The Story

Bawden and Tickie on a bench

Half an hour outside of Topeka, in a small town of 150 people, a man named David Bawden lives with his elderly mother in a blue farmhouse surrounded by soybean and wheat fields. David Bawden is known as "Pope Michael", a man who believes that the changes to the Catholic church in the 1960's have driven a small group to elect him pope of what they believe is now the only true Roman Catholic Church. He has spent 19 years trying to get his word out through the internet and other mediums, and now he is bringing two young men into his house to train as priests.

"Pope Michael" beings in August 2008 and follows fourteen months in the lives of Bawden, his mother Tickie, and Phil, his seminarian.

When we first meet Bawden, the blue farmhouse is only inhabited by him and his mother.They watch Jeopardy together and she proofreads his writings he posts to the web. Several months later, however, Phil Friedl arrives. Phil is a college student turned seminarian, and has left his family in Illinois to train to be a priest under Bawden after finding him on the internet.

In Belvue Kansas

What follows is the biggest expansion of Bawden's church since its beginning in 1990. Bawden and the seminarians find their way in starting their own seminary, hold regular live broadcasts, travel to a winery, deal with less than supportive family and outside feedback, and generally try to spread the word of Bawden's election to the world in any way they can. After a year, they travel to Kansas University to give a presentation and face questions from a crowd, including a Roman Catholic priest.

"Pope Michael" is a story about four uniquely genuine and likable characters in a bizarre situation. As a Kansas University professor puts it, "all religions all start out as tiny groups", and "Pope Michael" is the up-close story of one of the smallest.