DULUTH, Minn. – Sometime last spring, feeling distressed and distracted by all that was going on in the world, the Rev. Mike Schmitz turned to the Bible.
"I realized it was grounding me in a unique way," the Duluth Catholic priest said. "It helped me find a sense of peace."
That gave Schmitz, an avid podcast and audiobook consumer, an idea: If others were seeking similar refuge from the chaos of 2020, why not create a podcast walking them through the holy book?
On Jan. 1, he debuted "The Bible in a Year," a 365-day series of episodes in which he will read aloud and provide commentary on the entire text by the end of 2021.
By the following day, the podcast had soared to the No. 1 spot on Apple's podcast charts, overtaking well-known true crime shows, comedy bits, political programs and news briefings.
"The Bible in a Year" was iTunes' most popular podcast for 17 consecutive days and has remained on Apple's Top 15 list ever since. It has been downloaded more than 33 million times, according to Ascension Press, the Pennsylvania-based Catholic multimedia network in charge of production.
"It was a pleasant surprise because I'm literally just reading the Bible," Schmitz said. "It's just what people are hungry for, and that was really encouraging."
He teamed up with Twin Cities-based Bible scholar Jeff Cavins, who is featured regularly on the podcast to introduce new Biblical eras and explain upcoming characters and themes. Cavins developed the popular "Great Adventure Bible Timeline," which organizes all 73 books into a reading plan centered on the narrative parts of the text.
"A lot of people want to read the Bible, but they don't know how," Cavins said. "You can't look at it as a storybook — it's a library of books."
Both Schmitz and Cavins have years of experience recording other podcasts, which is perhaps why the instant success of "The Bible in a Year" caught them off guard.