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2021 OSV Challenge will help build up Catholic innovators and non-profits…

2021 OSV Challenge will help build up Catholic innovators and non-profits…
(Image: Grant Whitty/

The OSV Institute for Catholic Innovation is accepting application submissions for the 2021 OSV Challenge, an entrepreneurial competition designed to “incubate unique project ideas in any stage from Catholics whose faith has motivated them to make a difference.” Three prizes of $100,000 each will be awarded to three Catholic non-profits; the Institute’s purpose in awarding the funds is “to build up Catholic innovators with the professional guidance, spiritual formation, and personal development needed to accelerate initiatives that will make the biggest impact on the Church and the world.”

OSV Institute President Jason Shanks explained, “We are not aiming to fund the next good idea, but to invest in people – emerging innovators and seasoned trailblazers – by forming a new generation of entrepreneurs who are not afraid to relook at how we encounter and evangelize the truth and beauty of the Catholic Church.”

Shanks continued, “The Church has always been at the forefront of great ideas – hospital systems, schools and universities, missions, shrines, and some of the greatest art known to man. The OSV Challenge is a search for Catholic innovators with world-changing ideas.”

Institute staff noted that  those who leave the Church “often cite a lack of vitality, beauty, and relatability in their churches. With pews being further emptied as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, creative solutions have never been more important.”

To stem the tide, the OSV Institute is welcoming applications from inventors, artists, entrepreneurs, community leaders and laity “ready to unleash a world-changing idea.” Areas of special interest include “Hispanic Experience, Parents & Family, Catholic Education, Disaffiliation, Youth Ministry, Parish Life, Social Justice, Technology and Creative Arts.”

Applications are being accepted at through Friday, April 2, noon (Eastern time). The Challenge will culminate with Demo Day on September 18, 2021, during which semi-finalists have an opportunity to present their final pitches to a panel of judges and investors. Participants will have the opportunity to earn additional prizes as contestants advance through the various stages of the Challenge.

CWR spoke recently with Jason Shanks about the Challenge.

CWR: What is the history of the Our Sunday Visitor organization, and the OSV Institute for Catholic Innovation?

Jason Shanks: Our Sunday Visitor is a newspaper founded in 1912 by Fr. John Noll (1875-1956), who later became Bishop John Noll of the Diocese of Fort Wayne. The paper addressed the issues of his time, particularly anti-Catholicism, and quickly grew in circulation to 500,000. That was the launch of the Our Sunday Visitor organization; we evolved to include the publication of pamphlets and books, the printing of offertory envelopes, parish services, films and much more. We’re located in Huntington, Indiana, and have 350 employees and a 250,000-square foot facility.

In 1915, the OSV organization began to give away the revenue it earned. Fr. Noll would make donations to Catholic and community organizations, and helped launch the USCCB. Over the past century, we’ve given away $85 million. That giving became more formalized over time and the OSV Institute was formed, which today has five staff members. Some people view the Institute as a foundation which offers grants, but more accurately it is like we engage in corporate giving.

We are in the second year of the OSV Challenge. We noticed that despite extensive giving to many Catholic organizations, we needed a new approach to giving. In the Church today baptisms are down, Catholic marriages are in decline and Mass attendance and Catholic school enrollment are off. Some of the programs we had been funding year after year were employing the same methods without having a lot of impact.

So, we started the OSV Challenge to look for the best ideas at solving the problems in the Church today, furthering the spread of the Gospel and promoting evangelization. We had 350 applications last year, and narrowed that number to three finalists, who each received $100,000. Those three included the Juan Diego Hispanic podcast network, the Eden Invitation and the Domestic Church project. I would encourage people to visit our OSV Challenge website and read more about these organizations. But what we found with all three is that they understood the problems of specific communities in our Church well, and had great ideas as to how to solve those problems.

CWR: What other submittals have you received?

Jason Shanks: We have received a wide range of ideas, some of which I refer to as “back of the napkin” ideas, ideas which people may literally have begun sketching out on the back of a napkin but which developed into impressive initiatives. We had a Demo Day at the end of August of last year in which 12 semi-finalists were invited to pitch their ideas, from which the three winners were selected. One I found particularly impressive was called My Prayer Corner, an initiative that literally started on the back of a napkin and became an effort to encourage people to build and maintain prayer corners in their homes to encourage family prayer.

