Miracles inherent to any canonization, Chicago native says

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, July 13, 2017

Jacinta and Francisco Marto are pictured with their cousin Lucia dos Santos (right) in a file photo taken around the time of the 1917 apparitions of Mary at Fatima, Portugal. Pope Francis has approved the recognition of a miracle attributed to the intercession of two of the shepherd children, thus paving the way for their canonization. (CNS file photo)

Sometimes, it takes a miracle. And sometimes, that’s what you get.
Self-described “miracle hunter” Michael O’Neill, who grew up in Chicago, has taken his stories of miracles to the internet, at, to the page with “Exploring the Miraculous” (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015), over the airwaves on Relevant Radio and now to the small screen with a show on EWTN.

Earlier in May, he took a group of about 39 pilgrims with him to Fatima to witness the canonizations of Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of three shepherd children who witnessed the Marian apparitions in 1917. The two died in the flu pandemic that followed World War I, Francisco at age 10 in 1919 and Jacinta at age 9 in 1920.

The third of the children, Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, was a Carmelite nun when she died at age 97 in 2005. She has been declared a Servant of God, the first major step toward canonization.

The final step that cleared the way for Francisco and Jacinta was the miraculous healing of a Brazilian child, Lucas Batista, from head injury following a fall from a window.

It was the second miracle attributed to the child saints’ intercession. In the first, recognized before the children were beatified in 2000, a woman who had been paralyzed for many years was able to walk again.

“Inherent in every canonization cause is the search for miracles,” O’Neill said. “I think it’s a great tool for evangelization.”

Saints, of course, are saints because of their holiness, not because of miracles attributed to their intercession. But miracles are seen as sign that they are, indeed, in heaven.

These days, most miracles are of a medical nature. To be counted, a team of investigators must find that the healing was instantaneous and complete and not explainable by any other reason.

“The Vatican is essentially trying to prove that there was no miracle,” O’Neill said.
At the same time, people must have been praying for the intercession of the possible saint — and no other saints, O’Neill said.

There is an exception to that, he noted. Catholics can always pray to Jesus and to Mary, in addition to the person being considered for sainthood.

Even so, O’Neill said, praying to someone under consideration for sainthood, and no one else, is a real act of faith.

“You’re taking a real chance in some ways,” he said. “That person isn’t elevated to the canon of saints quite yet.”

O’Neill said that he works from the materials assembled by dioceses and provided to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican. He has interviewed people serving on the teams postulating for sainthood causes as well the recipients of miraculous healings.

As for the pilgrimage to Fatima, O’Neill said, the apparitions there were one of the greatest miracles the church has seen, and it’s the “gold standard of Marian apparitions,” what with secrets, prophecies, visionaries. It’s been recognized with a feast day and has enjoyed the recognition of every pope since Benedict XV in 1915.

“It’s the ultimate backdrop to talk about miracles,” O’Neill said.

For more on O’Neill’s ministry, visit


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