It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since we launched Where Peter Is. That’s right, on February 1, 2018, Paul Fahey clicked “publish” on a post entitled “Love the Pope,” and thus began a project that continues to grow and flourish, four years later. What began as a group blog started by four lay Catholics (Pedro Gabriel, Brian Killian, Paul Fahey, and myself) is now a popular multimedia website with millions of views, over 1,500 posts, and contributions from over 90 different writers from all over the world. We’ve also published prayer resources, study guides, translations of articles and documents into English, produced podcasts and videos, and helped build a network of support for Catholics and those interested in the Church.
Thanks to God’s blessings and loving concern for the future of the Church, Pope Francis is still going strong at 85 years old. He continues to surprise and spiritually nourish the faithful and nonbelievers alike, and despite their best efforts, his critics have been unable to stop him in his mission of renewal and conversion of the Church. As meager as our contribution has been, the opportunity to help support the Church by promoting his vision has been an honor.
Readers have told me that our articles and podcasts have helped them change their minds about Pope Francis, answered their questions about the faith, and, in some cases, helped save them from becoming involved in dangerous and ideological movements, warned them about false apparitions and misinformation, and some have even said that our site has helped save their faith. There are many Catholics who are determined to undermine Pope Francis, and many people have chosen to focus their ire on our website and its contributors.
I am not going to lie. The trolls have taken a toll on me. I always enjoyed engaging with people on social media, including those with whom I disagree. But something happened in the last couple of years, as Where Peter Is has grown in notoriety and influence. Suddenly, strangers started coming out of nowhere to accuse, insult, and condemn. Thankfully, I think I’m finally starting to develop thicker skin. Have I finally begun to accept this “new normal” of daily ridicule by dozens of anonymous people on the internet? I think so. (I hope so.)
I am immensely grateful for all the work, love, and support that our contributors have put in. Last year, in spite of everything, was our most successful yet. They—and you, our readers—are why we’ve made it through four successful years of growth and blessings. It is amazing how the Holy Spirit can work through ordinary people living ordinary lives, with all of its ups and downs.
2021 was a very hard year for me and my family. The early months got off to a bumpy start, when I lost most of the vision in my left eye due to glaucoma. Then we sold our childhood home. After my parents’ deaths in 2016 and 2019—they were in their late 60s and both died of rare and incurable diseases—it was unfeasible for any of my siblings or me to keep the house, and we had no choice but to let it go forever. This was where my parents had lived our entire lives; they bought it a few months before my sister was born and they never moved. That house is the most familiar place on earth to me—every room, every hallway, every corner, every inch of the lawn I mowed so many times as a teenager and college student. And I will likely never set foot in it again. At the time, I compared it to mourning a death.
I was wrong, however. Death is much worse. We were completely unprepared for what happened a month later. My sister Kate was admitted to the hospital on May 7. She died on May 20 at 42 years old from heart failure. Going back to the same funeral home for the third time in less than five years to make arrangements was almost a surreal comedy. “I guess we’ll have the usual.” They’d prepared a draft of her death notice before we arrived. All they had to do was rearrange the names on my mom’s.
A week later, we were surprised to learn that my wife was pregnant. It was a bit of a shock, we’re both in our early 40s and our youngest was four years old at the time. Before Kate’s death, we’d been busy planning for the next phase of life—watching our four older kids grow up, facing the challenges of their teenage and college years. My wife was making plans to return to work full-time, since all our kids would be in school. We were preparing for Kate to move into our spare bedroom and live with us.
Within the span of a couple of weeks, everything had changed. We had suffered a profound loss, but we were also looking forward to the joy of new life. There was something profoundly, heartbreakingly beautiful about the arrival of a new life following a tragic death. We took this unexpected news as a sign of God’s love and of joy in our sorrow and loss.
And then, in a couple of months, it was over.
What was the point of all that, God?
I don’t know if “grief overload” is a real thing. Since that day, it’s been as if the core of my emotional and prayer life have been in a shutdown-reboot cycle. I go through the motions. I try to take time to focus on God, I try to mourn properly. (I have been told there’s no one “correct way” to mourn, but I’m pretty sure there are wrong ways.) But the truth is most days and weeks over the last twelve months have gone by like a blur. I spend most of my day trying to get work done, trying to spend time with and give attention to my wife and kids, trying to figure out the future.
I am still grieving Kate’s death. Until this week I had hardly begun to grieve the baby we never saw.
February 2, 2022, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, would have been our due date. After everything that had already happened and all the work that needed to be done, processing this loss has been taking my wife and I a long time. I’m a talker, and I like to work out problems and emotions verbally, whereas my wife is much more reserved and private. You’d think after fifteen years, we’d have figured out this communication thing, but it seems like life has become a relentless series of body blows, and we both retreated into what came most naturally.
