(Originally appeared on September 19, 2015 in the Stamford Advocate)
On the first day of his new job, John Grosso did not have to work.
On the second day, he was told to stay home.
He may never get a day off again.
Day one was Jan. 26, when heavy snowfall led his bosses to send him back to Stamford after he reported for duty at the Catholic Center in Bridgeport to start a newly created gig guiding social media for the diocese.
Since then, Grosso, 23, has made sure the diocese’s platforms never rest, as he engages followers through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, flickr, YouTube, Periscope and whatever is launched next. He is using everything in his social media quiver this weekend. Bishop Frank Caggiano celebrated the Synod Closing Mass of Thanksgiving for more than 8,000 people at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport Saturday. The synod drew input from the 82 churches throughout the diocese to craft a mission statement defining future goals. Grosso started his work day at 6:30 a.m., 45 minutes earlier than usual.
“I’m always on call, 24-7,” Grosso said Wednesday while we chatted in the Catholic Center. “Events don’t take breaks on weekends or at 5 p.m. Of course, I’m preaching to the choir here.”
Grosso has a knack for using phrases associated with theology (he calls his hiring “a big leap of faith” on the part of his employers; he observes that Millennials “don’t want to be preached to”). In this case, I’m a choir of one. Of course, any journalist knows news scoffs at a timetable. The diocese, though, typically delivered its news in traditional fashion, via bulletins, a newspaper and the pulpit. Then Pope Francis appointed Caggiano in June 2013. You can’t have a conversation about Caggiano with anyone active in the diocese without them quoting his mantra that “youth are not the future, they are the present.”
Grosso is working with Caggiano to draw Millennials to the church. They are simultaneously trying to encourage all parishioners to contemplate their faith daily, not an easy task given two centuries of primarily spreading the message on Sundays. Grosso marvels at the bishop’s work ethic and how active he is on Twitter and Facebook. As the synod celebration dovetails with the pope’s visit to the United States in the days ahead, Twitter followers are seeing @BishopCaggiano retweet @Pontifex (aka Pope Francis).
This is not your godfather’s diocese.
“I like to think we’re pioneering,” said Brian Wallace, the director of communications for the diocese.
If you’re not sold on the potential of social media (in which case you are likely reading this on paper), consider this. Caggiano wanted to draw 300 participants for World Youth Day next July in Krakow, Poland. The diocese usually sends 20 to 30 youths. Grosso videotaped the bishop, posted information on Facebook and Twitter, and filled every slot in a few weeks. In recruiting for the new diocesan youth choir, articles in traditional media drew participants, “then John started Tweeting and wow, kids started joining that choir,” Wallace said.
Grosso has engaging social skills even without a keyboard or smartphone at his fingertips. He champions how the bishop’s charisma translates to the small screen (“his homilies are gold”). He underscores that the diocese’s social media efforts are aligned with its mission to help those who are marginalized. He even comes across as the proud big brother, boasting about his younger sisters Katherine and Elizabeth and calling his brother James, a seventh-grader at Cloonan Middle School, “my best friend.”
Given his family history, there is an irony to his career choice. His father, John, is co-owner of E-Beam Film in Shelton (his late grandfather, Patrick, also worked there). It is a microfilm and microfiche company, a business that is all about archiving history and data. Grosso’s chosen field remains ephemeral.
He was introduced to social media when he signed up for AOL Instant Messenger (“It was a middle school thing”). He and friends created a blog to spotlight low-profile sports at Boston College, wherehe majored in political science and theology, reasoning “theology would keep me grounded in political science. That’s not how it ended up working out.” After graduating, he worked on campaigns for Republicans Michael Fedele and Dan Dibicella before deciding politics “just wasn’t for me.”
The job he now holds didn’t exist when he graduated in 2014. It’s so new that his title — “Social Media Leader” — seems destined for a makeover as the position evolves.
“If anyone tells you they are an expert on (social media), they are probably lying,” he said. “You can’t be an expert on something that is this new.”
Like others in the field, he quickly found the best posting times are 9 a.m. (when people apparently start their work day by goofing off) and 8:30 p.m. (“A lot of people are scrolling when they’re watching TV,” Grosso said). While Facebook is drifting toward a middle-aged audience, he finds the diocese’s Twitter followers are almost exclusively Millennials.
Grosso’s zeal is often reflected by a shorthand in his posts that is anathema to editorial writers and columnists: The dreaded exclamation point.
Just after 6 a.m. Saturday, his Tweets were already caffeinated for the synod celebration:“Good Morning #diobpt!!! The day is finally here! Can you tell how excited we are for #DOBsynod at @Webster Arena!” Grosso collaborates with “Bishop Frank” on Caggiono’s postings, which also burst with hashtags and exclamation points: “Good Morning my friends! I am excited for today’s Synod Celebration Mass! I will see all of you at @Webster Arena! #DOBsynod.”
Not surprisingly, that posting from Caggiano at 6:30 a.m. Saturday would be his last for several hours. Grosso toned down the enthusiasm duringthe Mass (“Out of respect for the Eucharist, we will not be tweeting during Communion. We’ll resume live tweeting afterwards!”), before amping it up again at the end (“We received a blessing from @Pontifex! How amazing is that?!”).
The enthusiasm seems mutual, which means Caggiono and Grosso also respond quickly to queries and comments.
“People expect that,” Grosso said, “and I want people to expect that there is that accessibility into our church.”
This means, of course, that even Sunday is never a day of rest for John Grosso.
John Breunig is editorial page editor of The Advocate and Greenwich Time. He can be reached at John.email@example.com; 203-964-2281; twitter.com/johnbreunig.