Katherine Downey, a parishioner at St. Anastasia in Newtown Square, created an online Advent calendar to keep faithful spiritually alert and active during COVID, which has deepened Downey’s own appreciation for what the Second Vatican Council called the “domestic church,” or faith in the home. (Photo courtesy of Katherine Downey)

A Delaware County parishioner is on a mission to spread the news about Advent.

For the second year in a row, Katherine Downey of St. Anastasia Parish in Newtown Square has created an online Advent calendar for her fellow parishioners.

Hosted on the parish’s website, the calendar provides a daily mix of prayers, inspiration and information. A quick click opens a window displaying announcements of in-person and livestreamed liturgical gatherings, saints’ biographies, food drives and charitable outreaches, all designed to ready the faithful for Christmas.

A former catechist, Downey has included recipes and craft projects, which she calls “great teaching tools for religion, since it needs to be hands-on.”

The project was a natural follow-up to Downey’s service on St. Anastasia’s pastoral council, where she started a “promotion committee,” she said.

“I was on the council for a while, and because our parish is so big, I felt a real need to let everyone know what’s going on,” said Downey.

The group first revived “The Anastasian,” a parish newsletter that had originally been printed some three or four decades ago. Issued three times each year in digital format, the magazine-like publication highlights key events at St. Anastasia, with parishioners and clergy writing features and, along with a professional photographer, supplying images.

Although St. Anastasia prints a weekly bulletin, Downey said the newsletter helps to “promote the parish to the parish” since “most people just glance at the bulletin and don’t read it completely.”

That lack of awareness hinders effective parish ministry, which is why parish communications are vital, she said.

“So many times people would say things like, ‘You know, you should start a book club,’ and I’d tell them, ‘Actually, some parishioners tried to do that, and maybe if you’d known about it, it would still be going,’” said Downey.

The Dec. 7 posting for an online Advent calendar created by St. Anastasia parishioner Katherine Downey features a recipe for honey cookies to mark the feast of St. Ambrose, known as “the honey-tongued doctor” of the church. (Katherine Downey/St. Anastasia Parish)

Assembling last year’s Advent calendar was initially “like putting a puzzle together,” she said.

“Some days we had five things happening, other days we had nothing,” said Downey.

With the COVID pandemic, the volunteer project took on a new urgency.

“This year, I felt particularly called because there’s not much going on, and we can’t go out to many events,” she said, noting that she and her family currently attend Mass via livestream.

COVID restrictions have placed a new “focus on the domestic church,” said Downey, referencing the Second Vatican Council’s term for the central role of the family in fostering and passing on the faith.

When her now college-aged children were growing up, said Downey, “breakfast became a little prayer time. I had their attention because they were eating.”

She also replicated at home the craft projects from her PREP classes, and the lessons of family faith have taken root, especially under stay-at-home public health measures.

“With COVID, we now have family dinner every night,” said Downey, whose children are completing their courses virtually. “Before, the kids were off doing whatever.”

The pandemic is “an opportunity to remember that even though we’re not going to church, we are the church,” she said.

Sounding that message among the digital clutter of the internet can be a challenge, she admits, but she remains both humble and hopeful.

“This is about my faith,” she said. “We are all called to do something, and I feel this is what God wants me to do. And if it helps even one other person or family, it’s worth it.”