DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) -- It started as a northern Minnesota man's pandemic project and turned into an international phenomenon. A campus minister at the University of Minnesota Duluth, like so many others, felt the heaviness of the world in 2020.
That's why Father Mike Schmitz started the "Bible in a Year" podcast. To put it modestly, it exploded in popularity, even landing him in an advertisement in Times Square.
A journal from a stranger was a gift Schmitz never expected to receive. The journal was left with words thanking Schmitz for some of the last words his wife would ever hear.
"'I want to encourage you as God's words and yours encourage many. She'd want you to have this,'" Schmitz said, reading the message. "I can't read it out loud without getting choked up, no matter how many times I've read it."
The Brainerd native is still getting his mind around how his Duluth pandemic project landed him in the spotlight.
Web Extra: Listen To The First Episode Of 'The Bible In A Year' Podcast
His daily 20-minute readings and explainers went to the very top of Apple podcast charts, with 238 million streams and counting. He has Protestant , Jewish and atheist followers, giving his embattled denomination some positive attention. He acknowledges that, for some, the idea of trusting in the Catholic Church can be triggering.
"Hopefully this is helpful, especially for those who have been hurt, because that's real, hopefully there's something healing," he said.
Sometimes healing, sometimes just soothing. One mother wrote to say her dying son also clung to his words.
"She said, 'When he couldn't hear my voice, we would turn up the volume and he would hear your voice,'" Schmitz said. "To be there for that young man as he stepped from this world into the next ... what an honor."
So amidst the unintended fame, he says he's found unintended fortune.
"I think we need the wisdom of God here, and I just didn't realize how many lives would change. And just to be a part of it has been the biggest, one of the biggest honors of my life," he said.
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