Dr. Richard Fehring (right) receives an award from the American Academy of Nursing in October for Marquette University’s work on Natural Family Planning. (Submitted photo)

It’s been an exciting season of national distinction and innovative new developments at the Marquette Institute for Natural Family Planning.

In late October, the institute’s Marquette Model for Natural Family Planning was designated an Academy Edge Runner by the American Academy of Nursing. The recognition comes as the institute is developing a new mobile app that will increase accessibility and understanding of the Marquette Model for soon-to-be-married couples.

Dr. Mary Schneider, director of the institute, said she is excited at the prospect of the Marquette Model earning more visibility and accessibility in the mainstream world.

“This is a time we are being called to be who we are as Catholics,” said Dr. Schneider. “My goal is to get Dr. (Richard) Fehring’s work out there as much as possible, not just in the research and science world, but applicable to the real world of mobile apps.”

Dr. Fehring is a professor emeritus of nursing at Marquette and the former director of the Marquette Institute for Natural Family Planning. In 1999, he developed the Marquette Model, which uses an algorithm to help couples identify their “fertile window” around the day of the woman’s ovulation.

Incorporating the ClearBlue Easy Fertility Monitor, which interprets biological indicators of fertility secreted in urine, the Marquette Model is widely regarded as one of the most evidence-based models of NFP and is also used to monitor a woman’s fertility as a vital sign of health. It is taught by health care professionals who are specially trained by the institute in an online asynchronous teaching environment.

The app being developed for the Marquette Model will focus primarily on couples who are new to NFP rather than existing users. It’s a pivot from research focus to consumer needs, said Dr. Schneider, which came about after a conversation with the Archdiocesan Office for Evangelization and Catechesis.

“One of the challenges we have with Natural Family Planning is to make it user-friendly,” said Pete Burds, director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “The vast majority of weddings we have in the archdiocese are people in their 20s and 30s. Because of the nature of our world today, and Natural Family Planning being kind of a countercultural decision, we need to be able to take away the typical stumbling blocks or barriers and to build an ease of use that is on par with other things that people use.”

“We talked with them about the ideal product we could provide for couples who are preparing for marriage,” said Dr. Schneider. “Pete said, ‘If my marriage prep teachers could simply tell engaged couples, ‘Pull out your phone, download this app, and we’ll walk you through it.’”

In addition to offering instructions on how to get started with NFP, the app will incorporate excerpts from Scripture, Humanae Vitae, and other Catholic teachings — “pulling together faith and reason,” said Dr. Schneider.

The target demographic is not just Catholic couples, although the app will make it clear that the Marquette Method is rooted in the teachings of the Church.

“This is not a Fertility Awareness Method. It’s a Natural Family Planning method,” said Dr. Schneider. Fertility Awareness Method is a term used to refer to methods of natural contraception, as opposed to Natural Family Planning, which is not contraceptive in nature, but rather works in cooperation with naturally occurring periods of fertility and infertility. “There is that behavioral piece that we must help couples understand. We want to have a loving, supportive message and catechesis that is inviting and not overwhelming.”

“It’s not just engaging people who are already won over on NFP and are going to do it. It’s about engaging the couples who are on the fence and not sure,” said Burds. “This is a way we can push beyond the people who are already won over.”

The infrastructure for the app is currently in development, with completion expected around next spring. The app will be piloted in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and in the Diocese of Metuchen in New Jersey, which is collaborating with the institute on this project.

“We are doing this in phases with the idea that the foundation is scalable for additional phases,” said Dr. Schneider, adding that a future version of the app could offer resources for existing users of the model. “This is a start. It’s going to be buildable with fluid technology.”