By JOANNE FOX
Sister Maxine Kollasch, IHM, may not be the Mother Angelica of the broadcast world, but this Whittemore native could be called a “pioneer” in innovative uses of internet technologies for her ministry.
Sister Maxine and Sister Julie Vieira, both Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe, Mich., founded A Nun’s Life Ministry (anunslife.org) in 2006, the year they both professed final vows with the congregation.
Recently, the duo announced the 1,000th prayer podcast of A Nun’s Life Ministry – a nonprofit organization headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, with global outreach. This month they will embark on a “road trip” for their biggest journey yet as part of a 10th anniversary celebration.
From the start, this ministry was based on the internet, beginning with a blog, then adding social media, which was just emerging at that time – Facebook was launched in 2004 and Twitter in 2006. It later expanded into other social media such as YouTube and Instagram, Sister Maxine explained.
“Sister Julie and I are tech geeks and huge public radio fans, so as the technology for podcasting became more available, we thought it would be great to have a podcast where we could talk about what it’s like to be a sister,” she said. “That was in 2009, and from the start we did live podcasting and had a chat room so that people could interact directly with us.”
Their first podcasts were “Praying with the Sisters” and “Ask Sister,” both of which the two still do today. They also produce livestreaming podcasts on the road as part of their Motherhouse Road Trip series, Sister Maxine pointed out.
“For the series, we travel to motherhouses around the country and talk with sisters and the online community about prayer, spirituality, faith, discerning God’s call and many other topics that are an important part of life for all Christians,” she said. “We draw on the centuries-old tradition of religious life in these areas and bring it into conversation with people’s lives today.”
After graduating Garrigan High School in Algona and Clark College in Dubuque where she majored in English, Sister Maxine later earned a master’s degree in advertising from Michigan State University and a master’s in theology from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She professed final vows as an IHM sister on Nov. 4, 2006.
“Although I knew and admired sisters from many other congregations, I never thought about becoming a sister until I met the IHMs in Michigan,” she said. “I had been focused on my career, and when I felt called to join religious life as an IHM, it surprised me – and my friends and family. I had not imagined that being a sister would bring me such joy as well as a lot of great adventures.”
That joy, Sister Maxine added, translated to building an online community.
“Sister Julie and I began the ministry out of gratitude for the gift of religious life,” she said. “We both love being sisters, and we wanted to reach out to help other people searching for where God was calling them, realizing that when we discover and grow more deeply into our vocation – whether that’s to religious life or parenthood or another life direction – we find joy and fulfillment.”
The response has been gratifying, Sister Maxine admitted.
“We interact on anunslife.org and in social media with people from 150 countries, and we have nearly 800,000 downloads of our podcasts,” she said. “A Nun’s Life has been featured in major media outlets such as Time, New York Times, National Public Radio and several others.”
Sister Maxine has received many messages and letters from people worldwide who say that A Nun’s Life has made a difference in their lives.
“When we began the ministry in 2006, we didn’t realize how much A Nun’s Life would resonate with people in all walks of life, whether or not they were nuns,” she said. “We realized how greatly we all want and need companions on the spiritual journey – someone to pray with, enjoy a good laugh with, have an adventure with, and share the joys and sorrows that life brings us all.”
“People who engage with A Nun’s Life Ministry are a diverse group of women and men – some are Catholic, some of other faith traditions and they are from all walks of life,” Sister Julie said. “We were delighted to host the 1,000th podcast, which continues to help people build meaningful, supportive relationships within the context of faith.”
Sister Maxine reiterated the relationship aspect of the joy of the ministry.
“We put social technologies in service to building authentic, meaningful relationships online – relationships with people online around the world; with other Catholic sisters and nuns; with the foundations, donors and other collaborators in mission, and many more,” she said.
The sisters were traveling by car, plane and train from Oct. 15-22, to visit Catholic sisters in Illinois, New Mexico and California to share stories about faith and life as a sister.
Sister Maxine mused that in regard to podcasting, she and Sister Julie created what may be the only nun-built studio they are aware of.
“We have always depended on the Spirit to guide us in this ministry of service to others,” she said. “We continue to say to the Spirit: ‘You lead the way and we’ll do our best to keep up with you.’”