People were kind. Priest friends (and even a few I only know through Twitter), said masses for us. People offered to bring dinner or to watch the kids, but my wife said it wasn’t necessary.
“We have to name the baby,” I would tell her. But we don’t know if it was a boy or a girl, she’d say. I tried to talk to her about maybe having a Mass or a burial. There was no body, but our friends told us they buried the pregnancy test and a blood clot. We hadn’t saved anything, she said. I felt useless, wanting to help her, but not wanting to invade her quiet space. For a long time I knew she wasn’t ready to talk. Our friend Jeannie, who has lost five babies, called her one evening and she went out to the front porch and they spoke for hours. When she came back inside, she said that she felt better. She’s never told me what they spoke about. As the days and weeks turned into months I continued to wait, quietly praying for the healing my dear wife needed.
Two or three months later, she was out of town visiting friends. She sent me a two-word text:
Our baby finally had a name.
On Wednesday, the day James Mary was due to be born, our oldest daughter had her first confession. Her class was scheduled to have it on Saturday, but she wanted her uncle the priest—my brother—to hear it. Her catechist said it was okay, so we took a trip to his parish and she received the sacrament. She said she felt closer to God.
The day before, February 1, was the fourth anniversary of the launch of Where Peter Is.
I honestly don’t know how it’s been able to keep going. Certainly the work of our team has been tremendous. Somehow we’ve always been able to find new contributors when someone hasn’t been able to pitch in as much as they had in the past. I can’t begin to imagine how we could have made it through the last year without the help of Rachel Amiri as a writer, production editor, and livestream host. We had great content throughout the year thanks to the amazing work of talented new contributors Malcolm Schleunderfritz and Gareth Thomas, both of whom have been able to share profound insights from their unique journeys of faith. I am grateful for our generous priest contributors, Fathers Satish Joseph, Mike Najim, and Alex Roche, as well as our newest contributor, Fr. Freddy Devaraj. Early in the year, Matt Kappadakunnel helped keep us going with a steady output of quality, heartfelt writing about faith and social justice, as Joseph Snearline did later in the year. Melinda Ribnek brought passion and empathy in support of the marginalized in her writing and brought humor and wisdom to our livestream. And what a blessing it has been to have regular contributions from Sister Gabriela Hicks! Our collaboration with CatholicsRead has been mutually beneficial, as well. Therese Brown reached out to me about ways to help her to promote her own labor of love—supporting Catholic authors and publishers and helping Catholics learn about Catholic books—and we’re thrilled to have her contributions every Tuesday. And If I forgot anyone, I deeply apologize.
There were so many this year who lifted us up, including and especially our longtime contributors, many of whom I consider to be among my closest friends. We have become a community, something so sorely needed during the pandemic and the divisions in our society and Church.
This next year is pivotal. Is this project going to continue? Many readers have told me they believe the Holy Spirit has kept this website going. Our friends, the Carmelite Nuns of the St. Joseph’s Association, have been praying for our apostolate. (Sister Gabriela told me specifically that she’s praying for the Holy Spirit to deliver us a business manager.)
We already have some exciting things lined up. Episode 1 of my new podcast with Jeannie Gaffigan and US Catholic launches on February 16. I’m headed to Rome in late March and early April, and God willing, I hope to meet some people over there and maybe even get some exclusive interviews with Church leaders. (And if anyone can help arrange a meeting with the boss, I would be eternally grateful 😊.)
Even still, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to keep this website going beyond this year. Every year I say I want to get the organizational side of things taken care of, but thus far I haven’t gotten my act together. I never cared much about money, and I never set out to be an entrepreneur, but I don’t know how much longer I can sustain 60- to 80-hour workweeks, both running the site and doing freelance work on the side. We have been doing this as volunteers on a shoestring budget, and penny we’ve spent from donations has gone back into maintaining and improving our site. “Small donations only” is not a sustainable model, and this will be a make-or-break year for us. This has been weighing very heavily on my heart, on top of everything else. I’m praying for divine intercession on this one.
As we embark on year five of this work in support of the pope and the Catholic faith, I want to express my gratitude to all of you who read us and support us. I ask you to please keep us in your prayers as we go forward. If it’s God’s will, we will continue this work for as long as it’s possible. Thank you so much for letting us share the message of the Gospel and the teachings of Pope Francis with you.
Image: Pilar Timpane. Pope Francis opens the Synod on Synodality at the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. Rome, October 2021. Source: https://flic.kr/p/2mDo6JD. License: Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0).