Easter With Tammy and Jordan Peterson

‘Only God can write poetry with our lives …’

Tammy and Jordan Peterson attend an Easter vigil Mass in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Tammy entered the Catholic Church this Easter.
Tammy and Jordan Peterson attend an Easter vigil Mass in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Tammy entered the Catholic Church this Easter. (photo: Colm Flynn / EWTN News )

“Did I get myself in enough trouble?” Jordan Peterson said with a smirk at the end of our 45-minute interview last month. I burst out laughing, knowing the answer was “Yes!”

Make no mistake about it, it isn’t easy to interview Jordan Peterson. Possibly the most well-known psychologist in the world, his popularity makes him a lightning rod for his supporters as well as his detractors. On every social-media platform, he boasts several million followers, and his videos on YouTube are collectively in the hundreds of millions of views. When he speaks, people listen. So when you sit down to interview him, you know a lot of people will be watching closely. 

Jordan Peterson talks with Colm Flynn in a 45-minute interview airing on EWTN News In Depth.
Jordan Peterson talks with Colm Flynn in a 45-minute interview airing on ‘EWTN News In Depth.’(Photo: Colm Flynn )

He’s famous for being a thinker, an intellectual and a fearless social commentator who is never afraid to offend in the pursuit of truth. And in today’s society of “triggers” and “cancel culture,” you can start to imagine how Jordan’s sharp, jagged comments on red-hot topics can often get him into trouble.

So, how did he get into trouble when I interviewed him? 

Well, it was what he said about Pope Francis and the Catholic Church. When I asked him why he thought so few young people were attending Mass (in the Western world), and if he thought the Church was challenging them enough, he responded, “Not by any stretch of the imagination!” 

He then went on to criticize Pope Francis for talking about the environment too much, “which he seems to go on about constantly when he should be saving souls.” As you can imagine, this produced a huge reaction online with the clip of the interview being viewed several million times. 

But despite Peterson’s criticism of the Church, from that first interview with him in March to the second one just a week ago, I discovered a great openness to the Catholic faith and a sense that Peterson, a baptized Christian who will turn 62 in June, is seeking answers. I guess we all are. 

This sharper focus on Jordan Peterson and Catholicism has come from his wife of 35 years, Tammy Peterson. Tammy, 58, is the reason that I first flew to Toronto more than a month ago to interview them both. She had surprised many by announcing she was converting to the Catholic Church after being cured of renal cell carcinoma cancer, something she attributes to a miracle after praying the Rosary, even though at the time she was not Catholic. That’s the reason I found myself across from her in her sitting room surrounded by EWTN cameras. I wanted to find out more about her incredible story of turning to prayer and religion after being faced with the fact that she was going to die. 

And I don’t use the word “fact” lightly. The Petersons have means and were able to go to some of the best hospitals in North America that all told her the same thing: With a rare form of kidney cancer — a Bellini tumor — she had 10 months to live. Medically speaking, it was a fact she was going to die. But five years later, she’s fully recovered. In any man’s language, that is a miraculous thing. 

Interviewing Tammy Peterson is much different than interviewing her husband. While on camera Jordan is sharp, stern and laser-focused (off-camera, he’s quite humorous and jovial), Tammy is much more warm, kind and conversational. She was relaxed and at ease in front of our cameras as I interviewed her for EWTN News In Depth

She spoke honestly and openly about how she felt when she believed her time here was up and how a friend, Queenie Yu, introduced her to the Rosary, which she had never prayed before. Queenie would visit the hospital, and they would pray together, with Queenie teaching her about the Glorious Mysteries as they went along. Tammy would pray and cry; Queenie would pray and listen. As Queenie beautifully put it when I interviewed her, “I saw this bond develop between Tammy and Our Lady, a bond between two mothers.” 

But Tammy’s story became even more incredible when, after she had surgery, removing the cancer but causing serious complications that left her even more sick, everything suddenly seemed to disappear. She went to the hospital for a checkup and they told her to go home, that she was all-clear. It was then Tammy decided she wanted to be confirmed and enter the Catholic Church. That’s why I flew back to Canada a second time, this past Easter weekend, to document Tammy entering the Church during the Saturday night Easter vigil Mass. 