We had ideas involving the use of technology, documentary suggestions and parish management systems. We had ideas relating to bringing Catholics together to spend time with one another, such as through coffeehouses and art studios.

CWR: How many will participate in Demo Day on September 18, 2021, and who are your judges?

Jason Shanks: We will have 12 semi-finalists, similar to last year. Our judges will be members of our board and other OSV stakeholders. Eric Groth of ODB Films is a judge. Kyle Hamilton, our OSV CEO, is another. Carolyn Woo, formerly head of Catholic Relief Services, is a third who comes to mind.

Demo Day will be an in-person event this year, but it will also be online, so people from other parts of the country who have an interest can watch virtually.

CWR: What kinds of things will your judges be looking for?

Jason Shanks: We want presenters who know the need they are trying to solve. We want innovative ideas, or at least a renewal of older ideas, and to know the impact they will have. The ideas need to be scalable and sustainable; we don’t want to fund an organization that will be out of business in a year. We’re also looking for a high caliber of leadership, which has a passion, drive, understanding of the situation of the Church and the ability to exercise the ideas they have.

CWR: What connection do you have to the bishops?

Jason Shanks: Bishop Kevin Rhoades is chair of our board. He has been active in the process of the OSV Challenge, and in 2020 gave a talk at Demo Day on how to work with a diocese. OSV also has a fantastic relationship with the other bishops as well as the USCCB.

CWR: On a more personal note, you recently had a serious health battle with COVID-19.

Jason Shanks: Yes. I have asthma, a pre-existing condition, and in November I contracted COVID-19 despite the fact that my family and I were big mask-wearers, stayed home, and didn’t eat out.

The COVID attacked my lungs, and I was taken to the hospital. They did chest x-rays and blood work. They had to intubate and sedate me, which I knew was bad news.

Before they put me under, a priest came to anoint me. As he was leaving, they pulled him aside and told him privately, “Your next call will be for his death.”

For six weeks, I was sedated and put under, attached to machines. My kidneys shut down, and I was on 24-hour dialysis. I also contracted pneumonia and sepsis. It looked bleak. My doctor didn’t think I would make it.

My wife and our friends began a novena on my behalf to St. Jude. My condition began to improve. I was like the paralytic lowered before Jesus, and He said, “Rise and walk.”

For six weeks, I was unconscious, in a dream state. When they woke me up, it took me a while to distinguish between what was real and what was not real. I couldn’t walk, talk or move my arms. I’ve had to re-learn everything since then, not just talking and walking, but how to breathe and swallow. After three months in the hospital I was able to return to work, but I’m still in therapy; I don’t have full use of my left arm, my fingertips are numb and I have trouble with balance when I stand up.

CWR: Were you afraid of dying?

Jason Shanks: No, but I was worried about those I was leaving behind. I have a stay-at-home wife, and five kids ages 12 and under. The whole family had COVID. With the kids it was mild, but my wife it hit a little harder. We’re fortunate she didn’t have to go to the hospital.

She did come to see me in the hospital when they thought I was going to die. She was in full medical attire. She didn’t want me to die alone.

She did a great job getting people to pray for me. Bishop Rhoades came in and said mass at my bedside; many priests came to visit me.

CWR: Has it brought about any change in perspective in the work you do?

Jason Shanks: My life has always been about saving souls, and I realize that our time on Earth is fleeting. This illness really helped remind me of that. I’m 44, and I had no plans of dying. But as they were preparing to incubate me, I was texting family and friends, saying goodbye.

Returning to the OSV Challenge, it demonstrates that we need impactful and effective ideas to bring people to Jesus.

CWR: What else do you want to share about the OSV Challenge?

Jason Shanks: We’re looking for great ideas to benefit the Church. Everyone is welcome, but they must meet our April 2 deadline. The online application process is easy, so don’t be intimidated. We look forward to hearing from you.

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