"In this era, you have to be involved with three, four or five different types of media to get your message out," declares Rev. Joseph Cebula, pastor of St. Mary's parish in Crescent. "Just one doesn't do it."

That's why, in 2015, St. Mary's became the first parish in the Albany Diocese to offer the "myParish" smartphone app to parishioners.

Of course, St. Mary's still has a printed bulletin, website and social media presence, Father Cebula explained, but the personalized myParish app is another way for parishioners to keep up with parish events and notifications.

By downloading the free app on their smartphones, they can also read prayers and reflections, follow along on their phones with the readings at Mass and have the bulletin readily available at the touch of a button.

They can access online giving, find Mass times and homilies, and sync their own calendars to that of their parish to make sure they don't miss important events. There's even a much-used feature that reminds parishioners to silence their cell phones as Mass begins.

Free for Diocese
Recently, the Albany diocesan Communications Office announced that, thanks to a $99,000-plus grant from myParish app, the app will be available for every parish in the Diocese at no cost for a year, and at a discounted rate of $35 a month after that.

A customized version of the app will be installed and activated in about three dozen parishes by the official launch weekend, May 13-14. Every parish in the Diocese will receive a basic app kit that includes all the tools they need to join at any time, with many more expected to begin using it in the coming months.

"The decision to launch myParish app was an easy one. It's a proven program that is already helping some of our parishes share information and inspiration with their parishioners via cell phone," noted Mary DeTurris Poust, diocesan director of communications.

Once installed, the basic app needs no maintenance by parishes unless they choose to upload extra data. Parishioners can simply use the built-in features without the parish having to keep adding information.

"With zero upfront cost and very little time commitment, the app offers parishes a way to increase attendance and donations, keep parishioners connected even if they are traveling or away from the area for extended periods, and let people know about upcoming events," Ms. DeTurris Poust added. "The Diocese, too, will be able to send out occasional notifications that will be received by every person who has the app."

Parish experience
For St. Mary's in Crescent, two years of using the app have been a boon. Stephanie Nolet, pastoral associate for administration, noted that she has synced the parish's Google calendar with the app to announce parish-wide events. She can even highlight "featured events" that would be of particular interest to users.

Close on St. Mary's heels in installing the myParish app were St. Pius X parish in Loudonville, Christ the King in Westmere, Our Lady of the Assumption in Latham and several others.

Jenn Maroney, secretary at St. Pius, estimated that 1,800 parishioners in the 2,000-household parish have downloaded the app -- even people no longer living in the area, "snowbirds" in Florida for the winter, and students away at college who want to stay connected to their parish.

St. Pius uses the myParish app daily, posting spiritual reflections at 8 a.m. as a form of outreach to parishioners. Ms. Maroney said users respond with comments -- "This is just what I needed," one person replied after reading a recent reflection -- as well as prayer requests and questions.

"If I forget to put the bulletin on [the app], I hear about it," Ms. Maroney added, laughing. "People like having it in the palm of their hand."

For all ages
Although youth are obviously one target audience for the app, its advantages span the age spectrum. Ms. Maroney recalled a moment when, in the confessional, Father Walsh was asked by an elderly penitent to "hold on:" She was using the app to look up the words to the Act of Contrition.

Ms. Nolet said one parishioner at St. Mary's told her he didn't know what he did before he had the myParish app to access daily Scripture readings. She herself has been impressed with the number of prayers available through the app and has set a reminder to pray one in particular every day at 11 a.m.

Other parishes using the app include St. Clement's in Saratoga Springs, St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Madeleine Sophie/St. Gabriel's in Schenectady/Rotterdam and Sacred Heart in Stamford.

Not all parishes in the Diocese are as technology-minded, but Ms. Maroney urged them all to give the myParish app a try.

"Once you set it up, the app runs itself," she said. "This is only going to help you move forward. It's been a great tool for us. There's no negative to it; it's all positive."

(Learn more at www.myparish­app.com. For more information, call the diocesan Communications Office, 518-453-6618.)