Connecting with Rome from Home

| February 1, 2013
Chris Mominey in Rome

Superintendent Christopher Mominey prepares to Skype from St. Peter’s Square with students in Central New York.

Skype brings canonization to students in diocese

By Katherine Long

Standing in the middle of an ancient city full of history, Catholic Schools Superintendent Christopher Mominey used some of the most modern technologies to send the experience of a canonization in Rome, Italy, home to students in the diocese.

“Hello St. Margaret’s!” he greeted the 5th and 6th graders with a wave, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica peeking over his shoulder.

Using a wireless Internet connection, an iPad and Internet-based video messaging platform Skype, Mominey was able to chat in real time with not just St. Margaret’s but every school in the diocese from St. Peter’s Square.

When the canonizations of St. Marianne Cope and St. Kateri Tekakwitha were announced late in 2011, Mominey said the wheels in his mind started turning. Two women with roots in Upstate New York — St. Marianne, a Franciscan nun who was born and worked in the diocese before moving to Hawaii to minister to people with Hansen’s disease; and St. Kateri, a 17th Century Mohawk convert to Catholicism who was born near what is now Albany — would become saints of the universal church in an October 2012 ceremony at the Vatican. Mominey, teachers and Catholic Schools staff put their heads together.

“We brainstormed as a staff,” he said. “We knew very few students would be able to go to Rome to witness the canonization. We started thinking, ‘How can we educate our students about this once-in-a-lifetime event?’”

A plan began to take shape. First, a thick binder full of information about St. Marianne, the Franciscan order and its spiritual roots in the town of Assisi, and St. Kateri was developed and distributed to teachers throughout the diocese, along with instructions to incorporate the information into classroom lessons. Then, in the weeks leading up to the canonization, Mominey and Diocesan Director of Educational Technology Dominick Lisi started filming a series of short educational videos. The videos were uploaded to YouTube and shared on a Facebook page created especially for the project. One of the first videos took students to Utica to learn about St. Marianne’s childhood and to visit her home parish of St. Joseph-St. Patrick. As the canonization drew closer, Mominey and Lisi traveled to Italy, where they filmed additional videos about Assisi and the Franciscan tradition, Rome and its spiritual and historical significance, and on the process of becoming a saint.

While in Rome, Director of Educational Technology Dominick Lisi and Superintendent Christopher Mominey record video about the canonization of St. Marianne Cope.

While in Rome, Director of Educational Technology Dominick Lisi and Superintendent Christopher Mominey record video about the canonization of St. Marianne Cope.

Finally, just days before the October 21, 2012, canonization, came the culmination of the project: live video chats with students in the diocese from the outskirts of St. Peter’s Square. Outfitted with a wire­less microphone headset and standing square in front of the iPad’s web cam, Mominey started dialing up schools back in New York. Over the course of three days, he held individual 30-minute Skype lessons with students from each of the diocese’s 22 schools.

His chats included a brief history of the square and some of its most prominent landmarks, including the massive obelisk that stands at its center. He taught students about its origins (a trophy the Emperor Caligula brought to Rome from Egypt), how it came to stand in the square (moved by horses and hoisted by pulleys at the Pope’s request) and even its weight (1 million pounds).

Barbara Sugar, principal of Trinity Catholic School in Oswego, said the session with her students was an incredible experience. “We had done a lot of study on Marianne Cope, so the students were prepared with many questions,” she said. “And because our session took place the day following the canonization, they came up with plenty more during the course of the chat. They truly got so much out of the experience, more than just reading about a
canonization.”

Trinity 6th grader Aaron Carter had never Skyped before and enjoyed getting to see Rome via the chat. “I asked how people were able to see and hear during the canonization, and Mr. Mominey told me that the ceremony took place outside, so there was lots of room for everyone,” he said. “It was pretty cool to talk to him all the way from Rome.”

Fellow 6th grader Damion Douglas also declared the Skype session “great.” “I liked seeing the cars driving around in the background and having Mr. Mominey point out all the places where the ceremony happened,” he said.

There were also a few special guests at a number of the lessons. Diocesan Director of Communications and Assistant Chancellor Danielle Cummings stopped by, as did Rev. John Manno, pastor of St. James in Syracuse. Diocesan seminarian Chris Seibt also took a turn at the mic, answering St. Margaret’s questions about relics and whether the Sign of the Cross is made the same way in Italy (It is!).

“I was particularly moved by their questions about the relics of saints in the various churches of Rome.  It gave me the opportunity to talk about the bones of St. Peter located below the high altar of the Basilica of St. Peter while standing in front of this magnificent church,” said Seibt. “What a profound experience this was for me!  It brought our beautiful Catholic faith alive not only for me but for them, especially by recalling how men and women actually gave their lives in service to handing on the tradition that they received from the Lord through the Apostles in the place where it happened.”

Another special guest was Luke Redmore, a 5th grader at St. James School in Johnson City. He traveled to Rome with his parents and baby sister and planned to meet up with Mominey for the Skype session with his school. “It was really fun to talk to everyone,” Luke said. “I didn’t recognize anyone on the screen, but I got to answer some of their questions after Mr. Mominey finished his lesson. I remember they wanted to know about the food we were eating!”

Mominey said the whole experience, which went off with no technical difficulties, was extremely rewarding. “I love teaching, and to be able to do it in a way that is fun and appealing to the students was a blessing,” he said.

The project was sponsored by multiple partners, including the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, Smart Tuition and retired Bishop of Syracuse James Moynihan and would not have been possible without the support of Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, according to Mominey. He hopes to expand the project into a larger curriculum for use both inside and outside the diocese.

Videos and photos from the project are available on the “St. Marianne Cope – Syracuse Catholic Schools” Facebook page, and more information can be found on Mominey’s blog at www.diosuptmominey.wordpress.com.

Katherine Long is the editor of The Catholic Sun.

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Category: Catholic Identity, Featured

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