Matthew Warner of Tweetcatholic and Flocknote has declared October as Support a Catholic Speaker Month. He is hoping to find 101 bloggers to each write about one of 101 Catholic speakers before October 20. Head on over to Fallibleblogma.com for more details and to see the list as it takes shape, or to sign up to write your own article about a Catholic Speaker. I quickly jumped into the fray and signed up to do a profile on Greg and Jennifer Willits.
In the summer of 2005, I bought an Mp3 player and started looking for music and podcasts to fill it. At that time I discovered Father Roderick and The Catholic Insider then the Rosary Army Podcast . My first reaction to discovering Catholic podcasts online was that it was a source for catholic culture online. I beganlistening to the weekly (then biweekly) episodes of the Rosary Army Podcast as Greg and Jennifer shared bits about their life raising a family, their day to day challenges with work, their apostolate to give away all twine knotted rosaries, and their Catholic faith. Their banter and stories were often hilarious, and their shows often contained funny little song parodies and sketches, including the now infamous, ‘Captain Catechism’.
After a while I introduced my wife and daughter to the Rosary Army Podcast, and we would listen to Greg and Jennifer’s newest podcasts together as soon as they became available. I began to get involved on the Rosary Army forums and learned to make and pray all twine knotted rosaries. Then I realized that podcasting is a 2-way conversation and started to send feedback first to the Rosary Army and then to my other favorite podcasts.
Over the course of the Rosary Army podcast, Greg and Jennifer have shared the good times and bad times of their life. They have shared their joys and sorrows: miscarriages, their frustrations at getting educational support for their children, unsuccessfully trying to sell their home to several episodes dedicated to Greg’s parent’s 50th anniversary. In an early Rosary Army podcast, Greg also told a hilarious story about getting lost in the Georgia backwoods on his way to a youth retreat to teach teens how to make all twine rosaries. The Rosary Army Podcast was ultimately about a couple deeply in love with each other, deeply committed to their family and uncompromising about their faith.
Through their example, Greg and Jennifer inspired a community of online Catholics. Several years ago Father Roderick Vonhogen invited them to join his SQPN podcast network. After about a year with SQPN , Greg and Jennifer went full time with their ministries at SQPN and the Rosary Army. They spent 2 years working full time with SQPN, managing the day to day affairs of both apostolates, producing That Catholic Show, and organizing the first Catholic New Media Celebration.
Last year, Greg and Jennifer were offered the opportunity to host a daily 3 hour show, The Catholics Next Door, on The Catholic Channel on Sirus XM radio. This offered them an incredible opportunity to reach a much larger audience as well as having more security to provide for their family. We were greatly saddened when they discontinued the Rosary Army podcast but about 6 months into their new show, they started releasing a weekly 30 minute podcast of highlights from their radio show, so you can still find them on the internet.
Back to Greg and Jennifer’s impact on me and my family. They showed Catholics that we can reach out and find community across great distances using the new media. They let us glimpse into their lives, into the challenges of having a family and running a world wide ministry from a small closet/office (dubbed the Cloffice) in their home. Most of all they challenged their listeners to deepen their own faith, to grow in holiness. I started listening to their podcast as a Catholic who was thirsting for more. Gradually I began contributing to their community with silly voice feedbacks, song parodies, and tying and giving away rosaries. I now find myself in my own spare room, producing a website and podcast and reaching out to others who are trying to answer Pope John Paul II’s call to a New Evangelization using the tools of new media.
I think that Greg and Jennifer’s special gift, which they express both on the radio and in person, is that they present themselves as an ordinary married couple with an ordinary family and ordinary struggles of their daily lives. They truly are The Catholics Next Door. However, by making themselves open to the call of the Holy Spirit and by diving deep into their faith, they are showing all of us that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things for God. By virtue of our baptism, that is a call that we all share.