By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
A group of juniors in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, are tuned in to evangelizing their peers.
Twelve students made a recent field trip to Domestic Church Media, in nearby Ewing, to get a feel for what it takes to work in a Catholic media outlet. Father Jason Parzynski, the school’s chaplain, and Catholic Campus Ministry adviser Tracey Reed accompanied the youth on the tour.
The Catholic media apostolate, co-founded in 2003 by Jim Manfredonia and his wife, Cheryl, operates Catholic radio stations throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania; WFJS 1260 AM operates in a listening area that incorporates Trenton, Princeton and parts of Bucks County, Pa., while three additional stations stretch coverage into Cape May, Monmouth and Ocean Counties as well as Staten Island, N.Y.
The trip was inspired by a recent retreat that NDHS seniors and juniors of the school’s Catholic Campus Ministry team co-authored and led for underclassmen. The retreat, titled “Agape,” focused on developing a relationship with God. That led to the youth wanting to continue their spiritual outreach on a larger scale.
“These juniors wanted to do more hardcore evangelization, so to speak,” Reed explained.
Campus ministry member Libby Vernon agreed, noting the inspiration to expand ministry through the use of media. “We wanted to reach beyond with our evangelization.”
Gabriella Furmato, director of community relations for Domestic Church Media and co-host of the station’s radio program, “TGI Friday LIVE!,” led the NDHS students on the May 24 station tour. Beginning outdoors with background information on the station’s founding, its radio towers and satellites, Furmato also gave a bit of history on Mother Angelica, foundress of Eternal Word Television Network, which provides Catholic programming for more than 300 radio stations throughout the country, as well as television and radio broadcast across the globe.
“When God asks us to do something, sometimes he asks us first for our faith,” Furmato said, explaining how often in Catholic media, stations like WFJS get off the ground when people are inspired by faith to spread the Gospel.
The tour included the production and engineering room, from which DCM programming is recorded or broadcast live, as well as the station’s Chapel of the Holy Family, where the students joined Furmato and production assistant Amy Maginnis in prayer.
A short video presentation illustrated the use of YouTube as an extension of DCM’s broadcast reach, featuring footage from a pilgrimage to Rome during Pope Francis’ 2013 installation. Furmato and Maginnis gave examples of how their programming is accessed not only through the airwaves, but also streaming audio from their website and through the free DCM and TuneIn apps.
Manfredonia said students interested in pursuing radio as a career should first find a good Catholic college that offers radio and television courses.
“It’s always a good idea to check out EWTN,” he said. “And then identify a good Catholic station – do they faithfully present the teachings of the Church in a positive way, with an attractive format?”
The NDHS students have also expressed an interest in creating their own radio program, with the hopes of reaching their younger classmates with a message of faith and encouragement.
“Personally, I think it’s nice to have [programming for youth] representing faith and morality,” said Cailyn Fiori, who has enjoyed viewing episodes of the Diocese’s Realfaith TV. “It’s great to see kids my age be public about their faith, and not feel they have to hide it.”
Michael Bottega noted that “we’re always driving, listening to the radio to pass the time,” and believes that Catholic youth will be more reachable with a positive message during that time.
Having that message come from teens, for teens, can make it particularly powerful too. “Young kids don’t have an outlet [for their faith],” said Myles Kowalski. “They need a place where it’s OK to feel emotionally vulnerable and have a guideline for expressing their faith.”
“We know how they feel,” added Juliana Hagan. “We’ve experienced it, too, and we [can teach them] it’s OK to express your faith.”
Maginnis noted how important it is to “go out and meet them where they are – using social media, apps, podcasts, and having a presence on TuneIn, Facebook Live and Instagram. We’re evolving with the times.”