The Pauline Center for Media Studies at 25: A History
The Pauline Center for Media Studies had its genesis in 1988 and 1989 when Sr Rose Pacatte met Humility of Mary sister Elizabeth Thoman (1943-2016) at national meetings for Catholic communicators, then called UNDA-USA (now SIGNIS). Thoman founded and then headed the Center for Media Literacy in Los Angeles and published a media literacy magazine named “Media & Values.” She spoke of the pervasiveness of entertainment and information media in the lives of youth and the need to teach and learn to be media aware and critically literate so as to participate in society in meaningful ways.
SR ROSE PACATTE
Her presentations caught the Pauline imagination of Sr. Rose who began to study media literacy materials and to attend media literacy conferences, especially those in Guelf, Canada organized by Jesuit father John Pungente. In 1993 Rose received permission to earn a master’s degree in education in media studies at the Institute of Education, University of London, UK. The two power ideas that motivated Sr Rose were several articles from the Constitutions of the Daughters of St. Paul, especially n. 25 (see below) and the encyclical letter “Redemptoris Missio” by now St. John Paul II.
There is a deeper reality involved here: since the very evangelization of modern culture depends to a great extent on the influence of the media, it is not enough to use the media simply to spread the Christian message and the Church's authentic teaching. It is also necessary to integrate that message into the "new culture" created by modern communications.
The reason for studying communications media within the context of education rather than communication per se was to learn the pedagogy and methodology of critical analysis in order to help educate and form the audience to an integrated discernment of the messages communicated through traditional mass media and the swiftly emerging digital forms of social communication.
Sr. Rose’s master’s dissertation was entitled “Media Education within Initial Formation Programs of Women’s Religious Communities of the Catholic Church.” She chose to explore the place of reflection on popular culture in religious life followed by creating a curriculum for novices and sisters in temporary vows.
While writing her dissertation she came up with the idea of starting the Pauline Center for Media Studies (PCMS) at US/English-speaking Canada novitiate/provincial house to begin integrating one important elements of media formation as noted in the Constitutions of the Daughters of St. Paul:
There are two main types of media formation and education projects important to the Daughters of St. Paul. One is the formation of professional and religious communicators and apostolic opinion leaders to use media for the work of evangelization. The second is the education and formation of the audience to critically discern the messages communicated through traditional mass media and emerging forms of social communication. (Article 25)
The Provincial Government, led by Sr Irene Martineau, approved the PCMS project and when Sr Rose returned to Boston, the initial space was established and inaugurated by the then provincial superior Sr Linda Smith and Auxiliary Bishop of Boston Richard G. Lennon (1947 – 2019) on December 29, 1995.
After seven years of teaching courses for the formation groups and traveling extensively to give seminars and workshops to various catechetical, educational and communications groups, it became evident to Sr Rose and current provincial government headed by Sr Germana Santos that a change of venue was needed for outreach as well as to hold courses and events on site. Because of long winter months it was difficult to hold conferences for groups at the center and to travel locally. Because there was space at the Daughters of St. Paul building in Culver City, CA, Sr. Rose relocated the PCMS there on October 1, 2002. After four years of fundraising space on the second floor was renovated and three offices created.
It should be noted that the original Daughters of St. Paul website posted many articles authored by Sr. Rose beginning around 1998. Since then, the PCMS has been integrated into the overall plan of the Daughters of St. Paul (US/ESC) website as BeMediaMinfdul.org.
In 2006 Sr Rose and Sr Gretchen Hailer, RSHM, were approached by St Mary’s Press, Winona, MN, to write a book on media literacy education for high school teachers to use. It was published in 2007 as “Media Mindfulness: Educating Teens about Faith and Media” and won many awards. In 2010 Pauline Books & Media published “Our Media World: Teaching Kids about Faith and Media” using the same methodology of their first book. It also won several awards. Plans are being made for updating both titles for electronic download.
In 2006, Sr. Rose created the initial syllabus for the Advanced Course in Media Literacy Education. It was approved as a catechetical specialization by Msgr. David Loftus of the Religious Education Office and Sr Angela Hallahan of the Catholic Education Office of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Since the first course was held, over 125 people have taken the course from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange Country, as well as several states and three countries: Singapore, Canada and Italy. Sr. Rose also traveled to Nairobi, Kenya in 2015 to teach an introductory certificate course to 28 postulants, pre-novices and novices of the Daughters of St. Paul from eight African countries, as well as two of their formators.
