By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published September 20, 2007
Darby Ashe nervously swallowed and looked into the camera.
Smoothing the wrinkles of her black and white German dirndl, the fourth-grader anxiously looked to her principal, Karen Vogtner of St. John the Evangelist School, for reassurance after flubbing the first lines of the prayer.
“Remember what I told you, Darby. Just picture Mary there and imagine you’re saying the prayer to her,” Vogtner told her in a gentle voice.
With a small smile, Darby began again, praying the Hail Mary in her mother’s native tongue.
“Gegrüßet seist du, Maria, voll der Gnade…”
The media center at St. John School was transformed into a studio Sept. 12 as representatives from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign (CCC) shot footage of the elementary school for its Web site.
The crew began by filming a Mass in St. John Church, which was celebrated by pastor Father Ed Thein. Many students from the diverse school came dressed in costumes representing their native countries. There are students from 23 countries who speak 13 languages at the school.
At the Mass, Vogtner presented Ellen McCloskey, director of production for the CCC, with a gift—a snow globe depicting children from all over the world.
Her voice cracking, McCloskey thanked the St. John community.
“I have a very blessed job, and it brings me great joy to come out and see all of you, to come out and spread the good news. That’s what we’re all here for,” she said.
McCloskey and the three-person crew, including producer-director Chris Salvador of NewGroup Media, spent the rest of the day filming students, like Darby, praying the rosary in their native languages, or speaking with parents about the benefits of a Catholic education.
The St. John filming was part of a two-day project for the group, who also filmed at the archdiocesan Catholic Center. The footage will be part of CCC-TV, which showcases various aspects of the Catholic faith on the USCCB Web site. Two lay people, several deacons, Father Jack Durkin and Father Theodore Book, as well as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, were all filmed at the Catholic Center as part of the Web site’s daily reflections section. Each day, CCC-TV features a priest, deacon, sister or layperson reading the readings of the day and then giving a brief reflection on them. The reflections given by those in Atlanta will be posted on the CCC-TV site on Thursdays from October to May.
McCloskey said they chose Atlanta, in part, because of Archbishop Gregory.
“I know Archbishop Gregory and know of his wonderful leadership, not only to fellow Atlantans, but to our country,” she said, referring to his time as president of the national bishops’ conference.
The USCCB established the Catholic Communication Campaign to respond to the domestic communications needs of the Catholic Church in the United States. According to the Web site, “through the CCC, the U.S. bishops fund media programming, projects and resources that promote Gospel values and foster the pastoral teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Back at St. John School, Vogtner was thrilled that her school was chosen.
“This just touches my heart, because this school is my heart. It’s more than just my job. This is my family,” she said.
Vogtner, who has served at the school successively since 1988 as a teacher, technology coordinator, assistant principal and then principal, is also a graduate of St. John School. She has been principal since 1998.
The principal was especially delighted that the crew chose to film a school Mass.
“That’s the center of what we do here at St. John’s. That’s what tells our story the best. We are nourished by our Masses, so we can come back and be the hands and feet of Christ,” she said.
In the media center, parents of St. John’s students, like Stephen Littles, whose son Kyle is in the seventh grade, spoke on camera about the importance of the school in his family’s life. His daughter Lauren graduated last year from St. John and now attends Marist School in Atlanta.
“I wanted them to have more than just a book education. I wanted them to learn about Christ,” he said. “It feels like a family here. You just feel a welcoming spirit when you walk in the door.”
Deacon Richard Tolcher of St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, who serves as the athletic director at the school and coordinates many of the spiritual activities, said the school lives its mission, which is to “prepare students for everlasting life.”
“Faith is the most integral part of what we do here. Sure, we are academically strong, too, but these are very spiritual kids,” he said, adding that when he began training altar servers last year, 80 students wanted to serve.
“They have a sense of belonging in that sanctuary. They are great examples of living faith,” he said. “I don’t know what other schools are doing, but I know what we are doing—we are living our faith.”
The next day, at the Catholic Center in midtown Atlanta, the lobby area of the archbishop’s office served as a green room, as those who were reading reflections arrived and were immediately rushed into makeup.
Deacon Tom Huff, who serves at St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta, said he felt humbled when asked to participate and was more nervous about speaking into the camera “than I would be to a room full of people.”
Ordained in 2004, Deacon Huff worried he wasn’t experienced enough to be a part of the project.
“It’s really out of my comfort zone, but I realized that I am called to ministry, and we are called to preach the Gospel.”
He often goes to the USCCB Web site. “I use it for ideas, for a source. So to be asked to be a part of that source just blows me away.”
Keri Allen, director of adult enrichment, evangelization and outreach at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, was one of two lay people chosen. She, too, said she felt humbled.
“When preparing I tried to be really prayerful about it. I prayed that this would not honor me, but would give honor to (Christ),” she said.
She reflected on what hopefully would be a “relevant message” for daily living.
“I think this is a good experience—to have to focus on the readings and then give a message about them in a short period of time.”
The daily reflections are the most popular area on the CCC-TV section of the Web site, McCloskey said. In addition, there are three other “channels” that focus on sacramental life, current issues or faith in action.
“The Internet has been a wonderful blessing for our church,” McCloskey said. “Our motto is ‘how the good news gets around’ and that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to tell the stories of our faith.”
The work of the CCC is made possible by the generous donations of Catholic parishioners from all across the country to the CCC’s annual appeal. Proceeds from this collection, held each May, are divided equally between each diocese and the CCC’s national office in Washington, D.C.
Dioceses use their 50 percent share of the CCC collection to support local communications efforts such as televised Masses and diocesan newspapers. And, on the national level, CCC funds support the development and production of a wide range of media programming.
For more than 25 years, the CCC has been serving dioceses and parishioners by spreading faith-filled messages locally and nationally on radio, television, in print and on the Internet.
For more information on the CCC, visit http://www.usccb.org/ccc/.