There are two sides to Father Jeffrey Nowak. Not quite Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, more like Father Jeff and Captain Facebook. Both have the same purpose - to deliver the word of God. That is why the diocesan Office of Communications has named him honorary chairperson of the Catholic Communication Campaign.
When he's not celebrating Mass as parochial vicar of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Niagara Falls or visiting the students at Mary Queen of Angels School in Cheektowaga, the 37-year-old priest posts his spiritual thoughts to Facebook, connecting with over 800 friends.
"I put a daily post on the daily Mass Scriptures," he said during a visit to the downtown diocesan Communications office. "Sometimes that includes the feast days or a little bio of the saint of the day. It's kind of like a mini homily that people can read. They can read it at their leisure. They can share it with their friends. If they don't get to Mass during the week, either by no desire to get to Mass, unable due to their schedule, it allows them to at least connect with some scripture, with some reflection and daily life application, every single day."
The posts go up between daily Masses at the church. Judging by the comments and Facebook "Likes" it receives, he thinks the posts have had a positive impact.
"From the number of likes it gets, you can tell if it really resonated with people, maybe it resonated with a certain group of people, or maybe the challenge was something that got under their skin a little bit and made them a little bit uncomfortable, but at the same time be able to take a step back and have a point of reflection," he explained.
As chairperson for the Catholic Communications Campaign, Father Nowak worked with the diocesan Communications staff in one whirlwind afternoon. He shot some public service announcements with Communications Director George Richert and Daybreak TV Productions, then recorded an episode of "Western New York Weekly" with radio host Gregg Prince, and sat down for this interview.
"It's a great honor to be the chairperson for this campaign because, as we know, the challenge of spreading the Gospel message continues to challenge us as a Church. We need to continue to find new ways bring the Gospel of Christ alive and to the world," Father Nowak said.
The diocesan Office of Communications serves as the primary contact with religious and secular media in issues regarding the Diocese of Buffalo and the Catholic Church as a whole. The office produces television, digital video and radio programming, along with podcasts, and a newspaper, which is delivered through various social media platforms. Father Nowak sees the efforts of the office keeping people connected to the Church when they are off their parish grounds.
"I think using all the aspects of what comes out of the Department of Communications here at the diocese is a point of connection," he said. "We encourage people to take the Western New York Catholic (newspaper) home. We encourage people to watch the Sunday Televised Masses, especially if you're homebound. I've even told people if you're unable, if it's snowing out, watch it on TV. It's not a substitute for going to Mass, but if you're unable to attend Mass in your parish, you have a means of at least praying."
Father Nowak has appeared on the Sunday Televised Mass. His grandmother, who lives in a senior apartment, takes pride in hearing people tell her they saw her grandson celebrating Mass on television.
Social media, which allow users to share content quickly and easily with like-minded people, is growing constantly in scope and popularity. Father Nowak likes that positive messages of faith can be shared and promoted via social media.
"As a priest, I am constantly telling people, 'Check out this stuff. Use the resources that are out there that are going to be applicable to you,'" he said.
He knows not every Catholic will be on social media or pick up the paper, but it is important to cast the net wide to communicate with as many people as possible. "I think the important thing is we use these different modes of communication to get this message across," Father Nowak said.
His two years as canonical administrator of Mary Queen of Angels School has allowed him to interact with young Catholics to see how they get their information. It's no surprise they use social media - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube.
"I know one of the greatest things out of this office now is the video series with Father Dave Richards ("In a Word"). I've seen every video that has been put out on YouTube from Daybreak. What's nice about that series, while it is primarily geared for middle school, every single person can relate to it. Some of the topics - prayer, temptations, sin - all those different things people face in their daily lives. Whether it is geared for a certain age group, it's relatable for people. It really is relatable to a wide variety. I think that is the most important thing. How do we take the Gospel and connect to people? I think that's what distinguishes a communication office like this from The New York Times or The Buffalo News. Yes, they're disseminating news, but this is not only disseminating news of the Church, but it's also helping people grow in their faith."
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. Donations to the campaign help support the diocesan Office of Communications in producing television and YouTube programming, radio shows, podcasts, social media platforms and the Western New York Catholic newspaper.