There’s something about a young religious sister in love with the Lord that in a surprising way is so attractive to the world. The beauty of a religious sister is a stark contrast to the over sexualized world we live in that can be void of what is truly beautiful. There’s a fantastic group of religious sisters that I love based out of a small town Toronto, Ohio, called the Franciscan Sisters T.O.R. of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother. I’ve been blessed to know many of the many wonderful sisters who are a part of this wonderful order.
I’ve been blown away by their amazing social media presence and how they are using social media (primarily Facebook) as tool for evangelization. I asked Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias, T.O.R. who serves as both the Coordinator of Website and Social Media and the Coordinator of Ongoing Formation for their order, if I could interview her about this subject. I loved talking with her and I learned a lot from this interview. I hope you will to.
I love the Franciscan Sisters TOR are doing in general but in particular I love what you’re doing on social media. I think it’s amazing. I wanted to write a little bit about that, but I also just wanted to talk with you and get your vision for what you’re doing social media wise and how that’s helping the mission of the Franciscan Sisters. I know personally about the Franciscan Sisters TOR, but do you want to just tell me a little bit more about the mission of your order and what your order is all about for our readers?
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: Sure, we are a contemplative- active community, and we were founded in 1988 at Franciscan University. Our mission in a broad sense is to make known God’s merciful love. We are contemplative active, so we spend about 4 to 6 hours a day in prayer. We were founded to renew the contemplative dimension of the Franciscan Third Order Regular, to blend ministry with prayer, and have more of a foundation of prayer. We do not hold full time jobs, because our life of prayer is primary. We do many different corporal and spiritual works of mercy. For example, we have a mission house in downtown Steubenville that serves the poor through a thrift store and an emergency food bank. They also have Bible studies they run and prayer ministry for the people in downtown Steubenville. We also have two mission houses on the campus of Franciscan University, one in Steubenville and one in Austria that work with the students in campus ministry. Just this year we sent two sisters down to Florida State University, to receive ministry training in campus ministry on a secular campus. I think that’s a good summary.
Where does your website and social media fit into that mission of what your order is about?
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: The website was originally launched for our vocations office, and social media was initiated by the Mission Advancement department in 2012. There are many different reasons that we use it. We use it for vocations. We definitely use it for evangelization and to fulfill our mission of making known God’s merciful love. We use it to help our community get known by others. It is a way for people we know to remain updated about our life and what’s going on. Something really beautiful lately has come to me that I believe it is what has attracted so many to our social media and that is beauty. I feel like we are in an age now where people are just thirsting for true beauty.
I think now is the age to evangelize through beauty, and I think our pictures have really been able to capture that. I think especially now with pornography so rampant we need to put out there what true beauty really is. I believe the consecrated woman really exemplifies that. The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience that we take brings us into a real intimacy with the Lord and He Himself is Beauty – I hope this isn’t getting too deep…
No, I love it!!
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: He shines through us because our vows have stripped us of all that is not Him. When I look back on the posts that have been the most popular, I realize it is due, I think, to beauty. It is so lacking in our world today. There are also so many people we are reaching who have never seen a sister in a habit, and we get so many comments about that.
I did the #ShareJesus campaign and Sister Miriam Heidleland was one of our speakers. I joke to my wife that there would have been 40 million views if the videos were just Sisters because people love seeing Sisters. It captures people’s imagination to see such a beautiful Sister on fire with their faith. To a lot of people, that’s a foreign experience.
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias:: It is! It is.
I love what you’re doing on social media, there’s so much beauty to it. There’s so much… it seems pretty well done too. You do a very good job at what you do. Every time I look at your page, it continues to grow. How did that kind of process happen? You’re at almost 300,000 likes now. How did that develop over time? How did your FB page go from starting to where it is now?
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: To be honest, I don’t really know!! I am not a natural planner. I post when I am inspired. I do remember there was a big jump at Christmas 2013. Our Christmas graphic was very popular. All of a sudden we got a lot of likes. I do try to capture the liturgical life of the Church in our posts . This seems to bring in a wider audience and they tend to be widely shared. When I recently looked at our insights, the majority of our likes are actually in the Philippines. This seems to be the trend in a lot of Catholic sites. That part of the world is really exploding in social media right now, Facebook in particular. It’s becoming very popular over there. We have around 35,000 fans in the United States. The rest are in the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan.
