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Today’s podcast is a truly unique edition of Empowered by the Spirit, as sound engineer/producer Jim Governale turns the tables on Deacon Steve and Mary Anne Greco.

Due to all the complications with the quarantine and COVID-19, today’s interview was conducted over the phone, rather than in the studio.

So what exactly have the Greco’s been up to during this ‘downtime?’ Like many, they’ve been embracing technology to spread the Good News like never before!

Listen in.. and you’ll surely glean some tremendous ideas, insights and encouragement from Deacon Steve and his wife Mary Anne!







Originally broadcast on 4/26/2020


Embracing technology in elementary school classrooms empowers teachers to tailor lessons to individual students’ abilities, provides a pathway to directly engaging parents, and develops students’ key critical-thinking skills. 

Yet research highlights the detrimental aspects of excessive screen time on developing brains and on education, with tech leaders acknowledging the dangers of screen addiction and urging parents to limit children’s screen time. 

As a Catholic News Service story indicates, the dark side of technology is particularly worrying to the leadership of Catholic schools, where administrators and teachers are concerned with their students’ human and spiritual formation. 

Diocese of Orange school leaders recognize the value of technology while tempering its ill effects with strong filtering software and frequently warning parents about excessive screen time. 

“We have made a conscious effort to limit 1-to-1 devices to students in fifth through eighth grades because of the problems we’ve seen,” notes Joseph Ciccoianni, principal of St. Norbert Catholic School in Orange. “Because younger kids don’t have self-regulation skills, the devices can be too distracting.” 

In addition, Ciccoianni adds, St. Norbert’s faculty members discern the most appropriate times to use devices. “It’s important to know when making eye contact and focusing on someone talking is the right move,” he says, noting that seventh- and eighth-grade students were mesmerized for more than 90 minutes when a Holocaust survivor recently shared his story with them. 

Being bored, even for a few minutes, isn’t a part of our children’s lives anymore, Ciccoianni laments. After all, when Elijah escaped into the mountains he noted that God’s voice is heard in whispers. “If we are constantly diverted, how do we know what God is calling us to do?” he worries. 

Indeed, today’s kids have never lived in a world without screens or the Internet, both of which are changing the model of the traditional classroom, agrees Kim White, principal of St. Bonaventure Catholic School. 

The Huntington Beach parish school recently invited parents to a showing of “Screenagers,” an award-winning documentary that chronicles the impact of technology on children. A student version of the film was shown a few days later to fifth-through eighth-graders. 

“We want to give parents the best advice and the best tools to raise their children for academic success, and to develop students’ morals and character,” added Vanessa Frei, the school’s director of marketing and enrollment. “Screen time has significant social and emotional implications.”  

Even among parents, White notes, there is a misconception about what constitutes screen time, which includes exposure to television, computers, tablets and cell phones. “Our No. 1 promise to the community is to address screen time,” she says, based on several troubling incidents that occurred during the last school year. “Parents bear responsibilities in relation to their children, screen time, and social media use.” 

Parental oversight of children’s screen time is perhaps the most important way to combat the rampant misuse of screens, notes Ciccoianni, who points to St. Norbert’s ongoing efforts to warn parents about the need to closely monitor their children’s use of technology. 

“Children, even in the second and third grades, have cell phones that offer completely unfettered access to every cesspool outlet available,” Ciccoianni notes. “If parents have these devices in their home they must monitor and filter what their children see. Every sin that is in mankind’s heart is on display on the Internet. Algorithms can push you in a very dark direction.” 



This past week I was meeting with a group of bishop friends who meet once a month via Skype as a support group, who are known as the “Friends of Focolare.” Focolare (the word means “fireside” or “hearth” in Italian, and refers to an ecclesial movement that was founded by Chiara Lubich (from Trent, in Italy) right after the Second World War to witness to peace, unity and reconciliation. It is primarily a lay-led movement and the current president is Maria Voce, who recently let Pope Francis know she was praying for him. The charisms of Focolare are unity and reconciliation. This past week, as we were praying and reflecting together on a Focolare publication titled the “Word of Life” for this month of September, I found these reflections:

“The Word of God has a creative power that produces fruits of goodness in both the individual and in the community. It builds relationships founded on love between each of us and God and among us all. James says this word has already been ‘planted in us’. In fact, the Word of God can transform our daily life into the story of our liberation from the darkness of personal and social evil. However, we need to accept the word personally and consciously, even if it is an ongoing process and we are imperfect and fragile. Our thoughts and feelings will become more like those of Jesus himself. Our faith and hope in God’s love will grow stronger, and we will notice other people’s needs and help them.”

