A new Irish podcast hopes to reinvigorate men’s Faith – Ruadhán Jones speaks to some ‘Holy Joes’ about their popular recordings
Three Catholic dads are looking to fill the gap in the Irish Church, providing a faith-filled podcast for Catholic men writes Ruadhán Jones
The Irish are some of the most avid consumers of podcasts in the world, with figures from Reuter’s suggesting that 37% of Irish people listen to podcasts every month – and that was before lockdown happened.
But, as Catholic podcaster Joe McKeown told The Irish Catholic, despite the national interest in podcasts, there are very few Catholic podcasts competing for airtime.
“I looked at the Christian podcast chart for Ireland recently,” Joe says. “Out of the 250 podcasts on the chart, just 10% were Catholic. Of these, only five of them are Irish.
“Me and my friends were thinking for years: why is it that Catholic men in Ireland go to the States for their spiritual food? Why are there no speakers or leaders in Ireland creating that space where you can be a normal Catholic, where you can have a conversation about faith and life?
“We listen to podcasts like Pints with Aquinas and secular ones like The Joe Rogan Show. We just have a big gap. Over the years, we thought, we should do something like that or at least give it a go.”
As it was for some others, the coronavirus proved a blessing in disguise, giving the three men the time and the opportunity to develop their idea into something practicable.
With their new podcast, The Holy Joes Podcast, Joe and his friends and fellow Catholic dads Matthew McFadden and Dermot Kelly, are hoping that they can fill the gap in the Catholic market.
Though technical expertise is not their strong suit, between the three of them, The Holy Joes have more than 50 years’ experience in parish, diocesan, religious and schools-based ministry, locally and internationally.
“We’re not media graduates, we’re not journalists,” says Joe. “We just want to have normal chats, the kind we’d have in a coffee shop or a pub.
Joe hopes that the podcast can be a continuation of their missionary work, but this time in the digital environment. The main aim of The Holy Joes Podcast is to “evangelise, encourage and empower Catholic men to live lives that transform their families, parishes and the world around them”.
“The target audience is men who are perhaps familiar with Catholic language,” Joe explains, “but who aren’t engaged with the Church – the ones who are on the periphery.
“We want to create conversations that allow people to wrap their heads around Christian concepts, to realise that the Church is interested in fairness and justice, the poor and the marginalised – it’s trying to draw men in to see the beauty of the Catholic Faith and the challenge too.”
Catholic men of Faith are in the minority, you can see it in the fall of vocations, in the decline in marriage. We need Catholic men to stand up…we really need to challenge people to bring their Faith to the public square more”
With that audience in mind, finding the right tone was an important consideration for The Holy Joes. Matthew McFadden, one of The Holy Joes, told The Irish Catholic: “We don’t want to present an unachievable Catholic life for men, where we are acting like Holy Joes.
“We want to show other men the small simple steps to witnessing your faith to your family and friends. It’s about bringing God into the conversation, from a simple ‘Dia duit’ to finishing a conversation with ‘God bless’.”
Dermot Kelly, the third Holy Joe, says that “it’s not all serious chat, there is a good level of banter and craic and we have a laugh with each other.
“We do discuss matters of Faith and life, but we also try to find the Joy of the Gospel, as Pope Francis reminds us. We aren’t like the world famous The Joe Rogan Podcast, which sold for over $100 million to Spotify recently, but we do offer an alternative space for Irish Catholic men to be real and talk about challenging issues.”
The podcast began during the lockdown, the first episode coming out on May 18 and The Holy Joes have produced 10 episodes so far. In recent episodes, there have been interviews with Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ and Prof. Bob Rice from Steubenville, Ohio and even the youngest PP in Ireland, Fr Conor McGrath, who has subsequently started his own podcast.
Reinvigorating men’s Faith
The target audience of the podcast is men at various levels of Faith and The Holy Joes agree it is vitally important to reinvigorate young men of faith, many of whom leave the Church early.
“All the research suggests that Catholic men are on that side-lines and it’s the women keeping the Faith alive in Ireland,” Joe says. “For many, Confirmation is the ‘sacrament of exit’ – after primary school, they disappear from the Faith.
“Catholic men of Faith are in the minority, you can see it in the fall of vocations, in the decline in marriage. We need Catholic men to stand up…we really need to challenge people to bring their faith to the public square more.
“There’s a whole body of evidence that suggests that if the father doesn’t attend Mass, the child is more likely to fall away from the Faith.”
The title of the podcast is an ironic hint as to its focus – Irish Catholic Men. Joe explains that being called a ‘Holy Joe’ is used as a derogatory term for someone of faith.
“If you are a man who has inclination towards Jesus and his Church, you’re called a ‘Holy Joe’,” Joe explains. “In some cases, if you just bless yourself, you’re called a Holy Joe.
“It was often said in a derogatory way, to belittle or ridicule your values and beliefs and it’s still a problem today in Ireland. If you are a man of Faith, you are seen as ‘soft in the head’.”
Joe McKeown believes that much of this relates to a culture of ‘toxic masculinity’, the idea that men just want to party at the weekends, see how many girls they can sleep with, how many pints you can down.
“It’s about trying to challenge that culture,” Joe says. “On the other end of the spectrum is the emasculated man, afraid to speak up in the dominant feminist culture.
“Men have lost a sense of what it’s like to be a man. Not cavemen, but a man who goes out to earn a living, not a hunter-gatherer, but one who’s trying to provide for his children, working hard.”
The aim of the podcast, Joe explains, is to create a space for men to discuss topics ranging from sports to mental health – all with a Catholic eye.
