“I could have been the first ex-Mr. Angelina Jolie,” chuckled Father Mike Schmitz.
In the mid-1990s, Fr. Schmitz auditioned for the male lead role to star opposite Jolie in the movie Hackers. The actor who won the role married the star briefly.
But between his rugged good looks and radio-ready voice, it’s easy to imagine a different career path for Fr. Schmitz.
While some might have lamented the missed opportunity, Fr. Schmitz is grateful.
“Alas, the Lord had other plans,” he said with a grin.
As a teenager, a journey toward the priesthood seemed unlikely for Fr. Schmitz. His family attended mass every week no matter where they were in the world. Skipping church was not allowed, unless you were too sick to do anything the rest of the day. Fr. Schmitz recalls choosing boredom in his room all day just to get out of going.
Then, around the age of 15, he was attending mass when he was overcome with a sense of repentance. He finally understood his own need for salvation and wanted to confess his sins.
“I could wait until Saturday, but I knew where the priest lived,” he remembered. So, he rode his bike to the priest’s house, knocked on the door, and asked if he could confess. The priest graciously invited him in and heard him.
Fr. Schmitz left feeling like he encountered God.
He also decided that if he were ever to become a priest, he would also pay it forward by hearing confession from anyone anytime they needed it.
Becoming a priest was not a decision he pursued lightly. He considered it for over ten years while studying and learning to pray. He was overseas serving as a missionary when he realized seminary was his next step.
Choosing to follow a call to the priesthood was costly—it would mean bringing to a close a long-term relationship with a woman.
“There was sorrow, but also joy,” Fr. Schmitz reflected.
The experience taught him an important lesson.
“We can judge ourselves and say, ‘If this is what God is calling me to, I shouldn’t feel any sorrow. I shouldn’t be sad, or it shouldn’t be difficult,'” he remembered thinking.
But that is not how life with God works.
The reality is that joy is often accompanied by sorrow.
Fr. Schmitz explained it by using the analogy of scuba diving. The surface can be tumultuous, but once you flip over the edge of the boat and enter the water below, there is peace. Sorrow rocked him on the surface, but peace and joy were below.
“I can be grieved and still trust,” Fr. Schmitz said. “If there was just pain or just sorrow, I don’t think I would have done it. I’m not that good of a person.”
Part of becoming a priest is to promise obedience to the bishop, meaning Fr. Schmitz works where he is assigned. When he received his first assignment at the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth, he was excited to work with students. Then, another priest died unexpectedly, and he was sent to a local parish to fill in.
He worked for two years as a local priest (who could see the childhood home of Bob Dylan from his office window). The time gave him a perspective on life not ruled by the school calendar.
When the time was right, he returned to the Newman Center to work with students, training them in the beliefs of the church. He has found that many students are “culturally Catholic,” but have not yet had personal encounters with God. His job is to facilitate that encounter, while helping students answer big questions about the meaning of their lives.
In 2021, he started The Bible in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz)™ featuring Jeff Cavins. The show walks his audience through the entire Bible over the course of the year. At times, it has been the top show in Apple Podcasts.
He saw the Bible’s teachings as exactly what the world needed after a chaotic pandemic year. “When I start getting overly anxious, and distracted, and distressed about the current news cycle, I have to realize that this is not new,” Fr. Schmitz said. “People have not only lived through this before, but they’ve lived through it as part of the Great Story. This doesn’t disqualify me from being part of God’s story. It doesn’t give me permission to throw up my hands.”
Instead, his hope is that those who listen with him will have a greater appreciation for their part in that story. “By the end of the year, I want people we journeyed with to have a bit more of an understanding of how God sees it,” he said.
How does he handle the success of Bible in a Year?
“I’ve had two other podcasts where it was just me—just my thoughts—and neither did as well,” he said with a grin. “When I start just reading the Bible into a microphone, it does well. If I take any credit for that, I’m a fool,” he said, chuckling. “If anything, it’s humbling. These are not my words. They’re God’s words.”
While Fr. Schmitz is demure about his role, he has made his significant gifts available to God. The results speak for themselves. His life may have turned out differently than he originally hoped, but he is now doing something much bigger than starring alongside one of the most famous actresses in the world …
He’s changing the world for the better.
September 2021 Issue