In fact, it is the sentiments expressed above that originally led me to begin to write in Fort Worth my web log entitled “Shepherd of Fort Worth.” I am very grateful for the Communications Department of the Diocese and priests of the Diocese of Fort Worth who were a great help to me in this endeavor.

Eventually, after coming to Orange County, I also began to use “Twitter.” My Twitter following eventually grew to around 6,000 followers. In this past year, I was reflecting on all of the demands that I try to meet with the major Diocesan responsibilities such as the completion of Christ Cathedral, the ongoing work of the Strategic Plan and other pastoral initiatives, not to mention the ongoing life, teaching, worship and governance of the local Church. The work on my web log, which I have enjoyed writing, was not able to be maintained. For all of the above reasons, I decided to take for a while a “technology vacation” from Twitter so I can continue the web log and recapture the intent with which I had begun it. I plan someday to return to Twitter.

With this introduction, I will now try to catch up with some of the places and celebrations that I have been involved with in the past weeks!

Editor’s Note: You can follow Bishop Vann’s blog on the Diocesan website at


Host Deacon Steve Greco interviews guests on a variety of topics. On this week’s program, Steve welcomes a first-time guest to the show. His name is Ignatius Darren Gozali; and, he is quite the “tech guy.” We’re going to hear about how he is using his considerable skills for good use towards the new evangelization.

Tune in, and be INSPIRED!








Originally broadcast on 9/16/18


Denver, Colo., Sep 7, 2018 / 03:00 am (CNA/EWTN News) – Not long ago, introducing more technology into the classroom meant allowing third graders to play 15 minutes of Oregon Trail during recess time.

In recent years, particularly after the emergence of smartphones and other mobile devices circa 2012, for many schools it has meant an iPad for every student, laptops in every classroom.

However, research has begun highlighting the detrimental impacts of excessive screen time, particularly on developing brains and on education, sparking concerns among educators and parents. Even tech industry giants are starting to speak openly about the dangers of internet addiction and the need to monitor children’s screen time.

For Catholic schools, the issue is especially pressing, some school leaders say, because Catholic schools are concerned with the human and spiritual formation of their students.

Michael Edghill, principal of Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls, Texas, told CNA that his biggest concern is a tendency to let technology become the main driving force of education, rather than a tool of support for teachers and students.

“For a Catholic school, that is a bad paradigm to fall into because it takes a rightly formed person to undertake the task of human formation, which is the mission of Catholic education,” he said. “No machine or technological tool can appropriately engage in the formation of the soul.”

Jean Twenge is a psychologist and the author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

Twenge told CNA that her research found the “sweet spot” for screen time for teenagers should be about 2 hours per day “for mental health, happiness, and adequate sleep. Beyond that, the risks increase, topping out at the highest levels of use.”

Notably, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, most US teens report average daily screen times well over the recommended two hours.

In 2015, research group Common Sense Media reported that more half of US teenagers spend at least four hours a day on a screen, while 25 percent of teens reported even higher uses – more than eight hours daily – with the potential of detrimental effects.

“For example, teens who use electronic devices 5 or more hours a day are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those using devices less than an hour a day,” Twenge said. “They are also 51% more likely to not sleep enough. Teens who are online 5 or more hours a day are twice as likely to be unhappy as those online less than an hour a day.”

As for educational impacts, research has also found that smartphones can impact a person’s ability to think simply by being within reach – even if they are turned off. Another study found that students taught in computer-less classrooms performed significantly better on tests than their counterparts taught in classrooms with iPads and computers.

The human, relational and educational concerns are why some Catholics schools are taking steps to limit, if not completely ban, the use of smartphones and iPads in the classroom.

