By Jay Nies
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight has appointed two people with extensive experience to head up the Jefferson City diocese’s communication efforts.
Helen Luebbering Osman is now director of diocesan communications, and Jill Alberti is director of parish communications.
“These two professionals will allow our diocese to have a responsive, creative and innovative team available 24/7 for our communication needs,” said Bishop McKnight.
Both began their duties July 1.
Technology will allow them to stay in constant touch from their home bases — Mrs. Alberti in Wichita, Kansas; Mrs. Osman in Austin, Texas.
Bishop McKnight said their mandate is “to empower our parishes, especially our clergy and parish staff, to utilize today’s communication tools in the most effective way to enliven and engage Catholics, especially our younger sisters and brothers.”
Both will travel to the diocese regularly and spend time here.
Mrs. Alberti is a product of Catholic education, from elementary school to high school, and holds a master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing and communications from Wichita State University.
She has experience in Church marketing, website design, social media, branding, planned giving and implementation of stewardship development.
As director of parish communications, her primary focus will be working directly with parishes on communication needs and coordinating their outreach with diocesan communication strategies.
She previously created successful communication campaigns that were implemented across systems and led marketing efforts for Cox Communications.
Most recently, she led an effort that resulted in a 60-percent response to stewardship renewal at Church of the Magdalen parish in Wichita.
Mrs. Alberti and her husband, Mike, have three children.
Mrs. Osman, president of Greater Wings LLC, has worked at the parish, diocesan, national and international levels of the Church, including as diocesan communication director and diocesan director of safe environment.
She is a native of St. Cecilia parish in Meta and a graduate of Fatima High School in Westphalia.
As director of diocesan communications, she will focus on public relations, media relations, strategic communication planning, and serving as general manager of The Catholic Missourian.
She served for eight years as communications secretary for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), where she coordinated media coverage of Pope Francis’ 2015 apostolic visit to the United States.
She was previously communications director for the Diocese of Austin and editor of The Catholic Spirit, the diocese’s award-winning newspaper.
The Catholic Press Association honored her in 2012 with the St. Francis De Sales Award, its highest individual award, for “outstanding contributions to Catholic journalism.”
She currently serves as volunteer president of the board for SIGNIS, the only association of lay media professionals officially recognized by the Holy See.
She and her husband, John, have four grown children and 10 grandchildren.
Seeking a unified vision
Mrs. Osman described her role as “helping to invigorate the presence of the Church in the Diocese of Jefferson City.”
Having worked with Bishop McKnight when he was director of the USCCB Office for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, she noted that he is a great collaborator, has a deep love for the Church, and is very committed to the faithful.
“So getting to work with him in my home diocese, I don’t know how it could get any better,” she said.
Bishop McKnight commissioned her to conduct an audit of this diocese’s communications shortly after he arrived in Jefferson City in February.
Her research included interviews with Chancery staff, pastors and leaders throughout the diocese, as well as an online survey that drew about 1,700 respondents.
She believes one key to reinvigorating the faith in the diocese will be helping people understand what it means to be part of a local Church.
“In Catholic theology, the local Church is not our parishes but our diocese, with the bishop serving as the chief shepherd,” she said.
She noted that like much of the rest of the country, this diocese has experienced a decline in the number of young people participating in the life of the Church.
She believes digital communications will play a role in bringing them back.
“Research says young people are still deeply spiritual and are still looking for community,” she said. “They just don’t think they see it in organized religion.”
She believes a major reason for that disconnect is “that we aren’t providing it to them in a way in which they receive information and connect with everything else in their lives,” she said.
“I think we really have to rethink how we’re getting information out about the Church and the diocese, and make it more intuitive for people,” she added.
She hopes to use various forms of technology to respond to and share important information with people in various secular media organizations, most of which are short on time and staff.
“Part of that is helping both the media understand that we have a common goal, which is to make our communities better places to live,” she said. “If we look at our shared values, all of a sudden, you’re not thinking of each other as adversaries.”
Strong local connections
Mrs. Osman got her first experience in Catholic journalism as a summer intern at The Catholic Missourian before her senior year at Drury University in Springfield. Her aunt, Juliana Crane, was the paper’s editorial assistant and later its assistant editor.
“It’s kind of funny how God moves things in full circle,” said Mrs. Osman. “That’s where I got started and I’m back again.”
She met her husband, John, who was living in Jefferson City, on Teens Encounter Christ Weekend #9 in this diocese.
Her father-in-law, Deacon Robert C. Osman, was one of the first deacons ordained for this diocese in 1977.
She has always looked at her work as a communications professional in the Church as her vocation and her ministry.
“So to be able to take my experience and everything I’ve learned so far and bring it back home is an honor for me,” she said.
She asks for prayers to remain true to her motto that “it’s not about me.”
The Church has withstood numerous challenges in its 2,000-year history, because first and foremost, it belongs to God.
“It’s important to remember we’re part of a very long journey, that we’re part of a much bigger picture than personalities or even the current times,” she said.
“We are called to be true to our time, but that doesn’t mean changing everything,” she noted. “It’s a balance of staying true to the principles of the Church while addressing the challenges of our day.”
Passion for Catholic stewardship
Mrs. Alberti, founder of a Wichita-based agency that promotes communication and stewardship in Catholic parishes, said her main role as director of parish communications is to help each parish in the Jefferson City diocese enhance its communication practices — everything from branding to bulletins to the parish websites — in ways that invigorate the people and draw them closer to Christ.
She also wants to help the parishes find ways to work together toward creating stronger, more effective communications for the whole diocese.
She plans to spend one week per month at the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center in Jefferson City. She’s also working out an itinerary to visit all the parishes in the diocese and get to know the people and their pastors.
“I know that no single parish is like any other,” she said. “Every single parish has its own personality, its own strengths and its own struggles.
“I have to meet them in person first to get a feel for the pastor and community,” she said. “I want to know what they’re like. I’m very excited about that.”
Research led her here
Mrs. Alberti grew up in a parish that promotes Catholic stewardship — the understanding that all good things are gifts from God and are meant to be cultivated and shared sacrificially in order for all people to be drawn into eternal communion with Christ — as a way of life.
“Sharing our gifts and talents with others, that has been something I’ve been hearing about since I was little, and I think that has strengthened me as a Catholic,” she said. “So I have a zest and passion for the stewardship way of life and for helping that to succeed in other parishes.”
She pursued her lifelong passion for marketing and communications in a corporate setting until a few years ago, when she decided to fuse it with her love for the Catholic Christian faith.
She served as parish director of communications and stewardship under Bishop McKnight.
“When I jumped in at Church of the Magdalen and started using marketing and communications in service of God and the Church, I found a huge passion for doing that,” she said.
When the announcement came last November that her pastor had been appointed the fourth bishop of Jefferson City, she started learning everything she could about his new diocese.
“I wanted to have answers for people from the media, from other parishes and even from the diocese,” she said. “So I researched the Diocese of Jefferson City a lot. And the more I researched, the more I fell in love with it — all these small rural parishes and the sense of community they have and the history behind all of that.
“It really piqued my interest early on, even before this opportunity opened up,” she said.
Mrs. Alberti asks for prayers for God to help her do her best work in leading parishes toward more effective communications, stewardship and collaboration.
“I’m hoping that God helps me listen for what they truly need, to help them down a path they are truly happy with and that will help improve things in their parishes,” she said.