Meet the Apparition Expert

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Michael O'Neill of Chicago, Illinois, is the founder of MiracleHunter.com, at which he has spent decades cataloging miracles and Marian apparitions. He hosts a weekly radio show, "The Miracle Hunter," on Relevant Radio; was a contributor to Mater Misericordiae, Vol. II: The Immaculate Heart of Mary and Fatima (Marian Press); and has authored a few books about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Recently, we sat down with this apparition expert to learn about his life's work.

How did you decide to spend your life cataloging miracles and Marian apparitions?
It all goes back to my mother, who had a great Marian devotion. When she was a young girl, her mother fell away from the faith. She tried to get her children to stop believing and began to throw away the Rosary beads and the statues in their house. Of course, my mom was distraught by this. So like Catholics do at times, she made a deal with God that if He brought her mother back to the Catholic faith, she would spread the story of St. Juan Diego's miraculous tilma, especially to children. God answered her prayers and, needless to say, I heard the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe quite a bit growing up.

In an archeology class, I was required to write a paper about an artifact, so of course I chose the tilma. This eventually led me to want to become an expert in Marian apparitions.

How did you start your career in tracking and verifying Marian apparitions?
After graduating from Stanford University, I set up my website (MiracleHunter.com). I wanted to catalogue the apparitions of Mary; there have been as many as 2,500 claimed throughout history. I wanted to find out if these alleged apparitions are only part of pious tradition or if they actually happened. If some were real, I wanted to find out which were real and which weren't.

What did you find out?
I discovered that only 28 of these have been authenticated by a local bishop and even fewer recognized by the Vatican. On my website, I have all the documentation of every investigation that has ever occurred on these apparitions. It turns out the Catholic Church is very careful and has a rigorous process for investigating apparitions. She has no interest in promoting apparitions that are untrue or questionable. In fact, in my estimation, there are only 16 apparitions recognized by the Vatican. These include the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Kibeho, the Blessed Virgin Mary as she appeared to St. Faustina, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This means that, in addition to the local bishop authenticating these apparitions, the Vatican has indicated that they accept the apparitions' authenticity, too. Sometimes the Vatican does this by releasing an official statement. Or else they might establish a major basilica at the site of the apparition. Sometimes they memorialize the apparition on the General Roman Calendar. Other times, the pope has visited the apparition site, met with the visionaries, or gone so far as to canonize them.

Next month we will continue our interview with Michael O'Neill to learn more about how the Catholic Church discerns the authenticity of a Marian apparition.

— Marc Massery

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