Between 2002 and 2015, Sister Rose, with the assistance of Sr. Hosea Rupprecht and Sr. Jennifer Hyatt, created workshops and continued traveling to speak at conferences. Sr. Rose was invited to begin reviewing films for St. Anthony Messenger magazine in 2003 and to contribute reviews to the National Catholic Reporter in 2009. In 2018 she became the first Catholic film critic to have reviews listed on Rotten Tomatoes. Pauline Books & Media published “Watching Movies with Kids: A Values-based Strategy” by Sr Hosea in 2011.
During these years, Sr Hosea and Sr Helena Burns earned master’s degrees in communication with a specialization in media literacy education from the University of North Carolina (Boone), and Sr Jennifer earned her catechetical certificate from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Sr. Rose earned a Doctorate in Ministry in Pastoral Communications from the Graduate Theological Foundation.
In 2015, Sr. Nancy Usselmann completed her Masters in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and was appointed the new Director of the PCMS the following year. In 2018, she published her Masters thesis “A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics” through Wipf & Stock publishing.
SR NANCY USSELMANN
I have been a lover of popular movies, television, music and books all my life, so being a Daughter of St Paul is a natural fit for me who find joy in living Christ and communicating Christ through the media and within the media culture. Early on in my undergraduate studies at Emmanuel College in Boston, I encountered media literacy as a developing academic interest.
When Sr Rose began the Pauline Center for Media Studies in 1995, I immediately connected with her and became an adjunct presenter for more than 20 years, until I became the second Director in 2016. Sr Rose has been a mentor for me all these years in understanding media messages while also communicating this important aspect of our Pauline mission to the world. As much as I love popular culture, I realized right away that there needs to be critical engagement with the media in order to bring our Christian values into conversation with all that we watch, hear, read, and encounter in this media culture. I began offering presentations to youth, young adults, teachers, catechists and seminarians on media literacy, and more specifically on media mindfulness which integrates faith development with our entertainment lives.
Through my studies in theology I wanted to find that underlying theological foundation for media mindfulness—the connecting point between faith and media. This led to my development of the concept of cultural mysticism. This means that as people of faith we become so imbued with God that we can look upon and engage with the popular culture in a way that sees God at work within it. While not denying the good and evil present there, a cultural mystic looks deeply at the existential desires of humanity that are expressed in the stories and art of the culture in order to bring that out as a starting point of dialogue between faith and media. This became a published book in 2018. I am currently working on a book for young adults on how to engage thoughtfully with their digital devices and social media, so as to grow in their faith lives through media mindfulness.
Since becoming Director of the PCMS, I have further developed our website (bemediamindful.org) and inaugurated online learning, downloadable cinema divina guides, film reviews and media spirituality articles, as well as moving the Advanced Media Literacy and Faith Formation class from a solely in-person event to also an online course. There has been a development of cinema divina events, especially the National Film Retreat held in-person in our Los Angeles center.
While offering media literacy presentations, film retreats and media spirituality talks all around the country and online, I also am an adjunct professor at John Paul the Great University in Escondido, CA in theology and film. I have also been blest to continue to offer media education formation for our young Sisters and provide ongoing formation classes for all the Sisters of our Province.
Sr Nancy Usselmann is currently the Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles. She is a film reviewer, blogger, author and international speaker on everything related to faith and media.
SR HOSEA MARIE RUPPRECHT
I began doing presentations back in 1998 as invitations came in but it was when I was stationed in Toronto from 1999 to 2009, that I really began doing workshops for catechists and parents on integrating faith and media literacy on a more regular basis. Summer trips to participate in the University of Dayton’s Institute of Pastoral Initiatives, gave me my first formal education in the area of media literacy from a pastoral perspective.
In Toronto, I also started what we then called “Faith & Film” events, (which has morphed into Cinema Divina, guides for which can be found on our website). We paired a Scripture passage with a movie, and after watching the movie together, a group would share insights on how the film could help us live a better life of discipleship. We did these events for both adults and children.
In 2009, I was sent to Los Angeles to become officially integrated into the Pauline Center for Media Studies. I began giving more presentations and facilitating Cinema Divina events. During that time (2009-2011), I also began writing film reviews, which remains one of my favorite parts of doing this ministry. In 2011, my book, “How to Watch Movies With Kids” was published, presenting a values-based strategy for families hoping to integrate media literacy into their media interactions.