St. Benedict Elementary in Natick, Mass. is one Catholic school that has taken the approach of not using electronic technology in the classroom at all, except for very limited ways in the higher grades.

Jay Boren, headmaster of St. Benedict, told CNA that this is because the classical academy was founded by parents who had a desire for their school to be different.

“There are studies that show that (student) memory retention is better when they have written the information as opposed to having typed it. There are also benefits to learning cursive,” Boren said.

“In addition, an environment that is not inundated with fast-paced technology…allows students to cultivate the ability to sustain attention, develop concentration, and appreciate silence, which are the necessary dispositions to ponder truth, beauty, and goodness. We feel that those skills, are more important at this age level than mastering a screen that they will certainly be exposed to throughout their life at other times.”

On the other hand, Fr. Nicholas Rokitka, OFM Conv., teaches at Archbishop Curley High School in Buffalo, New York, which implemented a 1-to-1 iPad to student program four years ago.

“My major concern about technology in the classroom is the inability of the students to focus on the topic at hand and listen to the teacher,” Rokitka told CNA. “It certainly has changed the way teachers and students interact.”

Rokitka said that games and entertainment are always a potential distraction with the iPads in the classroom. While he has his room set up in a way that allows him to monitor his students’ iPad use closely, such monitoring “takes up a lot of my energy.”

There have been some positive impacts, Rokitka noted – the school has saved a lot of paper using digital homework and tests, and performance trends can be more quickly and easily recognized and addressed.

However, he added that without intentionality behind its use, technology negatively change the way students relate to one another and the world.

“On a very fundamental level, technology changes how people interact with each other. If technology is accepted wholesale without and intention, it will do more harm than good. When digital communication and social media replace face-to-face interaction, the students lose their ability to communicate,” he said. “This problem is way larger than just schools, but ultimately teachers and schools can have a dramatic input on how children learn how to use technology.”

Twenge said that she recommends schools ban the use of cellphones not only in the classroom, but during lunch as well, in order to give students a chance to interact with each other without a screen.

In interviews with students for her research, Twenge discovered students who would feel depressed and left out while their fellow students ignored them at lunch, favoring their phones instead, she wrote in the New York Daily News.

“A no-phones-at-school rule would also help teens develop invaluable social skills. More and more managers tell me that young job applicants don’t look them in the eye and seem to be uncomfortable talking to people face-to-face. If our students are going to succeed in the workplace, they need more practice interacting with people in person,” she wrote.

“They can get that right there at school – if they aren’t constantly on their phones.”

Edghill said that his biggest guiding principle in the use of technology in school has been intentionality – which is exactly why the school banned cell phone use in school during the school day.

“It was an intentional decision based on the fact that there was little to no educational benefit and a whole slew of potential and real problems,” he said.

“The unplanned side effect is that the students actually talk to one another before school in the mornings now instead of just staring at their individual screens.”

A father to four children between 14 and 3, Edghill noted that he and his wife try to implement the same intentionality with technology use at home, by enforcing limits and being consistent with them, though he admitted there has been a learning curve.

“I do think that the more time that they watch screens, the less creative and the less curious they are. But it is a constant battle. It may be one of the most counter-cultural things that we can do for our kids,” he said. “And that is saying something as a Catholic.”

It’s also important to note that technology is simply a tool, and “not an evil,” he said.

“The pope is active on social media. My bishop is active on Twitter. But it is for the greater good of reaching out to people in order to create the opportunity for an authentic encounter with Christ,” he said.

“If the technology is replacing humanity as opposed to being used as a tool to advance humanity, that is the problem…If we miss the human element of the teacher, of person-to-person dialogue and debate, of human experience, then we can’t fully do our part to cooperate in the formation of the human person.”


Hope Builders, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange in 1995, empowers disadvantaged young adults with the life skills and job training needed to achieve enduring personal and professional success. The project was a response to increasing gang violence, high youth unemployment, low high school graduation rates and rising teen pregnancy rates in Central Orange County. Each year Hope Builders serves more than 550 youth who are caught in this cycle of poverty and strives to help them achieve and maintain self-sufficiency. 

The Innovation Institute subsidiary Hospitality Business Network Solutions (HBNS), an IT management firm, has completed its first field internship for trainees of Hope Builders’ Information Technology Program. 

The 16-week intensive skills training program is provided through a collaboration between Santa Ana College Computer Science Department and Hope Builders. Participants complete the Help Desk Technician certification from Santa Ana College. 

The program prepares trainees for help desk technician, computer technician, network support specialist, and IT support specialist employment positions. Emphasis is placed on building professionalism, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal skills. A 4-week field internship follows classroom training. 

“We are pleased that HBNS was able to provide hands-on IT training to these promising students,” said Joe Randolph, Innovation Institute President and CEO. “It is great to be able to give back this way, and we wish them the best in their career endeavors.” 

“This program helps youth to realize their strengths and positively impact their futures,” said Larry Stofko, Hope Builders’ Board Member and Innovation Institute Executive Vice President. “We are grateful to all who support this important program.”  


At their church’s annual gala fundraiser at the City National Grove of Anaheim on Feb. 11, parishioners of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange had, for the first time, a new option of bidding during the silent auction:

A smart phone app.

Some of the older parishioners with mobile phones needed help.

The youngsters at the gala — teens and pre-teens — walked up to help them.

“They told them, ‘You go here; this is how you do it,’” recalled Father Troy Schneider, parochial vicar of HFC. “For the first time in a while, I saw younger parishioners talking to older ones. It was a real sense of community.”

For Father Troy, the scene at the gala was a perfect example of how his church has embraced technology and used it for good.

And although Father Troy and others believe the Diocese of Orange and the Catholic Church as a whole may have, at times, been slow to keep up with dizzying advances in technology, the sense is that is changing — although some veteran priests still cling to the old ways of running parishes.

Father Troy pulls up his calendar on his computer in his office.

He says that of the 12 HFC staff members who could digitally access his calendar to instantly access his schedule, fewer than five have opted to do so, with the rest relaying on emails, the telephone, texts and less efficient ways to stay on top of his appointments.

One of those colleagues with access to his electronic computer was able to quickly schedule Father Troy to cover a funeral for HFC rector the Rev. Msgr. Douglas Cook, who suddenly had to leave town after a death in the family.

“We have to change,” Father Troy says of technology, “otherwise we fall too far behind.”

He notes that parishes increasingly have become more challenged as congregations have grown and pastors have taken on more administrative responsibilities.

“The old methods of communication are not as efficient anymore,” says Father Troy, pointing out on his desk a “While You Were Out” message, which in today’s digital age looked shockingly archaic.

Holy Family Cathedral and the Diocese of Orange recently have taken steps to become more technologically minded, for the same purpose that goes back centuries at the dawn of the church: spreading the Gospel.

“Ultimately, that’s what we do,” Father Troy said. “I see a movement toward more of that administrative responsibility being placed on lay people so priests can focus on the sacramental ministry, which is their primary role.”

Father Troy spoke of the era of Paul the Apostle, who journeyed by foot and by boat all around Mesopotamia and Rome in the 30s to the mid-50s AD.

“Paul was not able to do what he did without the help of the roads,” said Father Troy, who used to work in the machine tool industry for Boeing before he entered the seminary in 2004.

“In order for us to spread the Gospel, we need to use today’s roads, and today’s roads are the Internet and technology — and we can’t be afraid of that.”

Holy Family Cathedral soon will launch a “Monday Morning Monsignor” feature on its website, The Rev. Msgr. Cook will provide each week a sort of state of the union of the parish in a two-minute recorded message for parishioners to view at their convenience.

Also set to roll out soon at HFC is “Ask The Vicar,” in which a parish family will be featured and Father Troy will respond to their question.

“It’s all about being interactive and connecting with the parish community,” he said of technology.


The bigger picture

What about the bigger picture, of the Catholic Church throughout the centuries, when it comes to technology?

Contrary to the perception that the church, as a whole, has suffered from institutional sclerosis when in comes to keeping up with technology, one leading scholar argues otherwise — that throughout its history, the Catholic Church has served as a lab, of sorts, for the advancement of science.

“The church has to know its culture in order for her to be able to evangelize,” said Pia de Solenni, professor of moral theology at the Augustine Institute. “As Saint John Paul II put it, the church needs to be in the world, but not of it.”