I sat with Tammy on a bench the evening before her confirmation outside St. Peter’s Church in the center of Toronto. I asked her if she had any doubts or any second thoughts about becoming a Catholic, to which she replied, “No, it’s not like marriage.” We both laughed, but on a serious note, she told me that she had just been for her first confession a few nights prior, and the experience made her burst into tears.

She said these were tears of gratitude, “a gratitude that I didn’t understand before.” She went on to tell me that, over the years, she always made excuses for not going to church, “because I didn’t like the priest, or I didn’t like the location, or the time of the service … and I’ve realized these were all just excuses that have nothing to do with the reason for going. I need to go and be there with God.” I asked her if it felt “right,” to which she answered, “Yes, it just feels right.”

The following morning, at Holy Rosary Church in the affluent Toronto suburb of Forest Hill, there was a rehearsal for that night’s Easter vigil Mass. Tammy, and around a dozen others, listened carefully to Father Peter Turrone as he went through the rhythm of various elements of the vigil and told them what to expect. 

“The bells will be ringing, and the Gloria will be sung,” he said, standing in front of the altar talking to them in the pews. 

We had a wireless microphone on Tammy as we were recording parts of the rehearsal, and when it was finished, through our headphones, I heard her whisper to Queenie, her sponsor, “This is very exciting.” 

I took Queenie to the side for a short interview. She told me she would never have imagined that one hospital visit and the gift of rosary beads would, five years later, lead to Tammy’s conversion to the faith and a story that has inspired so many around the world. 

An hour before the Mass started, the crew of Patrick Leonard and Jack Haskins had the cameras set up in a room in the parish house for me to interview Jordan Peterson a second time. 

When he came in, he looked at me and joked, “Will I get myself into more trouble?” He obviously saw the reaction to our last interview. This second one was a fascinating interview where we talked about the power of the Easter message — that life could come from death. And he told me he believed the cross symbolized “the point where everything comes together. It’s the agony of life. And the triumph of life in the face of mortality.” 

But it was when I asked him how his wife’s newfound faith had affected their relationship that he began to tear up. 

“I’ve loved my wife from the moment I saw her when I was a kid. … She’s much more who she is, and that’s great because I love who she is. It’s great. It’s ridiculously great.” 

At the very end of our conversation I asked him, since he thought Tammy’s new faith was “ridiculously great,” what was stopping him from embracing it too? He paused and then said he believed it was in Tammy’s destiny. When I asked him if it was in his destiny, he paused again. “It’s unlikely.” 

“Why do you say that?” I pushed. “I exist on the border of things. … That’s how it is.”

At eight o’clock in the beautiful darkness, Holy Rosary Church was filled with flickering warm candles. The choir sang, and the crucifix was processed in from the fire outside, as the Easter vigil Mass began. Father Turrone celebrated with Tammy sitting at the front, Queenie and Jordan by her side. 

The moment when Father Turrone placed his hands over her and then made the Sign of the Cross on her forehead, saying, “Tammy Mary, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” was a beautiful one. 

“Amen,” Tammy responded as she officially became a Catholic. 

Tammy Peterson became Catholic this Easter.
Tammy Peterson became Catholic this Easter.(Photo: Colm Flynn )

Straight after the Mass, I sat down with Tammy at the back of the church and congratulated her, asking her how she felt. She smiled and said, “I feel like I’m at home.”

Now all eyes are on her famous husband and if he will, someday, follow his wife into the Church. I know he told me it was “unlikely,” but something in my gut tells me otherwise. There was something in the silence of that pause before he gave that answer. And I think it’s funny how, as Queenie said to me in her interview, “Only God can write poetry with our lives.” 

For example, I’m sure if I had interviewed Tammy Peterson five years ago before all this started and asked her the same question about entering the Catholic Church, she too would have probably said it was unlikely. So perhaps I’ll be back in Toronto to document Jordan Peterson’s confirmation some day. Or maybe I’m just getting myself into trouble.

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