Local Catholics who’ve tuned into the popular Catholic podcasts “The Bible in a Year” and “The Catechism in a Year” are encouraging others to start listening.

Rosemarie Trester, a member of Holy Name Parish in Sheboygan, has been doing both since the beginning of 2023.

“It has changed me. This has truly awakened something in me. I can’t say enough positive about it,” she said. “It has been absolutely awesome. It has made my faith stronger and I truly believe God called me to do this.”

Each podcast features — or will feature, as “The Catechism in a Year” just kicked off Jan. 1 — 365 episodes by Fr. Mike Schmitz, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and a chaplain for the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Fr. Schmitz was known for his inspiring, down-to-earth YouTube videos before Bible in a Year launched Jan. 1, 2021. Listeners who liked it starting asking that Ascension, a long-time Catholic media producer, create a Catechism in a Year podcast. Both podcasts jumped to No. 1 on Apple Podcasts after their releases and can be found free to listen to anytime on any podcast and music streaming channels, as well as on YouTube.

Local listeners include convert and life-long Catholics — including some priests.

Fr. Mark Brandl, pastor of the Sheboygan North Catholic Parishes including Holy Name of Jesus, finds Fr. Schmitz’s expressive take on things refreshing, as well as his use of words like “gosh, “golly” and “bonkers.”

“That’s what I really liked. I really liked his vernacular. You can hear his enthusiasm,” Fr. Brandl said. “I like that and I think people will like that.” He completed Bible in a Year, and even though it is essentially a refresher of what he learned in preparations to be a priest, he found it to be so good that he started over again at Day 1. “I would anticipate I would do this for the rest of my life. It’s just very good. I recommend it to a lot of people. It’s helped my faith.”

“Fr. Mike is fabulous,” Trester said. “If you listen to him, you can see the love of God radiate from him.”

“Fr. Mike Schmitz actually makes it fun,” said Erin Epping, a parishioner of our Lady of Good Hope in Milwaukee, who is listening to Catechism in a Year this year and considering Bible in a Year for 2024. “I think the most impactful part about CIAY so far has been gaining a better understanding of the Trinity. I now have an image of God the Father and God the Son hugging, with the Holy Spirit being the love between the two of them.”

Epping, who was raised Lutheran and became Catholic when she got married, decided to listen because she wanted to understand Catholic teachings better.

“Our parish is going through a collaboration effort with two other parishes, and I am leading our planning team for Evangelization. I thought doing the podcast would help me with understanding how to explain to others about the Catholic faith,” she said.

Fr. Matthew Perumpil, M.I., who described the Catechism as “a hidden treasure of the Catholic Church,” said he hopes many Catholics will take advantage of the Catechism podcast to learn about it anew as an adult.

“I said I started it and I encouraged people. It’s such a nice thing. It’s been exciting for me as a priest to listen and reflect and understand in a new way,” said Fr. Perumpil, pastor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in West Allis. His life experiences since the seminary have added to his evolving understanding of and appreciation for the Catechism, he said.

Fr. Perumpil, who became the leader of his parish in 2021 when St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Immaculate Heart of Mary and Mary Queen of Heaven merged, said he sees a role for Catechism in a Year in particular at this time when his three parishes continue to become one.

“It’s a great foundation for us to renew and become a new faith community. That’s where I really thought this was appropriate and an ideal time,” he said.

In 365 episodes that anyone may start at any time — even Lent — Fr. Schmitz begins each Bible in a Year podcast reading from a mapped-out plan of chapters of two books of the Bible at a time, as well as the Psalms, and then offers a lively, homily-like commentary and prayer. He does not read the Bible straight through, but by Day 365, he has read all of the Old and New Testaments.

Bible in a Year podcasts run about 22 minutes per episode, while Catechism in a Year episodes are about 14 minutes each with shorter reading segments of the most recent Catechism approved by St. John Paul II as pope in 1992. Catechism in a Year also features Fr. Schmitz’s commentary and daily prayer.

Lynn Bontempo, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Parish, started Bible in a Year last May and listened to multiple episodes a day to finish in December. Like Fr. Brandl, she is listening to Bible in a Year for the second time now — one episode per day this time.

“It’s God’s word! He’s talking to me, Lynn Bontempo. He’s revealing to me who he is. I’m always learning something new,” Bontempo said. Asked how the experience has shaped her faith and relationship with God, Bontempo responded, “I don’t think I can explain that. It brings me to tears. I am so blessed, so thankful.”

Bontempo and other listeners encouraged people to stick with it, even if sometimes things get confusing, and to find other people among family, friends or fellow parish members to share the journey and provide incentive to push play every day. Some find reading ahead, reading along or playing back portions helpful.

A weekly discussion group has helped Hayes Wass stay on track with Catechism in a Year. He was able to join a weekly discussion group offered by Milwaukee’s Family of Four Parishes — Three Holy Women, Ss. Peter and Paul, Old St. Mary and Our Lady of Divine Providence. It offers a Tuesday morning in-person group as well as a Thursday night group on Zoom.

“I’m currently halfway through the Bible in a Year, but it’s taking me a lot longer than a year. Due to the lack of community doing it with me, I’ve wound up missing days or putting it down for a bit when I’m not personally getting a lot out of it,” said Wass, a member of St. Charles in Hartland.

Both podcasts are extremely fulfilling and extremely challenging, he said.

“Life gets busy, some days you feel more motivated than others and you’ll miss some days. The key is to choose to spend time with God every day, catch up as soon as you can when you miss, and find a community to do it with you, or start your own!” Wass said.

“Try it. You won’t regret it. It’s so helpful when Fr. Mike talks after every daily reading. If you can’t wrap your head around some of the readings, that’s OK. It may make more sense later. Keep pushing play!” Bontempo said. She has recruited other family members to also listen.

“I know some of the information may seem difficult to understand but keep going. There isn’t a test at the end!” Epping said.

Trester, who also recruited friends to listen to the podcasts, said she cried when she heard the Book of Job. She initially thought it was because she, too, had lost a lot when her husband, Bob, passed away in September 2021. Later, she saw her tears differently.

“I realized God was calling me to him. I was now in the story. It was me belonging and being part of something much, much greater than myself.”

Fr. Mike Schmitz