In 2014, I was asked to begin the PCMS’s East Coast office in New York and that is where I remain six years later, as the PCMS celebrates 25 years. I’ve been able to continue doing presentations and written film reviews, sometimes as a guest writer for Catholic News Service. For five years, I was also the co-host of Searchlight, a film review show which aired on Boston-based Catholic TV.
One of the great achievements of the past few years has been the PCMS website, which I contribute to on a regular basis with film reviews, educational articles, and guides for Cinema Divina which can be used in families and groups.
I feel blessed to have been a part of the first 25 years of the PCMS and look forward to what God has in store for the next 25 years!
Sister Hosea Rupprecht, FSP, hailing from the Seattle area, has been a Daughter of St. Paul for 30 years. She holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto and a MA in Media Literacy from Webster University in St. Louis.
SR JENNIFER THECLA HYATT
Media are powerful gifts of God. Today the majority of us no longer simply receive media messages. Rather, we are all creators. We Daughters of St Paul communicate Christ to the world through these media. One way we do this is through our Pauline Center for Media Studies. When I participate in this aspect of our mission, it brings me great joy and excitement because we teach skills that empower others to make healthy media choices and show how we are all called to live in this digital world.
I collaborate with PCMS through the offering of media mindfulness presentations for all ages, leading Cinema Divina Retreats, and giving presentations for catechists.
So many only consume media. These presentations begin to change the audience’s way of experiencing media. I hope to move them from merely consuming media, to engage and empower them to make healthy media choices by pausing to think and ask questions of the media. The presentations begin with the basics of media literacy, the core concepts. Once the core concepts are understood the audience then learns how our faith can be brought into the media they experience. I also engage and challenge youth on how to recognize the values in popular culture. They learn that popular culture poses questions to life and our faith is where we find the answers. So many people use social media yet do not realize the influence that their choices have and that what they share and do can affect others. They appreciate the tools of media mindfulness to empower them to make healthier media choices.
I also lead Cinema Divina retreats where I take a secular/popular movie and break open themes that connect with faith and everyday life.
Catechists desire to pass on the faith to their students, so I share with them the power of the media and offer them practical tools to bring the media their students are familiar with into the faith formation experience.
It is a joy and a blessing to empower others to develop the skills of media literacy and media mindfulness. Here’s to another 25 years!
Sr Jennifer Tecla Hyatt facilitates various film and Scripture activities for both children and adults, and gives presentations on media literacy—integrating culture, faith and media.
SR HELENA RAPHAEL BURNS
Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, has an M.A. in Media Literacy Education; studied screenwriting at UCLA and Act One-Hollywood; and holds a Certificate in Pastoral Youth Ministry. She wrote and directed a documentary on the life of Blessed James Alberione: pauline.org/MediaApostleFilm, is a co-producer on The40Film.com, and her mini-series for EWTN is: tinyurl.com/DigitalCatholicsDVD. Sr. Helena is a columnist for The Catholic Register (Toronto), and participates in the PCMS by offering talks and workshops on Media Literacy and Theology of the Body to youth and adults all over the USA and Canada.
SR MARIE PAUL CURLEY
Sister Marie Paul Curley is originally from the Boston area and entered the Daughters of St. Paul while a teenager.
Sr Marie Paul has a background in producing and writing Catholic home video and cable TV productions. She has published several books, comments on current films on Catholic radio, and blogs weekly on Catholic media spirituality. She has guided retreats and Faith & Film Movie Nights for Catholics across the USA and Canada. Sr Marie Paul is currently missioned at the publishing house of the Daughters of St. Paul in Boston, MA, where she is the Acquisitions Editor and continues to write for Pauline Books & Media.
As an author and speaker, Sr Marie Paul’s central themes are: God’s love for us revealed in Christ, the theology and spirituality of communication, the dialogue between Gospel and media (especially film), Pauline spirituality, spirituality for writers and communicators, and Eucharistic prayer, as well as spiritual themes such as a Catholic approach to self-esteem, holiness & the saints, and the spiritual art of discernment. In longer presentations Sr Marie Paul prefers to offer a multi-media, participative approach, using film clips, visuals, small-group interaction, and prayer experiences for both teens and adults.