This is a post about gratitude. Gratitude to all of you. Gratitude to one special person in particular, too. But before I get to that, with our third anniversary online just a few days away, I think some history is in order.
Not long after Pope Francis was elected, I quit my job as Director of Community Relations at a professional association to work in the family real estate business with my wife. But as my awareness of the seriousness of the situation grew, I couldn’t take my eyes off what was happening in the Church. I’d been writing for Catholic publications (first Crisis, then CatholicVote) since 2008, but what I wanted to say wasn’t the kind of thing that could be talked about in those venues.
On my own personal blog, I began writing about the state of affairs. It started with this. It didn’t take long before what I was saying became a story. To my surprise, major media outlets began contacting me. First NBC News, then the New York Times, then others. After a couple of interviews, I recognized that Pope Francis and his “reform” agenda were a hot topic, and opposition voices were, in 2013, few and far between — and therefore newsworthy.
More significantly, I started hearing from Catholics with influence, or with access to large platforms, who also were uneasy but felt unable to counter the dangerous new trends in the Church because, as is so often the case, they needed to keep their donors happy, their students, their faculty, their bishops, and so on. Francis was an incredibly popular figure, and therefore untouchable, and they felt it important to stay in the institutions where they were so they could keep working for the good of those their work put them in contact with. At the same time, their very persistence in those positions tied their hands and silenced their concerns. And so, they would contact me and encourage me to keep doing what I was doing, because there was something dangerous in the new papacy, and it needed to be exposed.
I agreed. But at the same time, I knew that it wasn’t possible to build anything credible based solely on opposition to one polarizing figure. I honestly (don’t laugh) never wanted to be the guy who built his reputation on being an orthodox Catholic who didn’t like a pope. I envisioned a different approach: talk about what the Church really teaches, focus on the beauty of the Catholic Faith and the culture it has inspired for millennia, and let the contrast between that and what’s happening now speak for itself.
When I started 1P5, it was a total leap of faith. I could not get the idea out of my head that something was needed that could both help people to better understand and live a traditionally-rooted Catholic Faith, and to inform them of what was happening in the Church that would threaten just such an existence. And to be honest, I was more than a little impulsive about it. I went from being the full-time marketing person for my wife’s busy real estate business to starting a full-tilt internet apostolate in a very short time. (She wasn’t very happy with the abruptness of my transition. And in retrospect, I don’t blame her.) I honestly had no idea what it would entail, but I felt incredible urgency. Something was coming fast, I could feel it in my bones, and I knew I had to get ahead of it while there was still time.
I had no experience as an editor or a publisher. I was a writer — decent, but not great — and I knew what I liked. I wanted to give a voice to anyone and everyone who had something to offer to the Church in the 21st century, and I didn’t care if nobody had ever heard of them. I was disinterested in whatever the traditional rules of publishing were. I had been on the Internet for over 20 years, I knew how to use social media, and I had professional experience doing it. Since my college graduation in 2001, I had pingponged through a makeshift, unstable career that brought the necessary skills into play: art & design, corporate social media, PR, media analysis, corporate communications, client relations, web design, marketing — the list was all over the place. What had been a series of barely-connected jobs in my attempt to make use of my communications degree turned into a surprisingly useful toolkit of knowledge that helped me do the job of several people and bring a publication online that was visually appealing and brought great content to the table. It was the job I was made for. Every disparate thing I had done somehow became valuable all at once.
But there was no question that for it to succeed I had to put ALL my time into it. To run it like a startup. And wow, did it not pay the bills. And with me no longer feeding the perpetual marketing machine that is every real estate brokerage, my wife’s ability to keep us afloat also waned.
After an early startup investment of $10,000 from the Fraser Family Foundation — which gave me the confidence that we had something here worth pursuing — we struggled mightily to make ends meet for most of 2015. I can’t remember how many hours I spent on the phone with the mortgage company, trying desperately not to lose my house after we missed another payment. I stared out the window and watched a man take pictures of my house for the bank every month or two, knowing that our family home could easily wind up on the auction block if we couldn’t get things current. And of course, I’ll never forget the night I looked out the window and saw our large family van — the one we really couldn’t afford but desperately needed after outgrowing our old minivan by two people — getting towed up the street by a repo man. We ran a fundraiser that month and earned just enough money to get it back. We had to drive to New Jersey to claim it, and we got there only just before it went to auction!
