Scroll through the iTunes reviews of the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast, and you’ll find comparisons to Bill & Ted and Beavis and Butthead. The priests who produce the show don’t take those as insults.
“I think everyone knows there are a lot of other podcasts out there that you can get better content, more organized, more professional, but there is a particular character of this one,” said Father John Nepil, who started the podcast with Father Mike Rapp when they were in seminary together out of a desire to share all the things they were learning.
“It’s kind of like walking through the zoo,” said Father Rapp. “You see all these cool things, and you say, ‘Oh, look at that, look at that, look at that,’ and there is this wonder and curiosity, and we wanted to share that. We wanted to bring others to the zoo I guess.”
THE J.10 Initiative
During his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about how the ‘New Evangelization’ must include technology and the “Digital Continent.” Father Nepil and Father Rapp aren’t sure who had the podcast idea first, but they started using a sound studio at the St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.
“We lost half of our first recordings, because we didn’t know how to use the studio, but we eventually figured it out,” said Father Rapp.
The first podcast came out in January 2010, and the priests dubbed it a ‘J.10 Initiative.’ The show recently hit the 350-episode mark, and today the line-up of podcasting priests also includes Father Nathan Goebel and Father Michael O’Loughlin. All four priests are members of ‘Companions of Christ,’ an association of priests formed in 2007.
“The podcast is a fruit of our common life together,” said Father Nepil. “What you are glimpsing into is the Companions’ life, because all the podcast is we hit record and we continue what we are already living.”
(Catholic) Stuff You Should Know
The name of the show is borrowed (with permission) from the popular Stuff You Should Know podcast, and the format is two priests just having a conversation, starting with some light-hearted banter.
“Not being at the pulpit, not doing spiritual counseling, but just interacting with each other and having a friendship with each other,” said Father O’Loughlin, a Byzantine priest. “People really do feel like they are having access to something that is usually hidden.”
Father O’Loughlin is usually paired with Father Goebel, pastor of St. Joan of Arc in Arvada, while Fathers Nepil and Rapp typically podcast together from Rome. Father Goebel said it can be good for parishioners to hear priests having regular, everyday interactions.
“Most people don’t have a conversation with their priest unless they need something,” said Father Goebel. “They might say hello to him after Mass but normally they are in front of him receiving a sacrament or a homily, and rarely is it just a dialogue.”
Every episode then transitions to a topic — an idea, a reading, a tradition, etc. — although it’s far from a structured presentation.
“Sometimes you go to the store before you make dinner, and you know exactly what you are going to the store for,” said Father Goebel. “But sometimes the kids ask you, ‘What are we having for dinner?’ and you have to look in the fridge and see what’s there and play a little Iron Chef.”
The priests said they feel part of the beauty of the show is that they create it together and it comes from the heart, and with 2,000 years of Church history there is never a shortage of things to talk about.
“Your experience might be going to church and it might feel routine, but the whole Catholic world is so rich and densely populated that there is a lot to be curious about and to be interested in,” said Father Rapp.
The podcast has a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating on iTunes and the show’s Facebook page has 15,000 followers. A friend who helps behind the scenes said they average almost 140,000 downloads a week, but the priests say that’s not their focus.
“From our perspective, we don’t really care about ratings or numbers, and in fact, we have been intentional over the years to not go by the numbers,” said Father Nepil. “We just want to share the life and be ourselves and hopefully communicate something of the Gospel and of faith.”
And while the priests said they do read the comments and criticisms, they care a lot more when they hear they’ve helped change someone’s life.
“There are many people who have said, ‘I was not Catholic and I started listening and I am in RCIA now, I am coming into the Church, please pray for me’,” said Father O’Loughlin.
The priests said they’ve also heard vocations stories or how an episode helped someone through a hard time, and they know the credit belongs to the Holy Spirit.
“I say something stupid, and God still really brings something great out of it,” said Father Rapp. “I am really grateful for all the feedback we get, they tell us when they are edified and something good happens, they forgive someone, they make an act of love, they go and serve the poor, or they go and spend time in prayer. That stuff is just joy for a priest.”
Podcast Website: https://catholicstuffpodcast.com/