New skills: Graphic design, 2/8/2014

One of my favorite things about my job is the diversity of tasks I’m asked to take on. On any given day, I’m writing stories, taking photos, designing flyers, posting on social media accounts, and the list goes on and on. No day is ever the same as the one before it. I’ve been learning a lot of new skills as a result of that. One of those skills is editing in Photoshop.

I’d been exposed to Photoshop at The Maneater and in the J-school, and got some rudimentary training that way. I knew how to crop photos and change them from color to black and white, basic stuff like that. Here at Priory, we create banner images for our website in Photoshop, and that’s a little more involved than stuff I’d been doing before (a lot of the things I’ve been using Photoshop for lately are things I’d used InDesign or Illustrator for in the past). One of my favorite Photoshop graphics I’ve come up with so far is this one:

Priory library bannerWe’re raising money to renovate the library, and we wanted to highlight the video that someone donated to help us tell the story of why it’s important (click the image to go to the website story with the video – it’s pretty great). This is another of my favorite parts of my job — getting to help with projects that will directly benefit the students at a place I care about a lot.

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Going all-out: Rebel News story, 1/30/2014

At the end of January, I joined a group of students and two of the monks on a trip to Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life. I’d been on the trip a couple times as a student at Priory, and it was always a lot of fun. They’ve made some changes since then, such as flying to D.C. instead of taking a bus, and adding in time for touristy stuff. We had a good group of students with us and had a great time.

In addition to being my first experience chaperoning anything, the trip served as a vehicle to highlight one of our many student activities. A big piece of feedback we get from current and prospective parents is that we don’t do enough to show that Priory is giving students a well-rounded experience. As a result, we’re trying to put more of a spotlight on our clubs, activities and athletic teams. This was a pilot project to see what we could do given a specific, targeted event.

In addition to posting from Priory’s social media accounts, I wrote up a story about the trip at the end and put it together into a package with links to resources about the event and other news stories about the March. A Storify of the social media posts told the day-to-day story of our trip, and the two linked back and forth. Here are the two stories, which we distributed as a package through our various channels:

Priory students attend the March for Life for 15th year
The Priory March for Life trip through social media

I had hoped to get more collaborative with social media posts by pulling in the student’s content and using a common hashtag. Unfortunately, most of them were smart and had their accounts protected so I wasn’t able to access their stuff. We also didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to discuss the PR stuff I was aiming to do beforehand because snow days and other school activities pushed the trip planning until kind of the last minute. In the future, we’ll know to plan further ahead and lay the groundwork from the get-go in order to get more buy in. Overall, though, I was really happy with how the stories panned out.

A (not) real snow job: Rebel News story, 1/16/14

We’ve had a particularly snowy winter so far here in St. Louis. I love winter, so that’s perfectly fine with me, but not everyone feels the same way, and some people are really aching for spring to start already. We had a couple small storms before Christmas, then after New Year’s, we got nearly a foot of snow. It was the biggest storm in more than 30 years. That set back the start of school after the holiday by a couple days while the street crews got everyone moving again. That opened the window, of course, for a story explaining how the campus gets cleared after winter weather, and it turned out really great. There were a lot of numbers, and my inner journalist knew that meant it was time for an infographic.

How Priory’s facilities crew deals with winter weather

Priory snow removal graphic
Sources: Director of Administration and Facilities
Martin Fitzgerald and Facilities Manager Adam Whitman

“We have the monks pray, and then it all melts,” Director of Administration and Facilities Martin Fitzgerald jokes about the school’s snow removal plans. It doesn’t take a storm like the one last week that left nearly a foot of snow on the ground to show that the plan is more encompassing than that — even a small amount of snow means a lot of work for the facilities crew.

Before a winter storm, Martin says the team monitors the forecasts and stockpiles salt and de-icing chemicals. “Our process is almost identical to the highway department’s,” he says. The crew has an arsenal of 2 trucks with plows, tractors with plows, snow blowers and shovels at the ready when a storm is on the way.

“Each storm and snow type is unique,” he says. “We can make general plans in advance, but a lot depends on when the storm hits and how much snow we’re looking at.”

For example, he says normally the crew’s first priority is to have the campus ready to be open for school, but with the big storm last week starting on Saturday night and continuing through the day on Sunday, they had to take action to make sure St. Anselm parishioners could get in and out of Mass.

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Things that set us apart: Rebel News story, 1/16/14

A lot of times when you read stories in the news about clerical vocations, they’re not very happy ones. Most talk about how numbers are down, churches are struggling to get by with fewer ministers, and other things like that. Here at Priory, the monastery is bucking the trend, and has actually had so many new vocations that the new facility they built when I was a student here has reached capacity. In conjunction with the alum who professed his solemn vows last weekend, we’ve had a lot of very positive news here when it comes to vocations, and good news is always more fun to report.

New monastery rooms provide space as vocations increase

If you’ve heard construction sounds coming from the monastery over the last couple weeks, you might’ve thought the racket would disturb the monks. But the construction is the result of a “problem” that’s actually a blessing — an increase in vocations has led Saint Louis Abbey to run out of living space.

Four guest rooms on the second floor of the monastery (on the corner closest to the Junior School parking lot and the dining hall) are being converted into cells for the monks. The guest rooms were used for visiting monks and clergy, and included very little furniture or space but provided a private bathroom. Permanent monastery residents have a private sink but use communal bath facilities, and by removing the private baths from the guest rooms, there will be more space for personal belongings, desks, and other furniture. The Abbey donated materials from the removed baths to Habitat for Humanity.

“We didn’t want to discourage new vocations because a potential new monk didn’t see a place for himself in our monastery, “ Father Gregory says. “We want to have an empty room for them to see that could be theirs.” Continue reading

Interviewing an old classmate: Rebel News profile, 1/9/14

For the first Rebel News of the new year, we decided to profile a classmate of mine from Priory who was about to profess his solemn vows in the monastery. Brother Edward (he was Paul, then) and I went to school together for six years, and he and I were pretty good friends, so interviewing him about his life was kind of a strange experience. I had to preface it with a disclaimer that while a lot of my questions were going to seem obvious or redundant, I wanted to make sure to get everything right. The story also gave us an excuse to explain the process of becoming a monk to people who might not know exactly how it goes (I had a general idea, but learned a lot of details from this).

Brother Edward, ’05, prepares to take his solemn vows

Ten years ago, Brother Edward Mazuski, ’05, was a junior here at Priory, playing Halo in room 300 with some classmates on a Saturday afternoon. A man of quiet demeanor and understated humor, it should surprise no one that his journey since then into monastic life was a simple, undramatic one. On Sunday afternoon, he’ll profess his solemn vows, and become a permanent member of the monastic community.

Born in Minneapolis, Brother Edward moved to St. Louis when he was 4 years old and has lived here ever since. His father is a trauma surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and his mother, trained as an architect, was a stay-at-home mom. He grew up with three siblings: Continue reading

An unexpectedly cool story: Rebel News story, 12/19/13

When one of the faculty members approached me a couple weeks ago about a project his advisory group had undertaken for Thanksgiving, I, admittedly, moved it to the bottom of my priority list. At the risk of sounding dismissive, the students here do a lot of fundraising and charity work, and the stories sometimes get repetitive. When I finally got around to following up on this one thanks to a slow news week in the run up to Christmas break, I was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out. My interview with the person at the food pantry the students had worked with was fantastic. She had concrete examples of how the project had affected specific people, and photos to go along with it. That allowed a story that could have been very run-of-the-mill to become much more interesting.

Advisory Groups help provide “abundance where there usually isn’t any”

At the Circle of Concern Thanksgiving basket pickup, a family walked through the line to pick up their box of food for the holiday. When they got to the end, they were offered their choice of a turkey or a ham.

“The mom cried,” Circle communications coordinator Juliet Holden said. “The dad was incredulous. You could see it all, right there on his face. Who knew what a difference having an option would make?”

That option was made possible by the combined efforts of several Priory advisory groups, led by Mr. Joe Gleich. The four groups — Mr. Gleich’s, Mr. Jake Wenger’s, Mr. Steve Rolwes’ and Mr. Keith Heerlein’s — raised more than $1200 in order to purchase 40 hams and 25 turkeys to donate to Circle of Concern for Thanksgiving.

“This project started out several years ago at the suggestion of (retired librarian) Karol Smith,” Mr Gleich said. “She and I had done joint advisory projects for a couple of years, adopting families and sponsoring church food, clothing and toy drives. About five years ago, I called up Greg Dierberg (’89, CEO of Dierbergs Markets), and he agreed to help us out in order to reach more people. Since then, Greg has allowed us to purchase hams and turkeys at his cost, and he has arranged for them to be brought to a central location so that they could be picked up.”

Juliet reports that the story she recounted earlier is not unique. The Thanksgiving baskets are an annual program that the organization runs, providing traditional items such as a turkey, fresh vegetables or fruits, cranberries, side dishes, and a pie to underprivileged families. The addition of hams thanks to the Priory students’ fundraising gave them more options to offer larger families who need more food, which was something the organization had never been able to offer before.

“We had a lot of happy families that day,” she said. “They had a choice because of the gifts you guys gave, and that made such a huge difference.”

The advisory groups’ initial goal was $1,000, but they had to raise additional funds when the hams came in heavier than expected. The boys and Mr. Gleich delivered the turkeys and hams to the distribution site on Saturday, Nov. 23.  The event served 543 families, totaling 1681 people.  In addition to the turkeys and hams, organizers distributed 688 boxes of canned/non-perishable items, 543 pies.

“It was great to have the boys on-site that day,” Juliet said. “Having them there let them see the impact they were helping to make, and added great energy as we were setting up.”

Circle of Concern, which has been serving families in the west county area for more than 40 years, wrapped up their Christmas-specific programming over the last couple weeks with a family adoption program and a toy distribution event. They’re still accepting donations for the end of the year, however, and Juliet reports that 91 cents out of every dollar donated goes to purchasing fresh foods (meat, fruits/vegetables, dairy) that aren’t always a given in food pantry distributions. Tax credits for donations are also available through the state of Missouri. For more information about how to help Circle of Concern this holiday season, you can contact her at 636.861.2623 orjuliet@circleofconcern.org.

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Getting exactly what we were looking for: Rebel News profile, 12/4/13

A longer-term project that my boss and I had talked about frequently after I started here was beefing up our supply of alumni profiles to use in our various publications. The “Who’s Who” section seemed to be a natural fit for this, since we could write the profiles, publish them there, then repurpose them later if we needed them somewhere else. When the school counselor approached us about creating a series of articles about alumni for the students to see as role models, it seemed to fit into this same project pretty well.

Life lessons from Priory follow Wall Street Journal reporter Damian Paletta, ’95, around the globe

Wall Street Journal economic policy reporter Damian Paletta, ’95, still uses the formulas and shortcuts he learned for Microsoft Excel in computer class at Priory for his work today.

“I never learned anything more about Excel,” he says. “I’m using the same formulas, and I’ve had front-page stories built on data using those skills.”

Paletta, whose dad Christian is also a Priory alum (’70), started his journalism career working forThe Record. He also played on the football, baseball, basketball and track teams during his time at the school.

He said his fondest memories, though, are of the monks and teachers.

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