When Father Ken Marlovits began his assignment as assistant vocations director last July, the job looked different than usual. Because of the pandemic, he and vocations director Father Michael Ackerman could not connect with men considering the priesthood through in-person gatherings they traditionally hosted
So they turned to an old friend—social media.
PGHPriest, the Vocations Office’s social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, had gotten a bit dusty. The Vocations Office decided to revitalize the channels and to start an Instagram account, to be geared mainly towards high school, college, and young adults.
“We want to be there for the man who is searching for his calling,” Father Marlovits explained. “We hope that followers recognize aspects of themselves in the unique stories that our seminarians share.”
Seminarians Xavier Engle and Anthony Pampena have worked with Father Marlovits on social media strategy.
They launched several new video series. In “Learn to Discern,” priests, seminarians and religious sister examine the Sunday Mass readings through the lens of discernment.
The team looked for ways to evangelize while spotlighting specific spiritualities of each seminarian. In the “Saint of the Day” videos, seminarians describe the lives of saints they admire and explain why a particular saint is important to them personally. In the “Vocation Story” videos, seminarians share the unique ways that God called them to discern the priesthood.
Followers also get an inside look at seminary life. The PGHPriest Instagram account offers photos and videos of seminarians’ prayer and recreational activities, from holiday meals, to bonfires, to snowball fights.
“You get this sneak peek into the lives of the seminarians,” Pampena said. “You see the seminary campus, who we are, and what we love.”
“It’s important for people outside the seminary to see that seminary life is a beautiful call to an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ,” Engle said. “Each seminarian has his own story and unique spirituality.”
Father Ackerman sees following the PGHPriest social media channels as a positive way for men to virtually connect with peers who are seminarians and to begin considering a priestly vocation.
“There’s an instant, authentic connection when a contemporary speaks to a contemporary,” Father Ackerman said.
Father Marlovits encourages partnerships between parishes and the Vocations Office. PGHPriest and many local parish youth and young adult ministries, as well as college campus ministries, follow each other on Instagram. He noted that young people often judge the quality of an organization by its social media presence.
The new initiatives have paid off. Since it began last fall, the PGHPriest Instagram account has grown to more than 250 followers. YouTube subscribers have increased by 450%, bolstered by a Lenten video of the seminarians praying the Stations of the Cross that received 7,500 views. Facebook post reach has increased by 286%, connecting with more than 2,000 users, and PGHPriest tweets reach nearly 1,900 people.
As COVID restrictions are expected to ease in the coming months, the Vocations Office hopes to use its social media channels to encourage people to attend in-person events. It also hopes to connect with more parish social media admins to share more content with parishes.