Sr. Anne Flanagan, a Daughter of St. Paul from New Orleans, currently lives in Berkshire, England, where she is serving as editor of an upcoming web project for the U.K. Pauline sisters. Flanagan joined the Daughters of St. Paul – whose mission is to spread the gospel message through communications and media – in 1976, a time when, as she puts it, the latest innovation in technology was 8-track tapes.
Today, Flanagan focuses on social media and the Internet. In addition to providing media training for sisters and parishes, she posts regularly to her blog, aptly titled Nun Blog, and moderates a Theology of the Body Google+ community of almost 500 people.
Why do you think the Internet is useful for evangelism?
The Internet allows an individual to connect with other real presences. It’s just mediated through technology. But people are really meeting me, and I’m really meeting people — and then, sometimes, I actually meet them in person, too! That happened just last week.
How and when did you start your blog?
The blog has pre-history. I started figuring out how HTML coding works, just out of curiosity, and developed some web pages for my community back in 1996. Then, in 1998, I was able to go to Rome for a couple of years to take a course on spirituality. While I was there, I started working for the Vatican for the Jubilee Year – I worked on the official Vatican Jubilee website. At that point, we were using dial-up connections, but the Vatican had T1 lines, so we had really fast Internet, and I was able to take advantage of that to start a personal website.
When blogs were begun, I said, ‘Well, I don’t really need that because I’ve got a personal website, and I can more or less put whatever I want on it.’ Then, four years later, I was in Italy again for a meeting, and a priest I know started a blog, and I was looking at it, saying, ‘Oh! Okay. I see new possibilities here.’
So I went on Blogger.com and started Nun Blog, writing about my experience in Italy for my family, and I sort of kept it up as I went back to the United States. I would write about stuff going on in Chicago [where Flanagan spent 14 years] or stuff happening in the news . . . and people started reading it. That kind of took me by surprise.
So that’s how the blog started. It started out as an experiment. Most of my Internet experiences start out as experiments.
What media do you consume?
I’m an avid reader of Wired magazine and, whenever I can, I try to get the Wall Street Journal technology section.
What advice would you give to congregations that would like a strong online presence but aren’t sure where to start?
I would tell them to start with a Facebook page. That’s where the people are. We’re finding that’s where young women are going in vocational discernment – they’re going on Facebook, and they’re looking up nun pages, and then they’re just absorbing. So I would suggest that they set just set up a Facebook page and have a sister who’s at least somewhat competent in turning on a computer and logging in monitor the page, respond to comments and post interesting things that relate to their ministry.
They could also try to get a couple of young adult volunteers to tutor them. That would be an exchange of gifts; the sisters could offer the hospitality of their community – a bit of their charism – and these young adults, then, would have the opportunity to use their own imagination in regard to how these sisters could effectively communicate.
[Dawn Cherie Araujo is a staff writer for Global Sisters Report.]