ALLOUEZ — Michael O’Neill has traveled the world visiting Marian apparition sites, including the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. As an expert on miracles and apparitions, O’Neill has been dubbed, “The Miracle Hunter,” a title that comes from the name of his website, miraclehunter.com.
O’Neill served as a consultant to National Geographic’s 2015 special issue on the Virgin Mary. “They relied on my data to create their map of all the Marian apparitions around the world,” O’Neill told The Compass in a telephone interview. “It was a fun project and, believe it or not, it has been very well received. It was their top issue in the last six years.”
Miracles of Champion
One of O’Neill’s most recent projects was narrating a documentary on the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, “The Miracles of Champion,” which aired on EWTN earlier this month. He was also a guest on the TODAY show with Megyn Kelly during Holy Week to discuss physical and spiritual healings that have taken place at the shrine in Champion.
On Saturday, May 26, O’Neill will be at the shrine for a Mass with Eucharistic Healing Prayer Service. Following Mass, he will give a talk on eucharistic miracles.
O’Neill told The Compass that while other Marian apparition sites around the world, such as the ones in Lourdes, France, and Fatima, Portugal, are larger and better known, the Champion shrine is special in its own way.
“If you travel to Lourdes or to Fatima, the facilities that they have in place are incredible — the works of architecture and monuments to our faith are impressive,” he said. “But when you go to Champion, Wis., you’re taken back not by the buildings, but by a sense of peace that you have when you go there.”
‘A great focus on Mary’
“It’s such a simple shrine, and it has such a great focus on Mary, that you can’t help but have a successful pilgrimage,” added O’Neill. “You definitely feel connected to Mary and connected to all of the people who have come over the years and have felt such a great sense of peace and of prayer. That’s not to say that the other places around the world aren’t impressive or beautiful, but there’s something very special about Champion.”
O’Neill’s first visit to the shrine was on Dec. 8, 2010, the day Bishop David Ricken announced that the Marian apparitions Adele Brise witnessed in 1859 were worthy of belief.
“I was there with Relevant Radio as part of their broadcast of the big Mass and announcement by Bishop Ricken,” he said. “Since then, I’ve been there a handful of times.”
O’Neill’s fascination with miracles and apparitions began as a child, he said, and grew when he was studying at Stanford University.
“My mother had a great devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe,” he said. “Growing up, I always heard these incredible stories of Marian apparitions, but it wasn’t until I got to college — for an archaeology class that I wrote a paper on Our Lady of Guadalupe — that I first really began to sink teeth into it.”
Some advice given to him by the university’s vice provost at the time, Condoleezza Rice, stuck: “Whatever you do in life, become an expert at something.”
Expert on miracles
“She said, ‘Find your sliver of the universe and own it,’” said O’Neill. “And I kind of thought, ‘Well, what would I like to become an expert at?’ So I set out to become the world’s expert on miracles.”
O’Neill began his research on apparitions and started his miracle hunter website around 1998.
“At that time, there was nothing else like it out there,” he said. “It was the first (website) to explore miracles and the visions of Mary. Of course, I’m a believer, but I’m also a skeptic, so I wanted to present those things that had factual basis to them and create a resource for the faithful. People always want to find out if things are approved or unapproved, what’s the status or what happened in this case. I like to present all of the details I can so people can have a resource.”
Eventually, his website traffic grew and as the word spread, O’Neill began giving lectures and speaking on Relevant Radio and EWTN. He now hosts a regular program on ETWN titled “They Might Be Saints.” One recent episode focused on the life of Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga of Marquette, Mich., known as “The Snowshoe Priest.”
Stories of healing
O’Neill’s fascination with the shrine at Champion grows as he hears stories of people who have been touched through the Blessed Mother’s intercession. He mentioned the story of Elizabeth Meehan, who was in hospice care in Kenosha when her daughter, Michelle Adler, drove to the shrine to pray for her mother’s healing.
“There are many cases where people go themselves and pray for healing and they may receive it, but in this case, a woman prayed for her mother, and went back home and she … got out of hospice,” he said. “It’s really an incredible place of prayer — both for people who have ailments themselves and to bring our intentions to Our Lady. Some of them, it appears, are being answered.”