Project links Catholic institutions across nation

It has a page for virtually every parish, school, health care and service organization.

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CORRECTION: The article incorrectly states the number of Knights of Columbus councils that already have OCN web pages built, due to a reporter error. Dan Roach intends to build web pages for all 14,000 councils, but the web pages do not exist yet.

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WALLA WALLA -- Five years ago, Dan Roach, a Walla Walla attorney, looked around at neighboring faces in the pews of St. Patrick Parish and realized his fellow churchgoers were strangers.

"How do I know more about these people?" Roach asked himself. He asked the question so frequently he decided to answer it himself.

In July, Roach launched Our Catholic Neighborhood (ourcatholicneighborhood.com), a website where someone can look up every Catholic institution in the country.

Our Catholic Neighborhood provides the architecture for an immense online Catholic database. The website has a page for virtually every parish, school, health care and service organization affiliated with the Catholic Church.

Roach and his wife. Jacquie, have uploaded basic information -- such as location, contact information and employees -- for nearly every Catholic institution in the nation, with the hope that each institution will then assume control over its own page and update it.

Roach has built web pages for 20,000 parishes; 7,500 Catholic schools; 14,000 Knights of Columbus councils; and countless other charity and service organizations in the U.S.

An online viewer in Walla Walla, for example, can look up the three parishes in town and find the OCN web pages for Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Patrick parishes.

A member of St. Patrick's, Roach has used his parish's web page as an example of how comprehensive the OCN site can be.

Church members can post bulletins, update the directory and register or connect with informal parish groups, even down to the Coffee and Donuts Committee.

"Every parish, and every big group or small group within it, has a means to get the word out about who they are and what they do," Roach said.

The hardest task remaining is how to let the thousands of Catholic parishes, charity groups, hospitals and schools in the country know that the OCN website exists. The majority of these web pages are skeletal, with minimal or already outdated information.

To create the vast online network that Roach envisions, each Catholic group or institution must flesh out its web page with current hours, events and news postings.

Requests to become web page managers have been trickling in slowly but steadily since the website went live last summer.

Roach is quick to point out that the OCN website is not supposed to replace parish or Catholic school websites, but to act as a portal that funnels interested people to Catholic groups and organizations.

The OCN website functions as a hybrid of a Google search engine and the Yellow Pages. Besides being able to look up the Catholic presence in any city or town, the OCN website also provides links to hundreds of online Catholic resources.

"Our ambitious plan is to have the OCN website become the natural starting point for people searching on the Internet for anything and everything Catholic," explained Roach in an email.

The website has no advertising, which Roach says is in keeping with the mission of OCN. The only cost is for individuals who wish to build a professional profile and advertise their services on their parish's site for $10 a month.

"It's like a mini Catholic Chamber of Commerce," Roach said. "This is the only thing you pay for."

Eventually, Roach hopes the "Catholics in the Workplace" professional profiles will cover the costs of operating the website.

For the past four years, Roach and his family, along with a few committed investors, have donated their time and money to develop Our Catholic Neighborhood.

He grimaces ever so slightly when he totals the thousands of hours he and Ken Treis, the website developer, have logged.

"It's been a labor of love for Dan," said Treis, a former Walla Walla High School student and Whitman College graduate. "He first told me of these ideas over a campfire when we were up at Curlew Lake, in Northcentral Washington, four years ago now. It's just been an idea that he's been driven to make work and I'm sure he will."

"The purpose is to show the connectedness that exists locally, regionally, globally among Catholics," Roach said. "If we can do anything good, it will be to help visual those lines that connect us all."

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