Fr. John Pungente, S.J., with the Medium and Light Award presented to him by the Marshall McLuhan Initiative Photo courtesy of the Marshall McLuhan Initiative

McLuhan award goes to Jesuit communicator

  • June 28, 2014

TORONTO - Media guru Fr. John Pungente, S.J., has been fighting media illiteracy for half-a-century, and for his work the Marshall McLuhan Initiative has awarded Pungente and the Jesuit Communication Project the fourth annual Medium and Light Award for significantly contributing to religious communication.

Pungente and the JCP were selected as this year’s recipients of the award for “their longstanding dedication to media literacy in the tradition of Marshall McLuhan’s lament, ‘I don’t want them to believe me. I just want them to think,’ ” said Howard R. Engel, director of the Marshall McLuhan Initiative. “His work for media literacy in the context of his own Ignatian spirituality bears eloquent testimony to finding God in all things, including the media.”

The Marshall McLuhan Initiative celebrates McLuhan, a Canadian, devout Catholic, English professor and commu-nications visionary. McLuhan is famous for coining the terms “the medium is the message” and “Global Village.”

Pungente calls McLuhan a media genius and had the benefit of learning from him when he studied theology in Toronto.

“His work was most influential in the development in the key concepts of media literacy, which I helped devise and which I used around the world in one form or another,” said Pungente. “I feel honoured in winning the award and being placed in the company of past winners like Pierre Babin and Eric McLuhan, Marshall’s son.

“Thirty years ago, the JCP was founded to work with churches in Canada in the area of communica-tions,” said Pungente. “My own sea of expertise has always been media literacy, teaching people to watch carefully and think critically. Our work is primarily education, either through classes at St. Mike’s Uni-versity or teacher’s workshops or summer schools.”

This year marks Pungente’s 54th year of teaching media literacy in one form or another and marks the JCP’s 30th anniver-sary. The JCP began with a staff of five full-time and two part-time employees. Today, Pungente is the executive and sole member, raising funds to keep the organization going and has no desire to cease his work with media literacy. He teaches media and religion at the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto and in August will be running a two-day workshop for deacons from Ontario and New York.

The number one misconception the public has about media literacy is they think it’s about protecting people from the media, instead of preparing them, said Pungente.

“Many people still believe in a protectionist theory that media literacy is there to protect children from the evils of the media, including the Internet. The reality is that media literacy is not meant as a protection, but as preparation that gives people the tools that will allow them to understand and live properly in the mass-mediated world of ours.”

From the JCP grew the Canadian Association of Media Education Organizations, of which Pungente is the president and which ensures that media literacy is part of every curricu-lum at every grade level in all provinces. Pungente also co-au-thored with fellow Jesuit Father Monty Williams books about media and the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, such as Finding God in the Dark: Taking the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to the Movies. He hopes to take these spiritual exercises and make them more easily accessible by creating different versions.

Pungente also wrote, co-pro-duced and hosted national televi-sion programs on film for teachers on BRAVO!. A year ago, he started, the blog for Jesuits in English Canada that focuses on their culture, daily lives, seasons and spirituality. He says the site averages 3,000 hits a week.

“Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have both written on the importance of social media and how it can be used to evangelize and that’s what I’m hoping,” he said.

He also hopes, along with Williams, to find ways of presenting the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius in the form of an app or video game. 

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