It was tight. It was hair-raising. It was incredibly stressful. It really made me ask why the heck I had decided to do this. And of course, the spiritual warfare component only deepened as time went on. We’ve gone through trials and struggles over the last three years (we’ll celebrate our third anniversary online on August 1st) that I’m not quite sure how we’ve gotten through. Among the most demanding of these were a cross-country move to fulfill the duty to care for a family member in real need, and a crisis with one of our children that remains ongoing to this day. There were so many days when the personal struggles we faced made it all but impossible to do the work.
But bit by bit, inch by inch, we’ve climbed out of the hole. We’ve grown from a little upstart website with a funny name that nobody had ever heard of to the most-read traditional Catholic publication online. We’ve become widely read among the most significant figures influencing the Church, and our monthly visit count from computers inside the Holy See is now in the hundreds. I was recently contacted by a high-ranking person who works with the Vatican and assured that a story we had written had already been “fully read” therein less than 24 hours after it was published.
We’re watching, and they know it. And that’s a big part of our job.
On the financial front, we started paying all of our bills last year, which was a huge relief. Fundraising remains the hardest thing I have to do. I don’t like talking about money almost as much as I don’t like asking for it. So as I often do, earlier this month, I put out a fundraising request, and many of you responded generously, pushing us over 50% of our goal for the month in just a few days’ time. 50% has been about average for this year, but I set a $20,000 per month “stretch goal” for a reason: paying all the bills is great, but I want to build on what we’re doing. I want to be able to pay our regular contributors, most of whom offer their work pro bono as a tithe, or simply out of love for the Church. I’d like to be able to hire our editor, Drew, as more than just a freelancer. I want to build more features into the site. I have been doing too much for too long and am constantly facing burnout. I need help, but the help needs to eat.
So yesterday, when we went to the post office and found a $10,000 check from an anonymous donor, I was stunned. It’s not the first time we’ve received significant generosity from someone who didn’t even want to be recognized for their efforts. We received a couple of other large anonymous checks earlier this year at times when we desperately needed them to keep going. Last year, a single donor matched the first $5,000 we raised in a month. These people absolutely amaze me.
To date, however, this single anonymous donation is the largest of its kind we have ever received. Thanks to this person, whoever they are, for the first time in 2017, our fundraising progress bar is over 100%!
Sometimes it drives me crazy when we receive anonymous donations, because there’s no way to thank the person. Not that I could figure out how to sufficiently express my gratitude for a gift like this regardless, but I want them to know how much it means. I want you, whoever you are, to know that this lifts a huge weight off my shoulders and tells me we’re going to be okay for another month, and that I can breathe again. I want you to know that through you, I see God blessing our work in a way I don’t believe He would ever do if He wanted us to stop.
So if you’re reading this, THANK YOU for your incredible generosity!!! I pray that God will reward you abundantly for it in turn.
At the same time, I do not want to neglect the rest of you! Those of you who have given anonymously over the past few years especially, because you’ve received no direct message from me, since I didn’t have anywhere to send it. Thank you as always to those of you whose names I do know, who so generously give what you can every month. I live with the constant worry that I have not found ways to sufficiently express my gratitude to all of you, and I don’t want any of you to ever feel less than completely appreciated. We pray for you, we have Masses offered for you, and we thank God for you all the time.
This is, as you may have noticed, deeply personal for me. This may officially be a business for the purposes of legality, but it’s also inextricably intertwined with every aspect of my life. It is no less than an extension of who I am, and everything I care about. In 2014, I threw myself into this work like a man stepping off a cliff, convinced that God wanted me to use the gifts and experience I had been given to fight the corruption in His Church and to remind people of the beauty of our faith that is so worth fighting for. Providing for a large family in 2017 is not easy, as many of you know, and maybe I was crazy to do this. But whatever happens, whatever becomes of 1P5, I will never forget that what we accomplished, we accomplished together. I am a sinful man who makes countless foolish mistakes. I am, in so much that we do, the weakest link. But for some reason you have still believed in us enough to give of your substance and keep this going so that we could be David against the Modernist Goliath. In a very real way, you have put your trust in me. I pray that I have been and will be a good steward of all that you have given to us.
I cannot thank you all enough.
Publisher & Executive Director
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.