The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


June 22, 2013

Faith finder: St. Francis students develop app for Catholic churches

JOHNSTOWN — Catholics living in or traveling through the Altoona-Johnstown area are to be able to find their faith easier, literally.

Students in the computer science department at St. Francis University, Loretto, developed a smart phone app for those looking for a place to attend Mass or confession, professor Dan Wetklow said.

After reading several articles explaining that the church wanted to incorporate technology into the way Catholics worship, Wetklow said he came up with the idea to create the app.

“People are traveling a lot now and, as we are driving around, we do use cellphones to find our way.”

The app, cleverly dubbed Faith Finder, is to be available for Apple Inc. products and is to provide Mass and confession times for all of the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese’s 88 parishes across eight counties, Wetklow said.

Once the idea was set

in motion, Wetklow said he saw an opportunity to get computer science students involved.

“You’re always looking for projects that would be good things for them to do,” he said.

After deciding to get students involved, Wetklow said Mike Shanafelt was appointed project manager and mentor.

“We have a program on campus where we have students come and do projects being mentored by the (St. Francis Remote and Medically Under-Served Areas Center),” Shanafelt said, adding that he had previously worked on another app-development project.

“We started this one last fall, but I think this one got done a bit quicker because we had worked on the other app.”

Shanafelt said students should take away useful experience from the project, and St. Francis graduate Matthew Warfel said he benefited from his involvement.

“I went to my professor looking for some work to kind of make me stand out when I went to job interviews,” he

said. “He came up with the idea for the Mass and confession finder. I thought it was a good idea.”

Warfel said he worked on the project nearly 20 hours a week, and learned a lot in the process.

“I had to learn everything from the beginning because I had never developed an iPhone app before,” he said, adding that the experience allowed him to more easily find employment.

“I actually found a job in Kansas City, (Kan.)” he said. “I interviewed alongside 30 other candidates, and I think the faith finder app really helped me out.

“I was able to give a lot of hands-on answers to their questions.”

Though he got a late start on the project, senior computer science student Aaron Vizzini said his app-development work should aid in reaching his career goals as well.

“I got involved with it last spring. I joined about halfway through,” he said. “It was a good opportunity to get some experience outside the classroom.

“I believe having an internship like that should help me find a  job.”

The app is now in testing, and the goal is to have it available by July, Wetklow said.

Because the app is only in testing, the developers have not received much feedback, but Wetklow said church officials were excited about the project.

Altoona-Johnstown Diocese representative Tony DeGol said he likes the app and predicts that it will aid travelers.

“Oftentimes, people are traveling around the diocese, and it will be a convenience for them to bring out their phones and find this information,” he said.

“I think it’s important for us to take advantage of new technology to make faith more readily available. It will be a tremendous benefit."

Though the app was developed exclusively for Apple Inc. products, Shanafelt said students are to work on an Android-based version this fall and added that other faith-based projects are being considered, including a site where churches can advertise upcoming events.

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