BALTIMORE — Perhaps the coolest speaker at the recent Catholic Media Conference was a 71-year-old nun who opened her keynote address with a joke she got from ChatGPT.
Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP, tackled the topic “Multi-Media Ministries in the Metaverse.” Amid her entertaining commentary laced with references to popular films and TV shows, she delivered a serious message to Catholic communicators: Media literacy is essential in today’s world.
“Sister Rose,” as she is known, currently serves in Rome but fondly considers San Diego home.
Sister Rose, who marks 56 years in the Daughters of St. Paul congregation in August, does not speak of retiring.
She plans to continue her order’s mission to evangelize using the most modern means of communication. A core goal for these “media apostles” is to teach people how to become critical thinkers, particularly of the media they consume.
The sisters operate the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, which Sister Rose founded. She temporarily lives in Rome, where she still writes, teaches and makes presentations.
She is an award-winning author of books and articles on film and media literacy, and writes a movie blog on Patheos.
‘San Diego is my home’
Sitting in the café where the conference was held on June 6 to 9, she joyfully shared the details of her life in San Diego. She’s a natural journalist, punctuating her story with precise dates and locations, and lots of anecdotes.
Her father was in the Navy and was transferred to San Diego from Norfolk, Va., in 1952. The family, including 6-month-old Rose and a brother, moved in with her grandparents in Encanto, on 63rd and Imperial Avenue. When she was 4 years old, the family moved to Ramona for a year while a house was built for them behind her grandparents’ home.
Over the years, the family grew — another two brothers and four sisters would be born. She attended Encanto Elementary School and then O’Farrell Middle School.
The family attended St. Rita’s Church, where all the kids were baptized and learned catechism, and where Rose and some of her siblings received First Communion and confirmation.
She considers St. Rita’s “still my home parish.”
While growing up, she would talk to her mother about becoming a nun. Movies and books about religious women “really impressed me,” she said.
She remembers being at the Del Mar Fair as a Girl Scout on July 4, 1967, like it was yesterday.
“I was looking at the Ferris wheel going round and round, and thought, ‘What about tomorrow? And tomorrow?’ Everything changes. But God is constant.”
She felt “such a strong pull toward God,” she said, and went home that day and told her mother that she wanted to become a nun. She was 15 and didn’t want to wait until she was an adult to enter religious life. It was 1967, and she was a sophomore at Morse High School.
Her mother took her to visit religious communities, first to the Benedictines, who lived at a convent in Clairemont (now the diocese’s Pastoral Center). Then, they visited the Daughters of St. Paul, who ran Pauline Books and Media on Balboa Avenue. (The store closed in May of 2016 after 60 years.)
“Right away I liked the sisters,” she recalled.
Her pastor, Msgr. John Gallagher, at St. Rita’s, thought she was too young to enter vocational life but agreed to recommend her.
She moved to Boston to attend a high school run by the order, beginning a vocational journey that over five decades has taken her to provincial leadership positions across the United States, Guam, Singapore, Africa and Europe.
Deeper dive into media
At the Catholic Media Conference around 1990, she heard about the need to educate others in media literacy.
“It just resonated with me, this idea of not just making media but understanding it and being able to critique it,” she recalled. “All the messaging in the world, how do we navigate that as people of faith and make wise choices?”
That inspiration led Sister Rose to found in 1995 the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Boston, which focused on media literacy. The center moved to Culver City in 2002. She would spend the next 20 years as director, stepping down in 2017.
The center first trained fellow sisters in media literacy concepts and then moved on to training catechists, offering certificates in media literacy.
Last year, as Sister Rose was approaching the 50th anniversary of professing her vows, she wanted a different perspective for a year but “not a sabbatical.”
Her superior quickly decided that Sister Rose should go to Rome. Her initial plan was to stay long enough to cover the Synod of Bishops planned for October of 2023. Then Pope Francis added another year, which has extended her stay.
At this point, she’s been in Rome for 10 months, continuing her online teaching, traveling for speaking engagements, and working on a project for her order.
Also on her agenda: Getting a knee replacement.
“Rome is a place where you need good legs.”
What keeps her going?
“I love our mission of evangelization using the most modern means of communication, of sharing Christ’s love to everyone without distinction, as St. Paul would do if he were alive today.
“It’s love and a passion for media, cinema, social media — all forms — to create community, and collaborate to do good in the world.”
Follow Sister Rose on Facebook @RosePacatte, Twitter @SrRoseMovies and Instagram at RosePacatte.