Technology obviously can be used inappropriately, de Solenni and Father Troy noted. But the church should embrace its many benefits, they said.

“As we advance in technology,” Father Troy said, “it all depends on the intent technology is used for. For the church, the question is, is it used for spreading the gospel and keeping us connected?”

Pope Francis and, before him, Pope Benedict, opened Twitter accounts to achieve just that — something Father Troy and de Solenni applaud.

“The use of any technology, the use of communication,” Father Troy said, “is all about connecting. It’s about communicating and getting the Word out.”


Catholic schools in the Diocese of Orange are undergoing a technological transformation.

In some grade levels of every elementary school and in all high schools, every student is equipped with either an iPad, Chromebook or laptop that they have access to both in the classroom and at home through the one-to-one program.

But Greg Dhuyvetter, superintendent of schools, says that integrating technology into education is not the most important goal.

“What I care about is effective education and technology is one of the many tools that’s doing this,” says Dhuyvetter. “The idea here is that the device is a student’s tool. Whether it is for taking notes, creating, or researching information, that the student has the device available whenever it best fits the need of what they are doing.”

About four years ago, Dhuyvetter and his staff dedicated themselves to implementing the one-to-one program, one device for each student, in all the Diocese of Orange schools by the beginning of the 2015 school year, a goal that was met last fall.

Dhuyvetter says the Diocese of Orange is the perfect size for programs like this; with only 41 schools, teachers and administers are easily able to communicate and work together. Additional staff within the diocese with technology expertise also is part of the collaborative process.

In addition to the one-to-one program, the diocese has the capability to provide Wi-Fi in all the schools in order to support online access for the devices on campus. A content filter was also implemented to restrict access to questionable websites and content. Each of the schools has the ability to recommend adjustments to the filter for their own school or for a particular grade level. In addition, every school uses Common Sense Media, a program that teaches students responsible use of technology.

“Of course nothing is 100 percent so some of it comes down to good judgment, which is taught through the Common Sense Media program,” says Scott Gotreau, director of educational technology at the diocese. “But we also manage student devices at each school site so that they can’t access certain programs and get into things they shouldn’t be using.”

Heather Ambler, a fifth- and sixth-grade language arts and religion teacher at St. Polycarp School in Stanton, finds that having technology as a tool in her classroom helps her hone in on each student’s progress. She uses IXL, a program that includes problems for students to solve and instantly tells them if it is correct. If not, the program explains the correct answer. It also offers medals for high scores and certificates to the teacher for their classroom completing a certain number of problems. The program also sends the teacher data on each student’s progress, which allows her to instantly know when each child needs additional instruction.

“I no longer have to wait two weeks until I grade a test to know that a student is struggling in an area,” says Ambler. “I’m able to focus on what the child really needs.”

Cynthia Garcia, an eighth-grade student at St. Anne’s School in Santa Ana, enjoys the convenience of using her iPad to access Google Classroom and Notability to complete her assignments. Google Classroom is a paperless system designed for students and teachers to discuss learning materials with each other and has a feature for students to submit their assignments.

“It makes it easier to communicate with my teacher,” says Garcia. “I can easily complete my assignments and send it right back to my teacher. If I have a question and she’s online, she’s able to answer. Or if she’s not online, I can post the question on the classroom page and if one of my classmates is online typically someone will respond to it.” She also enjoys using programs like iMovie and Keynote to create presentations for special projects.

“I think that the iPad offers a lot of different apps and different resources that we can use which make learning a lot faster and easier,” says Garcia.

Kelly Botto, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at St. Anne’s and also the school’s technology coordinator, is excited about integrating technology into education.

“One of the things that I love about it as a teacher is that there’s no more excuses that they couldn’t complete their assignment because they left their book at home,” says Botto. “They can access their book not just on their iPads but also on their phone or their computer at home.” She says that next year her school is considering using only e-books, which should lighten students’ backpacks and also make school texts more accessible for students.

Botto adds, “I think that what I’ve been able to see with them since we started one-to-one, is that it helped me aid them in growing and strengthening their critical thinking skills and creativity.”