That’s really interesting. I know you said it kind of developed over time, but what’s your regular posting strategy?
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: We used to do something called “Meet the Sister Monday.” We would post a picture of one of the Sisters and link it to her testimony on our website. That was very popular. We may do that again soon. As I already mentioned we post on liturgical feast days. We post when we have events, such as when we had an open house. I am very picky about the kind of pictures I put up. I don’t put up anything halfheartedly. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist!
That’s good though!
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: I think it is, and I think that it helped when we got a really good camera in 2012. To be able to capture the beauty of our chapel has been a blessing for many people. We also post events that are coming up, like professions. For the final professions, I have done climactic postings such as pictures of the sisters getting fitted for their crown of roses. I went to the florist and took pictures of them getting fitted for that and then later on that week, pictures of them getting fitted for their capes. Then the day of the profession I posted a picture of the sisters right before they walked down the aisle and people loved that! They just loved seeing pictures from the profession because that’s something that you would never really get to see. They look like a bride and it’s just really really beautiful. That was very popular and I try to do that for the professions which usually take place once a year.
Are there certain times that you post?
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: No, I know I should, but I don’t! I know they say that 10:00 and 3:00 are good , but I don’t always. I do a variety!
And that’s okay! You don’t schedule posts, you just kind of do it as you go?
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: No I do schedule some, like feast days. If I am not going to be around I will schedule them in advance.
Yeah and its interesting I think there’s always statistics about what times work but personally I’ve found that they can kind of vary. Just because someone tells you that this time is the best time it may not be for you. I accidentally posted a graphic I made at 4:00 AM one time during the ShareJesus campaign and it ended up being a really popular time to release things. It was a complete accident so I started regularly scheduling something at 4 AM. It’s 4 AM for me but it’s different times for people all over the world and social media is such a global community in some way. I actually like that you guys really focus on Facebook, has that been intentional or has that just kind of grown for you guys? I don’t even know if you are on Twitter, etc.
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: No, we are not currently on Twitter, we just have Facebook and LinkedIn. We just started a blog last Fall.
I think it is great. I think sometimes when people try to do too much it doesn’t really add to their mission or what they’re trying to accomplish You need to know your network. You mentioned some of your best posts, where you’re showing true beauty, are there other things that you’ve found work well for your best posts?
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: Let me think. Another popular post was a video of one of the songs one of our sisters, Sr. Agnes Therese, wrote. That was very popular. We are trying to do more videos.
The Gospel is the most engaging content that there is. If we find ways to tell that story on social media and to do it in a way that is creative and adds culture, it can really highlight the truth, the beauty, and the goodness of it. In doing so we will continue to reach more people. And I love what you guys are doing because in a lot of ways, you’re counter-cultural. At the same time you’re in culture and this beauty really speaks to culture because of the lack of beauty that there is in some of the other stuff. How does your blog kind of fit into social media plan for your mission?
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: We started it at the beginning of the Year for Consecrated Life, November of 2014, as a way to open our doors to the monastery. I think what has been most popular about the blog is Sisters sharing from their heart. People are very touched by that. I know one of our most popular blogs was a Sister sharing about spiritual motherhood. And another one was on the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s a combination of evangelization with information. We evangelize as we share about what we do all day for instance. We’ll have a novice share what her day was like and what she does in the convent for example. We write about our community, letting people get to know us, but also evangelizing and letting people know God’s mercy, and his love for them, that’s kind of the heart of it: fulfilling our mission of making His merciful love known through blogs, through poetry. We have done a video where a Sister shared a song and talked about friendship. I think it helps people know we’re real people and hopefully they get a taste of God’s love for them.
I love the Franciscan Sisters and I love what you’re doing with social media and evangelization and I just wanted to affirm you on that too!
Sr. Thérèse Marie Iglesias: Thank you! You’re doing a great job too!
Thanks for taking time to talk. You are in my prayers.
You can learn more about the Franciscan Sisters T.O.R. of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother at
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We are in an age now where people are just thirsting for true beauty. http://t.co/e26JPv0VGb
— Andy Lesnefsky (@RedeemedOnline) October 14, 2015