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New director of communications for Albany dioceses

November 14, 2015

by Victoria Addison

Sitting in an office overlooking North Main Avenue in the Pine Hills neighborhood, with a desk covered in information about the recent papal visit and paintings yet to be hung on the walls, Mary DeTurris Poust is settling into the role of director of communications at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

“I feel like my whole life, both personal and professional, was the preparation for this job. I’m still amazed I’m sitting here,” she said.

Poust, 53, was placed into the position after the departure of the former director of communications.

“I’m actually going back into the full time work force in a different position than I’ve been in. It’s kind of like taking on a new challenge at a time when most people are planning to slow down a little bit until retirement,” Poust said. “But instead I’ve done the reverse, which is to come back in my fifties and take on something new which is an exciting achievement.”

Prior to her appointment to the director of communications in early September, Poust submitted a social media proposal for the dioceses to Bishop Edward Scharfenberger with a social media proposal for the diocese last February.  Two months later, she found herself at the helm of the operation as diocesan consultant for digital and social media.

“I basically came and said I think the diocese needs to do social media. We need to be out there where the people are,” Poust said.

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Mary DeTurris Poust recently became the Director of Communications at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany./Victoria Addison

During her time as digital and social media consultant, Poust helped the Diocese inch its way toward establishing an online presence. But, despite her new role as director of communications, Poust continues to head the social media front at the Diocese. So far, her main concern has been to accommodate Bishop Scharfenberger’s new vision for communications.

“We’re sharing things, and not always just what’s happening in the diocese, but maybe something the pope said or something that we’re seeing from another part of country,” said Poust. “It’s kind of like reinventing the wheel for now.”

The Diocese hopes to spread a positive message about how beneficial a personal relationship with God can be. In doing so, they have focused on sharing positive headlines, such as the Bishop’s regular visits to a local soup kitchen.

“I think we try to get out the stories that nobody is hearing about that might make people say, ‘oh, maybe I don’t know everything I think I know about the Catholic church’,” said Poust.

The intended social media image that Poust and the Bishop are trying to create for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany is similar to that of other parishes, such as that of St. Vincent de Paul’s Parish in the Pine Hills neighborhood.

At St. Vincent’s, Youth Ministry Director Beth Carlin, uses various social media platforms to spread the word about happenings that are connected to the parish.

“We mostly use social media to get information out about what’s going on in the parish and what kind of things we’re doing,” Carlin said. “It’s just another type of outreach.” St. Vincent’s is active on Facebook, has a website and recently joined Twitter. The parish is yet to use Instagram.

In comparison, under Poust’s direction the Diocese has established Facebook and Twitter pages and has “just barely baby stepped” into Instagram.

“It’s a little slow going because a lot of people, young people aren’t, but old people can be afraid of social media,” Poust said. “I try to tell people social media lets us control the message as opposed to giving it to someone else and seeing what they do with it. We go directly to our people, so I think we are going to continue to build on that.”

Without promoting their posts, the Diocese has around 1,100 followers on Facebook and Bishop Scharfenberger has around 1,600 on his personal page.

Prior to their new social media movement, the Diocese responded to issues that were brought to them directly, whereas now they are not waiting to be called. According to Poust, there is more of an element of evangelization in their methods of communication with the public.

Catholic blogger Fran Rossi Szpylczyn believes that Poust will make a “really great” contribution to the Diocese as the new director of communications. Szpylczyn is the pastoral associate for administration at the Church of Immaculate Conception in Glenville and also plays a role in the Church’s online presence, which aims to send a message similar to that of the Diocese and St. Vincent’s. Ironically enough, Szpylczyn met Poust through social media.

Before Poust was appointed, the Diocese had both a director and chancellor of communication. The two operated in a way that allowed the director to act as a public relations officer and the chancellor to oversee public information. Since the retirement of the former chancellor, Reverend Kenneth Doyle, the position has been left empty.

Without a chancellor by her side, Poust is in charge of many aspects of communication, which includes overseeing public information, responding to media calls, pitching stories, social media operations and acting as a liaison between the Diocese and its newspaper, The Evangelist.

“For the first time in this diocese, the newspaper has been technically brought under the umbrella of communications,” Poust said. “So even though I have nothing to do with the day to day operations of the newspaper I’m sort of in touch with the editor.”

According to the editor of The Evangelist, Kate Blain, Poust uses social media to draw attention to the paper by sharing their posts on the Diocese’s official Twitter and Facebook pages. For Poust, interacting with The Evangelist offers her a way to keep in touch with her past as a Catholic journalist.

“It’s kind of fun because I still get to be in touch with the newspaper side even if it’s just on the edge,” she said.

Poust has worked as a reporter, editor and freelancer. She has worked for Catholic newspapers in both New York City and Austin, Texas.

“I was raised Catholic so I sort of have that background in my past and in my family life,” Poust said. “It almost felt like a natural segue for me to write about it because I felt it was something I knew well and that I liked to write about.”

Poust started her career with an internship at Catholic New York, a weekly newspaper in the City. Then, she decided to move to Austin where she wrote for the Austin American Statesman and briefly held an editorial position with another community newspaper. After a while, she decided to pursue a freelance career.

“I eventually became a full time freelancer in Austin. That was back in the days when you could be a full-time freelancer in Austin and it wasn’t very expensive to live,” she said. “I really loved doing that and stayed doing that for awhile.”

Eventually, after holding the managing editor position at Catholic New York and moving back and forth between New York City and Austin again, Poust decided to continue her freelance career, which lasted 20 years. During that time, she also wrote six books on various aspects of Catholicism and worked behind the scenes on projects that did not include bylines.

Poust, a native of Pearl River, has lived in Albany for the past 15 years with her son, two daughters and husband. She continued to freelance until she was brought on at the Diocese.

One of the former companies that Poust freelanced for, Donna Shelley-Baumler, the president of RKG FundRaising Services, praised Poust for her work.

“Mary and I had a great working relationship. We had a ‘positive groove’ of sorts. She always hit the story out of the park and for the majority of times my clients accepted her copy as is,” Shelley-Baumler said.

When she’s not maintaining handling communications at the Diocese, Poust finds herself keeping in touch with her writing roots on her blog, Not Strictly Spiritual. Although she has not had time to post every day due to her hectic schedule, Poust still writes columns when she can.

For now, Poust continues to maintain her busy schedule, whether it be tweeting about the Diocese most recent event, talking on a radio show or pitching a story idea to The Evangelist, she could not be happier with where her career has taken her.

“You’re really lucky when you get to have a job where you can write about or talk about what you love all the time, so that’s why I feel like it’s a blessing,” Poust said. ”I’m not trying to sell some product or company I don’t believe in. I’m getting to go out there and promote something that has been the cornerstone of my life, so that’s a pretty good deal.” -30-

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