“We’re trying to create space where men are visible,” Joe explains. “We’re trying to create a space for men to have conversations about male issues, especially mental health.
We have to call men to who they are, their identity,” Joe says. “We know from a Christian point of view that God’s put a particular purpose in our lives, we’re in this world for a reason. Men want help to find out that reason…”
“It is a huge issue for men, and it comes in part from losing a sense of themselves. Their identity has been lost in the world, the whole concept of being a man, of truth, meaning and purpose.”
Joe believes that Faith is essential to returning that concept to men, as well as addressing such issues as mental health, addiction to drugs, alcohol and pornography, and a lack of direction.
“We have to call men to who they are, their identity,” Joe says. “We know from a Christian point of view that God’s put a particular purpose in our lives, we’re in this world for a reason.
“Men want help to find out that reason. There are many men who live their lives without meaning or purpose, the sense that the job is all they have or looking after their fitness.
“Catholics believe in eternity, but even just thinking ‘what would it look like if you’d a particular vocation in life’, a vocation to make a difference in the world, whether it’s as a married man, a family man, or as a single man – if life gets crap, you’ve got a particular perspective.”
Laying down a challenge
Part of the difficulty The Holy Joes hope to address is that Faith is often watered down and made to fit into our lives, rather than our lives made to fit our Faith.
With their podcast, Joe hopes they can lay down a challenge to men to recognise how radical the Catholic Faith really is.
“The fastest growing religion in the US is called moralistic therapeutic deism. It’s based on morals we make up ourselves, it’s a God that fits with our life,” Joe says.
“For men of Faith, it is difficult. In primary school, we talk about faith and we sing a song about Jesus or we draw in a picture. It’s presented as something fluffy and perhaps girly – but it’s quite radical.
“You think about things like loving your enemy, feeding the sick and the marginalised, think about concepts like truth or rationality. We’ve to challenge men to think about Faith.”
For Joe, this is the key point: men want a challenge, they don’t want something that’s easy and fluffy, they want to know this is difficult.
“The Christian life is a bit like a camino – like Santiago de Compostela, a 1,500km walk – it’s going to have its ups and downs. It’s going to have things to chew on, concepts and ideas that you won’t understand, that you’ll have to wrap your head around, maybe forever because it’s a mystery.
“It’s not as easy as buying the latest iPhone, we’re trying to draw men into the beauty of the Church – it should be the challenge that is attractive.”
For The Holy Joes, this means showing how our whole life changes as a result of our engagement with the Catholic Faith.
“It’s transformative, it’s life changing, it affects the world around you. To engage in a faith journey gives you hope, it gives you meaning and if we understand it from a different perspective, we can start to really see that our relationship with Jesus, with God and the Church, can change everything about you.”
Part of the way The Holy Joes hope to achieve this is by providing their own testimonies, relating how they have changed their lives for the better.
“Matthew McFadden has shared about losing 13 stone,” Joe explains, “and about being raised by a single mother. His father left as soon as she got pregnant and her example really spurred him on. People wrote in about that and how powerful it was.
“Dermot then has spoken about how his wife lost a child and the challenges men face in mental health.”
Joe hopes through their podcast, Catholic men can see what it means to be normal men of Faith, whether it be in the GAA, family life, the 9-5 or the joys and suffering of everyday life.
The lockdown effect
For The Holy Joes, lockdown has afforded them the time and space to start their new mission. It has also been a mixed blessing for the Church, Joe thinks, sending it into mission mode.
“Lockdown has moved us into a missional, evangelical mode where the good news is now necessary,” says Joe.
“Say for the last few years, Catholics would just go to Church and receive the sacraments – I’m not saying that’s a bad thing because we receive Grace. But people weren’t in mission mode.
“But families are starting to say the Rosary at home, they’re reading prayers as a family, maybe starting to watch Facebook Mass.
“Even people not engaged in the Church are starting to think about mortality, about where they’re going, what they’re doing.
The lockdown period, in Joe’s view, has been a necessary set-back, one which allows us to rethink our perspectives and start from scratch.
“It’s made parishes think, do we need five Masses on a Saturday or Sunday, or could we cut it back? Do we need to run more Bible studies or prayer groups, do we need to do more outreach in the community?
“With lockdown coming to an end, it will be interesting to see if things go back as they were.”
As it stands The Holy Joes averages around 300 listeners per podcast, but they hope that after six months they will have up to 1,000 listeners a week.
Joe is hopeful that, as the podcast develops, they will gain a consistent listenership, enabling them to spread further afield.
“The big hope is that we have a consistent listenership. At the moment it’s quite basic, we’re sharing it through Facebook – not all of our listeners are even on Facebook.
We’d like to have a Holy Joes retreat for men, say in 2021, and to have a pilgrimage for men as well”
“We want to get to a point that we know that for the next episode, we’re going to have a thousand downloads.”
Though The Holy Joes efforts will be focused on the digital environment for the time being, they hope long term to expand their reach beyond the virtual world.
“We’d like to have a Holy Joes retreat for men, say in 2021, and to have a pilgrimage for men as well,” Joe says. “A pint, a prayer and a bit of a pilgrimage – it’s all about craic, conversation and prayer.
“Ultimately, we want men that are active contributors rather than bystanders. Pope Francis talks about the Church as a field hospital – we don’t want men observing the field hospital.
“We need them helping out, chipping in and making a difference to their community and their family.”
The podcast can be found on all podcast platforms by searching for The Holy Joes Podcast, or by following them on Facebook or Instagram