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Carahers share faith-filled conversations with online audience

 061721Caraher Father Dad podcast above

Finding a basement storage closet to be a good sound-insulated setting, Steven Caraher (left) and his dad PJ Caraher (right) converse during a recording of their podcast Father and Dad, from their Munster home on May 21. Steven Caraher, a diocesan seminarian and PJ Caraher, a software engineer, have hosted a monthly podcast hosted on various sites since May 2020, covering topics such as priestly discernement, Marian devotion, and returning to church. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

BY ANTHONY D. ALONZO

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

        MUNSTER – When two unique but complementary forces combine, what is created can be twice as powerful.

        Growing in popularity and mainstream use since the early 21st century, podcasts can be described by the two words that make up this portmanteau (combined term). From “iPod” and “broadcast” came a term to describe audio blogging that is episodic and recorded for an online audience to listen to at their convenience.

        Last year, 25-year-old Diocese of Gary seminarian Steven Caraher began a partnership with his father, 57-year-old PJ Caraher, of Munster, to launch the podcast “Father and Dad.” Debuting on May 31, 2020, the audio adventure was designed to cover a broad range of topics concerning faith in the modern world, and the journey of a seminarian. Naturally, it offers a sense of masculine spirituality.

        According to the Carahers, “Father and Dad” alludes to the title that Steven will have should he complete his goal of becoming a diocesan priest. His own father, Steven said, will always be known as “dad.”

        “Our deal is just to kind of give a casual conversation between a seminarian and his dad about what it’s like to live the life of a seminarian in a modern context," said Steven.

        Instead of a conversation among just family and friends, the potential audience for the topical dialogue is exponential. The “Father and Dad” podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Overcast and Spotify websites and apps.

        “Any person of good will can listen to it and get something out of it,” Steven added.

        When Steven is at the family’s Munster home, show preparation usually begins with a lively, living room discussion. “What sit together and come up with ideas; usually we have a shared spreadsheet,” he said.

        PJ believes Steven “lets him down easy” about topics that he considers” less than great” ideas. By the time a podcast is ready to be recorded – normally on the last Sunday of the month – the ideas flow.

        “We’re throwing darts on a board and just think of what’s on our mind or any current event happening in the Catholic Church,” said Steven, who called his dad the “initiator.”

        The Caraher men go to a more sound-insulated place, such as a downstairs supply closet, and set up a laptop computer and omnidirectional microphone combination that captures the conversation for editing and distribution online.

        For most of the year, when Steven is studying at the University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill., he phones in. It is the same lively discussion, just  made possible through some technical wizardry.

        “He’s recording and I’m recording,” explained PJ. “I put the headphones on, and I hear him talking and I’m talking. So, I record two tracks and I merge them at the (count-in) of 4-3-2-1.”

        A listener who clicks on a podcast link hears “Once in Royal David's City,” a Nativity-related  hymn, before PJ begins with a brief introduction of the format. What an observer in the home studio hears instead is the customary prayer said by the Carahers before each broadcast.

        The two men then delve right into topical matters. A list of archived podcasts boast titles from “Lenten Spring Training,” to “The Declared Candidate.”

        Steven believes most of the exchanges flow along well. PJ, who tends to speak more rapidly, will occasionally become apologetic when he feels he’s “gone on another tangent.” The younger Caraher typically says something like, “No, that’s okay,” or “I actually like that.”

        Steven’s explanations are clearly influenced by his education and experiences in the Catholic Church, including his participation as an altar server at St. Thomas More in Munster. He continues to draw upon his seminary studies as he enters the Theology II program.

        “Going through seminary, you encounter a lot of new ideas,” Steven said, calling his experiences at Mundelein a “catalyst for (podcast) episodes.”

        A summary of each monthly show’s topics is available at the website fatheranddad.com.

        Audience responses include feedback from online listeners and family members right around the corner.

        “At first, (my mother) Kay Caraher did not like their theme song, but after three episodes, she said, ‘It's good,’” explained PJ. “She loves (the show) but will tell us when we wander. I appreciate the candor.”

        “That’s what grandmas are for," added Steven.

        Steven said the open-ended experience of producing and sharing a podcast parallels his discernment of a priestly vocation. “If you really want to foster this vocation to the priesthood,  you have to be willing to persevere and put in the work … everybody takes their own time,” Steven said.

        The flipside of that story is the perspective parents of a seminarian may have. For PJ, a software designer, his feelings about Steven’s discernment bubbled forth in the first episode of “Father and Dad.”

        “A struggle for me and Mrs. Caraher to start … I told Steven, ‘I support you in the seminary but if you don’t want to be in the seminary, we support you just as much’ – we want you to make your own decisions.”

        Though deciding your vocation can be daunting, Steven’s assurance that pursuing the priesthood is “a process of discernment,” helps keep the discussion serious, but light.

        “Pray God, when Steven completes his seminary training, I want Season 4 to start with his ordination as Episode 1,” said PJ.

        Steven hopes to continue to share his “joyful” discernment – in person and through a podcast.

        “It’s beautiful to have the support of your family, which is why it’s great to be doing this podcast,” Steven said. “I (continue to be) thankful for everything my parents, especially my dad, have given me.”

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