By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published July 3, 2008
As a young boy, Greg Willits instantly fell in love with the Apple II computer his father brought home in 1983. More than two decades later, Willits’ love for computers has developed into a passion that has changed the lives of people from all over the world.
Willits and his wife, Jennifer, recently hosted the first Catholic New Media Celebration at the Georgia International Convention Center. The event brought together Catholics from across Georgia, the United States, and even other countries anxious to learn more ways to spread their faith through the use of multimedia.
Greg and Jennifer began Rosary Army, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching others how to make, pray and give away free, all-twine knotted rosaries. Though still committed to its original purpose, the organization has grown into a hub of technologically advanced Catholic outreach that appeals to people of all ages.
It started with podcasts—online radio shows that listeners could download from the Rosary Army Web site and listen to on their MP3 players or computers. Willits says Rosary Army was the first Catholic organization to use podcasting technology. At first, the goal was simply to provide updates and information to people already involved in the Rosary Army apostolate. But, as the podcasts’ popularity grew, Greg and Jennifer became more inspired by the ways in which new media could bring others closer to God.
“After our family went through some troubling times and we started sharing a bit more of our personal lives, suddenly we started communicating with listeners who were hungry to see the human side of the Catholic Church, to get to know other Catholics who are trying to live out the Catholic faith in their own lives,” Greg said. “We never expected it to reach a worldwide audience, or that people would start referring to it as the world’s first Catholic reality show. Now it’s an opportunity to simply connect with other Catholics—singles, families, religious—who gain a sense of community from listening to our show, who identify with our own daily struggles and can relate to the challenges of this world, and who know of the comfort and peace and love that comes from the Catholic Church.”
Greg and Jennifer, who live in Conyers, connected with Father Roderick Vonhögen, a priest from the Netherlands who formed Star Quest Production Network (SQPN), a multimedia organization specializing in the production of audio and video programs faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Greg now serves as the president and chief operating officer of SQPN, which offers podcasts recorded by Catholics of all ages and walks of life.
Greg and Jennifer have added several media ventures to their arsenal, including “That Catholic Show,” a series of videos about the Catholic Church that are both informative and fun to watch. Available online and now on DVD, “That Catholic Show” has become hugely popular and is downloaded by viewers an average of 30,000 times an episode. The “Rosary Army with Greg and Jennifer” podcasts are downloaded anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 times an episode.
For Greg, the response has been staggering. But he fully believes that he is serving a higher purpose.
“We are humbled on a daily basis from the outpouring of love and appreciation from people who listen to not only our program, but all of the programs we produce through SQPN,” Greg said. “Just yesterday we received about 20 e-mails from people thanking us for the work. It’s hard to process that because we really feel as though it is God doing all the heavy work. We’re just his busy bees working in the garden.”
And from a personal standpoint, Greg has watched his family, which includes four sons, grow closer to God—and each other—through the ministry.
“For our family, new media has changed everything. For almost two years now, we have been living a missionary life, completely dependent upon the faith and goodwill of our listeners to support both the SQPN and Rosary Army apostolates,” he said. “We work full-time for both of these ministries, and without the kindness of others, this wouldn’t be happening. As a result, we’ve had no choice but to put our full trust in God. … It’s not easy, especially as our family continues to grow, but Jennifer and I both feel as though this is what God wants from us. All we have to do is obey and do the work.”
Visit www.rosaryarmy.com for more information about Rosary Army. Visit www.thatcatholicshow.com or www.sqpn.com to see and listen to the latest in Catholic new media.