“The idea is that teachers should have a tool box in which the technological tools should be in the tool box but not the only thing in there,” Dhuyvetter says. “You can do an awful lot with a tablet or a Chrome Book or a laptop, but if I were to say that’s the only thing that you’re ever allowed to use we would be losing a lot of education. The idea is this is just one more tool that they have to be able to use to be functional in our society and it makes their learning experiences better.”


EDGEWOOD, Iowa (CNS) — Second-grader Taylor Garrison got the best birthday present ever April 12 — her first Communion. She received the sacrament at St. Mark’s Church in Edgewood on the day she turned 8.

Her journey to meeting Jesus in the Eucharist wasn’t easy, but came about through a combination of hard work, modern technology — like an iPad and the Internet — and God’s grace.

“I feel really excited,” she said told The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, in an interview a few days before the special ceremony. “It was a little difficult, but I really wanted to have my first Communion.”

As a member of a military family, she currently lives at Fort Knox, an Army post in Kentucky, where her father is stationed. Because the Catholic resources there were lacking, Taylor’s parents, Pam and Shane Garrison, looked elsewhere to enroll their daughter in a preparation class for the sacrament.

“There are no religious education teachers here,” said the mother.

Both natives of Iowa, the Garrisons tried to sign up Taylor for first Communion classes at a parish near the Rock Island Arsenal, an island in the Mississippi River between the cities of Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois.

The family was hoping to get stationed there this summer after being on that base once before. Previously, their son had made his first confession in that parish.

But the parish officials said preparations could not be done at a distance, as the family wanted, because their policy was to teach religious education only to children physically living in the parish community. Pam Garrison was discouraged, but did not give up.

“I truly believed God would make it happen,” said the mother. “I just kept thinking, ‘Why should my daughter suffer the consequences for her dad’s profession?'”

Shane Garrison had already done four overseas tours of duty, including two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, so the family was used to overcoming adversity. The Garrisons called St. Mark’s in Edgewood, the parish where Taylor’s maternal grandmother belongs.

Jody Kerns, the director of faith formation, was a little taken aback by the Garrison’s request, but decided she and the community had to do everything they could to help.

“For me as the director of religious education, it was a very difficult and unusual situation,” recalled Kerns. “You have to weigh in the fact that our church does not want to turn people away.”

To prepare Taylor for the sacrament of reconciliation and Communion, Kerns began teaching her in digital meetings using a program for tablets and smartphones called “FaceTime.” She was able to speak face to face with the girl using cameras on a regular basis and sent her study materials to do on her own.

Beginning in early January, Taylor participated in the parish’s Wednesday night first Communion classes. Parents would hold up the tablet while Taylor was on FaceTime and move it around the room so she could interact with the nine other students and teacher.

“Taylor was very motivated,” said Kerns. “In the beginning, I was very concerned. We’re starting in January. I was like, ‘Dear Lord, how are we going to get this girl prepared?’ You feel the presence of God and the Holy Spirit putting everything into place for you.”

St. Mark’s family life committee had decided to spend funds several years earlier to make sure the parish facilities had wireless Internet and TV screens. This served Taylor and her family well. She was a little behind on memorizing prayers and other elements of the classes, but she caught up quickly.

On March 28, the Garrison family traveled to Edgewood from Kentucky so that Taylor could take part in a daylong first Communion retreat. It was the first time she actually met her classmates in person.

“Taylor came into the room and sat down that day with them and there was never a beat skipped,” recalled Kerns. “She fit right in.”

During the retreat day, which included Mass and several hands on projects, Taylor had her first confession with Father Steve Lundgren. She and her family traveled back home and before they returned for first Confession, they participated in a rehearsal via FaceTime.

“The whole church has welcomed us,” said Pam Garrison.

“Everyone has been nice,” added Taylor.

Kerns was happy her parish was able to find such a unique solution for the Garrison through modern technology and good old-fashioned creativity.

“I don’t know of any parish that has ever done anything like this,” said Kerns. “For me this experience has been a joy. I feel our parish has been living out our faith. Our parish is doing exactly what Jesus would want us to do, reaching out to people and not turning them away.”

Russo is the editor of The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.