By PJ WilliamsIn 2011, Jesuit scholastics Paddy Gilger, Sam Sawyer and Eric Sundrup noticed a problem. Even with smart phones and tablets, Catholic news outlets were not catching the attention of young adults open to engaging their faith. Most young adults would sooner reach for their favorite social media network or TV show as opposed to reading about spirituality.
There was a clear need for a conversational news source that could talk about faith and religion in a way that was relevant to young adults.
“We were asking the same questions that the young Jesuits we studied with were asking,” recalled Paddy. “How is the church compelling or speaking to us? What would I read? What would young people read or use to get engaged?” The three scholastics had an idea for a blog where pop culture and faith could meet. They wanted something written in the style that young adults, age 18-35, were familiar with and could appreciate. “You have to speak to people like their friends speak to them. Speak to them like one friend speaks to another. Many people don’t know what Church language means,” said Paddy.
Eric took the initiative to move the project forward. “I bought website domain and a bunch of server space,” recalls Eric. Now that Eric had invested in the project, the three were now committed to this new blog, The Jesuit Post.
The group spent November and December of 2011 working on the website and writing stories. In addition to them all writing and editing content, Paddy took on the role of editor in chief, Sam worked on the technical aspects of the site and Eric fit into the role of associate editor, which included working on social media among other things. By word of mouth they were able to find more Jesuits to serve as contributors. “I just called people…provincials, friends. Made the pitch to them and said ‘I need you to write about this,’” recalled Paddy.
After weeks of work, The Jesuit Post was finally at a stage where it could be shown to other people. The editors wanted feedback on the content and Sam wanted to test the stability of the site, so they shared it with a few Jesuits several weeks before the launch and asked them not to share it. Fr. James Martin, SJ, author and editor of America magazine was one of those Jesuits who came on during the planning stage and soft launch. “I had been in touch with Paddy, and Eric and Sam and the other Jesuits informally and was very excited about their project. I thought that it was brilliant,” recalled Fr. Martin.As an active social media user Fr. Martin was eager to share the site with a broader community. On January 24, 2012, (mistakenly thinking this was the official launch date) he posted a link to the blog on his Facebook page announcing the launch of The Jesuit Post. Quickly the unfinished website started to have a hard time accommodating all the activity. “It was a website-melting amount of traffic,” recalled Sam. “I found out about it 45 minutes before class so there was a mad dash to keep it up and running. There was a whole set of things not turned on. No page view tracking. No Facebook integration. Basic things. We quickly turned those on.” The surprise launch was not without its merits as Sam recalled, “For almost a year, that was the highest traffic day.”
Today, the three founding scholastics have moved on with their formation and are now all ordained priests working at different ministries. Current editor in chief Michael Rossmann, SJ, has been with the Post as a writer since the early days but only started his new role earlier this month. Rossmann is the first editor in chief who was not one of the original three founding members. “Around April or May 2014, Paddy approached me about taking over as editor in chief,” recalled Rossmann. “When they founded The Jesuit Post, they had the idea to do it for a time and then pass it on to the next generation to keep things young and fresh and bring in new voices.” Rossmann is joined by two new managing editors Brian Konzman, SJ, and Jason Welle, SJ. Together the new editors manage 50 Jesuit writers; the site receives over 40,000 individual website visitors each month.In the three years since the Post’s founding, hundreds of posts have addressed sports, Catholicism, comedy, television, music, and many more topics. In 2013 editors from the Post attended World Youth Day and were able to interview Father General Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, during the MAGIS celebration. The blog has released a wealth of culturally relevant memes but also tackled difficult issues of race and social justice in the wake of violence in the United States. “One movement is to try to give some quick reflections on things that are currently happening in the news,” said Rossmann. “All of us have something else as a full-time responsibility. We can’t always put everything else to the side but as much as possible we want to be engaged in the current conversation.”
Writers continue to be given a lot of freedom in terms of what they can write about, with the focus remaining on what writers know and think is relevant. As Rossmann puts it, “Often times when talking to Jesuit writers, they ask what they should write about, I say write about what you’re passionate about and where you’re finding life – that is the basic starting point, where we are finding life and God and what stirs our hearts.”
Click here to read The Jesuit Post and learn about how today’s Jesuits in formation are finding God.