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Creativity Takes Wing on a Mac and a Prayer : Technology: A priest banks on computer art to provide youths with options. The church's role, he says, is not just to develop the soul but also the intellect and spirit.

February 26, 1995

The Rev. Gerardo De Tomasi of Holy Cross Catholic Church is a creator of opportunities. Using five donated computers, De Tomasi has opened a new world for neighborhood young people that flock in and out of his tiny office. Every afternoon, the priest gives free lessons on drawing with computers, a skill he thinks will provide options for the mostly underprivileged parishioners.

The 56-year-old De Tomasi practices what he preaches. He is enrolled in an adult computer-drawing class and teaches everything he learns to his students, who have multiplied from four when the lessons started two months ago to 25 today. Ranging in age from 12 to 27, most have a desire to learn and a capacity to draw, the only requisites in a classroom where origin and legal status are not taken into consideration.

Now he faces the task of finding the resources to further his program and help take his students from the classroom to the work force. He was interviewed by Leila Cobo-Hanlon.

About three years ago, I asked some youngsters from our youth group to draw some posters for me, and I realized some of them had a real talent for drawing.

I thought, these young people don't have the possibility of developing this talent professionally. I thought, why can't we do something to awaken this talent? And I dreamt of being able to help them draw using a computer.

Do you remember the story of the person who discovered the Italian painter Giotto? They say there was this famous Florentine painter who was walking in the fields, and he found a young shepherd--Giotto--tending his sheep.

He asked Giotto to draw something, and the boy drew a perfect circle. And the famous painter took him in and taught him, and Giotto became one of the founders of modern Italian painting.

I'm not looking for Giottos, but I want these young people to be able to profit from their ability to draw.

I knew something about computers because I had done layout work for newsletters and books, but I was no expert. I started taking some drawing classes--I still do--at the Freeman Occupational Center so I would be able to teach the youngsters.

Then I started looking for computers, but this is a parish with very few resources, and ours is not a big endeavor. We are in a low-income area: Ninety percent of those who live here are Hispanic and undocumented.

I asked several companies and individuals for donations, but either because I was a priest or because this was for Hispanics, nobody wanted to help.

I finally went to the (Los Angeles Catholic) diocese and they gave me five Macintosh computers, and I was able to start the lessons.

*

We had four or five boys come in for the first class. Later that evening, one of them--he was 18 years old--was killed. His friends had brought him in to get him off the streets and they say he was very interested in learning. But he left here and was knifed down.

Now I have 25 young men and women. I even have an adult who speaks very little English, so he comes in with his small son who helps him read the manuals.

My ambitions are modest. First, I want these young people to know, see and understand that they have possibilities to get ahead.

And second, I want them to see that the Church is not only for the soul but also for the development of man as a whole, for his intellect and spirit.

I want them to know a priest that not only gives the Mass or communion. And this is not only for Catholics. This is for anyone who has the capacity to draw. No one forces the students to come here, so all I ask is that they show some interest.

This is not the place if you want to come and play. Myself, I study for the classes I take, and I have to prepare the lessons and the homework I give to my students and I have to encourage them.

The least rewarding aspect of this is that some of the youngsters, even if they're very talented, get discouraged because they find the work is too hard. But I also have a 16-year-old girl who finally discovered this is what she wants to do with her life. She'll be going to a computer school during the summer.

I see this as an after-school activity, for them to discover something out of school. There are so many things to teach them, but they have to learn the basics first. All I need is more computers.

You know, in the schools they don't teach them how to draw. I'm amazed no one in the schools has figured that computers can be fun. Their computer teacher couldn't believe they could do those drawings with the same computers. At first, the schools had asked me to teach word processing, but I said no. For word processing I probably would have found the resources I need, but they can learn that anywhere.

*

And anyway, will they come here voluntarily to learn to type? Once they learn the basics of drawing, they can go back and learn how to type.

I think there are many opportunities for them to find work, many small printing shops that look for someone who can draw, make a layout, modify a drawing, and they will be able to do that. Some of them can do it right now. They're better than me already.

Right now, I want them to learn as much as possible from the MacDraw program. Then they'll learn layouts with Pagemaker, and in a year, I'd like us to be doing Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. But I need more computers. All I ask for is a Macintosh built in the last 10 years. And with $10,000 to 15,000, we can stay ahead and buy two bigger computers and a laser printer.

Then, we'll be set.

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