Teresa Molina helps Maria Martinez set up a phone for simultaneous translation during Mass at St. Alice Parish in Springfield. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Teresa Molina helps Maria Martinez set up a phone for simultaneous translation during Mass at St. Alice Parish in Springfield. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

SPRINGFIELD — For years the first item on every pastoral council meeting at St. Alice Parish was unity. “We’re in danger of being two parishes in one building,” longtime council member Mike Whitney remembers hearing time and again. The concern was mirrored across both the English-speaking and the Spanish-speaking communities of parishioners.

That issue has receded somewhat, in part because of technological progress and, in Whitney’s words, the arrival at St. Alice of “a young techie”: Father Mark Bentz, the parish’s pastor since 2016.

Father Bentz signed the parish on with Interactio, a translation service that uses an app that parishioners download on their smartphones. The service isn’t free, but Father Bentz decided the investment was worthwhile.

Parishioners click on the Interactio app on their phone or tablet then listen, with earbuds, as an interpreter reads the homily that Father Bentz provided. If he doesn’t get it to the translator early enough, the  interpreter works on the fly. Interpreters also read the readings in the appropriate language. Five volunteer translators/interpeters perform this ministry.

Father Bentz says he found Interactio while trying to troubleshoot the problem of his limited time. He was teaching adult education classes but didn’t have the time to teach both in Spanish and English. He knew there were ways of meeting that challenge; the United Nations does it daily.

“My brother said, ‘There’s probably an app for that,’” Father Bentz says.

He looked into it and chose Interactio, partly because they responded to his inquiry and partly because of their story. Interactio was launched to serve the needs of the developers’ church, says Father Bentz.

Beginning in 2017, St. Alice was the first Catholic church to use the service. Most faith-based subscribers are evangelical churches, many of which serve several language groups.

St. Alice uses the app for the big feasts and solemnities, the holy days of obligation. The hope is to have it at every Mass, Father Bentz says.

The parish doesn’t use Interactio to translate every part of the holy day Masses: Father Bentz celebrates the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Latin.

Outside of Mass, the parish uses the translation service at classes and training events.

There have been glitches. The main challenge was getting people to use it, according to Father Bentz. The parish also had to make its connectivity more robust in order to accommodate so many people connecting to the web-based app from the church.

Both were little more than hiccups.

“I don’t know why other Catholic parishes aren’t doing it,” says Father Bentz.