National educational surveys indicate that Americans are making a transition from learning in a traditional classroom setting to learning online, with increasing numbers of students stating their preference for taking courses online. In response to this trend, a Catholic couple in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas founded My Catholic Faith Delivered (www.mycatholicfaithdelivered.com). As a division of a software company it provides an online vehicle for Catholic organizations or individuals to create and present online courses, as well as providing educational classes for individuals who want to take online classes about different aspects of the Catholic faith.
The Advisory Board members for My Catholic Faith Delivered include five American bishops, and Ignatius’ Press founder and editor Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ. The board ensures the doctrinal integrity of materials offered; all content either has an Imprimatur or is in the process of obtaining one.
Mike Alex serves as Executive Director of My Catholic Faith Delivered. He began his career teaching and coaching for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Kansas City. He served as archdiocesan Assistant Superintendent of Catholic Schools, and president of Hayden High School, a private Catholic high school in Topeka, Kansas. He worked for seven years establishing St. James Academy, the newest of the archdiocese’s high schools, before becoming Executive Director of My Catholic Faith Delivered. He recently spoke to CWR.
CWR: How were you first exposed to online Catholic learning?
Mike Alex: While working at St. James Academy, I met Rich and Dena Bartlett, who had developed a software system used to provide instruction to millions of nurses nationwide. Their son was in our second class at the Academy.
They sold their nursing company, and wanted to use their technological skills to benefit Catholic education. They started with St. James Academy, providing a platform that we could use to catechize the staff, infusing them with the teaching of the Church in whatever discipline they offered. Using content that came from the Newman Center of the University of Kansas, we created and offered a program.
Providentially, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the program exploded. There was an immediate demand here locally, and soon we had several national Catholic publishers contacting us wanting to get involved. Fr. Fessio was one of the first to call.
In 2008, My Catholic Faith Delivered was founded. It’s a Kansas-based software company, and I serve as Executive Director. We’ve been growing steadily, and today partner with 40 dioceses and several large Catholic apostolates. We have users in 50 states and 150 countries, including more than 45,000 users in parishes and schools.
CWR: So My Catholic Faith Delivered provides a software tool that organizations and individuals can use to assemble coursework on some aspect of Catholic teaching? And people can go to your website and access Catholic courses?
Mike Alex: Yes, we have a dual focus. We have courses online for children and adults. Our adult formation courses, for example, include such courses as Catechesis 101, Scripture and Theology of the Body. Our grade school courses include Ignatius Press’ Faith and Life series, which already has 20,000 users.
While we may create and house our own content, what we really want to do is provide a platform for groups and individuals to create their own content. For example, suppose a Catholic pastor teaches an annual adult convert class. We can train him to use our software and place his coursework online, which his students can access at their convenience. They can then gather at the parish, say, monthly, to review face-to-face what they’ve been studying online.
I know Fr. Fessio approves of this approach. He said we were a “perfect match” for Ignatius Press materials, and that once students reviewed materials online, when they meet face-to-face with a teacher “then you can really use that one hour in a very fruitful and effective way. So I think it’s a tremendous way especially of helping people catechize and form those young people who are not going to be in Catholic institutions.”
And the software has a testing capability, so instructors can see how well the students are learning the material. Basically we’re an online school, serving individuals, schools, parishes, dioceses and apostolates.
CWR: And the content maker or the student accessing your materials pays a fee for the service?
Mike Alex: Yes, which we try to keep very affordable so it provides a lot of value to the user.
CWR: Which dioceses are current clients?
Mike Alex: Some that come to mind are Brooklyn, Lincoln, Omaha, San Antonio and Washington, D.C. Theodore Musco, Executive Director of the Diocese of Brooklyn’s School of Evangelization, is on our advisory board. He said we offer a “very professional and flexible platform to track online and live courses that comprise an individual’s catechist formation plan.”
Gloria Zapiain of the Archdiocese of San Antonio’s Catechetical Center has used our platform to train 500 for catechist certification. She’s also on our advisory board. She said we provide a “consistently reliable source for faithful Catholic formation programming and resources.”
CWR: Are more Catholic leaders recognizing the importance of technology in spreading the Good News of the Gospel?
Mike Alex: Yes. On World Communication Day in 2014, Pope Francis himself observed, “The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people … Christian witness, thanks to the Internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.”
CWR: What are lay speakers and apologists saying?
Mike Alex: Catholic speaker Matthew Kelly recommends us. He said, “It’s a marvelous tool giving a 24/7 online opportunity to learn the beauty and truths of the Catholic faith.”
CWR: Do you think education is moving out of the classroom and onto the Internet?
Mike Alex: If you look at the statistics provided by the Department of Education and the Department of Labor that’s what you see. But it’s understandable why. Online learning is something that you can do at your own pace and schedule; all you need is access to the Internet.
Young people ages 18-35 especially want courses they can access on mobile devices. We’re hearing people tell us they want information in bite-sized chunks, rather than spending an hour listening to an instructor in a classroom. It’s a slow but steady paradigm shift. If the Catholic Church wants to be successful in its evangelization efforts, it must realize that this is where learning is going.
But that said, we really promote the idea of hybrid learning. Online catechesis alone is not enough. There must be a community, a face-to-face aspect of learning. More and more people are using online material to teach content, but it’s still important to bring people together at a parish or retreat regularly so you keep that human experience and contact.
CWR: How do you ensure the orthodoxy of your content?
Mike Alex: We run things by our advisory board of bishops. We want to be in alignment with the Magisterium.
CWR: Is your material all in English?
Mike Alex: Most of it, but we do have some material available in Spanish. If a diocese wants something in another language, we ask them to do the translation.
CWR: How are you hoping to expand what you offer?
Mike Alex: Content is not our expertise. We normally don’t create the material we offer. Our goal is to partner with the best Catholic content providers and let them provide content. We could write an RCIA program, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be as good as one written by a diocese. Our job is to provide the software and teach them how it works. Our purpose is to serve as a technology highway the Catholic Church can use to spread the Gospel.
CWR: How should people contact you?
Mike Alex: Through our website: www.mycatholicfaithdelivered.com.
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