Originally published on March 28

DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) — It’s been a brutal few years, from the pandemic to civil unrest and more. Everyone has dealt with it in their own way. But amidst the turmoil, more than 200 million people have turned to a northern Minnesota man for a sense of calm and peace. A Duluth priest is now an international success story.

The story began in a humble fashion. Father Mike Schmitz had a pretty typical Minnesota Catholic upbringing; 22% of the state identifies with the Catholic faith.

“I did not like going to mass. I would say I hated going to mass,” Schmitz said. “(But) when I was 15 years old, I had this awareness … I believe it was the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Going to the next step of becoming a priest took some self-convincing.

“I thought, ‘God you’ve given me so much. If you ever ask for me to do anything for you, I’ll do it,'” he said. “My second thought was, ‘If you want me to hear someone’s confession, I’ll do it.’ My third thought was, ‘Oh, she’s really cute.’ Which, priests don’t get married.”

Nonetheless, he decided to go all in. He now lives on campus and leads the Catholic ministry at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and oversees teen ministry for the whole Duluth diocese.

“I have to say ever since I’ve been ordained, I don’t think there’s been more than five minutes that I’ve been lonely,” he said.

He has been busy ever since, but in 2020, he made extra time for a new project. He says he felt the weight of the world in a tumultuous time.

“When I turned to the Bible, it was an internal wisdom. And it reminded me, even as bad as it is, it’s been worse than this and God hasn’t left his people,” he said. “And I said I want to read the Bible every day and make a podcast.”

Which is what he did. What happened next was something neither he nor anyone else could have ever imagined.

Web Extra: Listen To The First Episode Of ‘The Bible In A Year’ Podcast

Schmitz teamed up with production company Ascension and Maple Grove Bible Scolar Jeff Cavins to break the complicated book into 365, 20-minute daily podcasts. The result was an instant success in the podcasting world.

“My producer called and said, ‘You’re number one in the country.’ I said, ‘Number one at what?'” Schmitz recalls. “‘Joe Rogan, Ben Shapiro, everybody, you’re number one in the country.’ … Who could have thunk it? We were shocked.”

They now have more than 238 million downloads and counting, landing a billboard in Times Square. They have listeners of other faiths and atheist followers from around the world as well.

“The reaction the response from my fellow Minnesotans has been, ‘We’re really proud of you and of my family,'” Schmitz said. “Here is something that addresses the crisis of the moment and transcends it. So that doesn’t surprise me, but what surprises me is that it’s the one that I did that was helpful or successful in this particular way.”

He says the credit does not go to him; he is just passing the peace.

Schmitz has already started a 2022 version of the “Bible in a Year” podcast.

Tuesday on WCCO 4 News at 6 p.m. — Father Mike Schmitz opens up about the reputation of the Catholic Church, and explains what kind of response he’s gotten from listeners around the world.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield