By the end of 2013, Pope Francis had landed on the cover of Rolling Stone, was Time magazine's Person of the Year - and, according to a Wall Street Journal poll, only 7% of Americans had a negative view of him. By all accounts, it was a historic first year in office and a smashing public relations coup for the Catholic Church.
If 2013 was a year in which Francis' style was in vogue, 2014 was the year that the substance of his teaching took effect. It is worth pausing to take stock of the history he made on behalf of Catholicism and humanity at large.
Much of what Francis did made headlines - in reshaping our understanding of church doctrine, repairing the Vatican's broken-down governance and taking bold steps to make the world a more peaceful and harmonious place.
But much did not. This was a year, recall, in which he staunchly criticized religious persecution at the hands of ISIS, personally intervened in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and powerfully condemned the mafia.
During one address, he passionately pleaded: "Please, silence the weapons, put an end to the violence! No more war!"
This was a year in which he canonized two of his predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II. In declaring the both saints at the same time, Francis aimed to display the unity of the church by recognizing two popes - the one who began the Second Vatican Council and the other who dedicated his papacy to implementing its reforms.
For most Popes, those acts alone would have made for a remarkable 12 months. For a Pope as intent on making history as Francis, they have practically been relegated to footnotes.
On the heels of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, the reform of the Roman Curia - the church's main administrative body - was a much-discussed topic.
Because, no matter the power of its moral message, the church's ministry will be handicapped without effective governance.
Chief among Francis' concerns was the need for greater transparency of the Vatican Bank. Along with the restructuring of the Vatican's financial offices and inviting the participation of lay financial experts, this reform initiated by Francis has paid off in a big way.
Earlier this month, the head of the Vatican's ministry of economy announced that the church had discovered several hundred million euros "tucked away" into various accounts. While the work of the church is primarily spiritual in nature, this unexpected blessing provides a real and immediate way to further its causes.
The October Extraordinary Synod on the Family was perhaps the most misunderstood and misconstrued moment in his papacy thus far. Rumors swirled that Francis had endorsed a change in the church's teaching on marriage and divorce, effectively conceding a victory to those who wish to abandon the church's traditional teaching on the indissolubility of marriage as a union between a man and woman.
Instead, Francis sought to use the occasion to draw attention, from within the church and those outside of its borders, to the beauty of the family - what his predecessor termed a "domestic church."
As he declared at the Synod's closing, Francis desires a "church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again."
In recent months, he has won the hearts of scientists and animal lovers alike by insisting that evolution is compatible with Christianity and that the church, more than any other institution, should be in the business of promoting the welfare of animals.
In his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Francis echoed sentiments earlier expressed by Pope Pius XII that "The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it."
While such a statement is not a departure from church teaching, by bringing the issue to center stage, Francis is evidencing to the world that faith and science are indeed compatible.
Despite false reports that Francis recently comforted a young boy by telling him that his dog would go to heaven, he has insisted that all of creation - including animals, the elderly, the poor and unborn children - deserves protection. He has frequently denounced, including in his November address to the European parliament, the "throwaway culture" that disregards those on the margins of life.
But perhaps Francis' most surprising, arguably most consequential 2014 move came not in the realm of doctrine, but in international politics. Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced that it would restore diplomatic ties with Cuba after a half-century-long freeze. Behind the scenes, it was Francis who had written letters to both President Obama and Raul Castro encouraging the détente.
Such a move is not only a diplomatic victory for the pontiff, but a continuation of Pope Benedict's 2012 hope that Cuba would "build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity and which better reflects the goodness of God."
Yet while these actions indicate Francis's desire for harmony, he ended the year with a blistering rebuke for those within the Curia.
While popes have traditionally used their year-end address to those who run the Vatican offices as a time of praise and encouragement, Francis enumerated "Fifteen Spiritual Ailments" that he deemed prevalent within the institution. Among them were pride, gossip, careerism, and infighting. While the address was delivered to those at the top of the church's leadership, its reverberations echo throughout the hierarchy worldwide.
God's "patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption," Francis reminded Catholics at his Christmas Eve homily.
For a church that has known its fair share of scandal, such a message is one worth hearing anew. And for a world beleaguered by ongoing tribulation, it's a message that's open not just those within the church's doors, but in typical Pope Francis fashion, to those beyond as well.
White is coauthor of "Renewal: How a New Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops is Revitalizing the Catholic Church."