac is also a frequent guest on the Sunday Televised Mass, produced by Daybreak TV. Recorded at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo, the Mass aims to bring the word of God to the home of each viewer, inviting priests, lectors and musicians from different areas of the diocese to participate in the Mass primarily used for the faithful who are unable to attend their parish celebration.
"I find the Masses to be extremely challenging, not only because the sermon needs to be rather short, which is not usually my style, but you're actually preaching to a clock and a cameraman. So, it's a different way in which to celebrate a Mass. But, you know it's going out to hundreds of people who are shut in. You want to make sure you come across ... OK," he said. "It's intimidating to a degree, because you always want to put your best foot forward. There is a part of me that comes across extremely articulate at times, and there's a part of me that comes out like Elmer Fudd at times. Your challenge is that the Elmer Fudd in you does not make an appearance while on the air."
Thankfully, he casts his fears aside and keeps coming back. He makes a point to have his homilies touch people, all people. He is known for very long sermons that offer examples that have something for everyone.
"I feel I have something to offer. I think my message is poignant to the needs of those who are watching. Maybe a sense of duty. I guess that mixes in a little bit with that," he said of his work with Daybreak.
It is that same crew that shot the public service announcements about the Catholic Communications campaign that will air following Daybreak programming.
"We know from the awards (Daybreak has) gotten for some of the documentaries, and some of the things they've done themselves, that is something to be proud of as a diocese and be grateful we have people that capable and that competent," Father Zajac said. "They can produce quality material that even people outside of the religious circles recognize as being a great piece of communication."
In early April, Father Zajac came into the office to shoot those CCC promos and sit for a couple interviews. He told Gregg Prince, assistant director of Communications for radio, one of his favorite stories. It seems there was a man who got a hankering for a sandwich in the middle of the night. The kitchen light blows out, so he tries to change the bulb, knocking over dog food and falling off the ladder in the process. His wife, after hearing the commotion, comes into the kitchen and turns a different light on. The moral being "Before you concentrate on what's is broken, take a look around and see as to what still works." Having worked in interpersonal, written word, and electronic media. What has he found that works?
"If you're looking at it from the angle of preaching, I use stories all the time. Sometimes I think the best stories are real life experiences," he said.
In 1979, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops established the Catholic Communication Campaign to respond to the national and local communications needs of the Church. Unlike most collections, half the money collected stays in the diocese and the other half is sent to the national office to fund the development and production of a wide range of media initiatives.
The Catholic Communication Campaign helps us to grow in faith, worship, and witness. The collection will take place in most parishes the weekend of June 11-12. To donate online, click here.