Well, the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY have come to an end with yesterday's announcement of Pope John Paul II as the number one, numero uno TOP CATHOLIC OF THE CENTURY as chosen by you, the voters. It concludes today with the second part of his continuing story which will officially cap this five-month series. It has been a fascinating journey, having the opportunity to interview nearly half of the people on the list, scurrying for photos from them or various alternative sources, setting the alarm for 4 a.m. in order to catch the selected person in the morning or risk missing them completely. The internet provided a plethora of information on many, but the best sources were always going straight to the source and talking directly with the candidate, sometimes even well into the wee hours of the morning for that inside story, to discover the spark that set these people apart from all others. With every profile we sought to go after the "warm and fuzzies" while not sugar-coating anything, bringing out the shortcomings of each to show how, with the help of God, they could rise above it all and truly be an instrument for Him. The ideas and events in their lives often formed the causes and effects of why and how each person said "Yes" to Jesus and His Blessed Mother Mary.
Most were very amenable, honored and cooperative. A few wanted to make sure we were legit before allowing their name to be associated with the DAILY CATHOLIC. In every instance, once they checked us out, they were won over. Not all were easily accessible, needless to say most were so busy that getting a hold of them was nigh unto impossible. When that was the case we interviewed those closest to them to seek out more information. Some examples: Trying to contact the Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant was practically impossible for it entailed getting through the vast bureaucracy of the New Haven complex there. But it became much easier once we called his hometown in Kansas trying to get some background on his childhood and talked to a former classmate by Godincidence that not only provided a bit about him and his drive back then, but put us in touch with an aunt in a nearby town and through her, her sister who is Virgil's wife. We were able to call her directly in Connecticutt and talk to her. What better source than a spouse? Others were out of town such as Karl Keating who was incognito in Canada on family business in November and no one could get a hold of him. Thankfully we met the deadline and were able to glean enough. Others, who we thought would be difficult to track down, literally fell in our lap such as when we called to find out how we could contact Father Robert Fox, S.J. the Fatima Family Apostolate founder, and it was Father Fox who answered. We talked for nearly two hours. Our dime and we didn't mind. It was fascinating and by the time we finished the interview we felt not only closer to him but honored and ready to write a tome on him. Another was Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR. After talking with his secretary, who wasn't quite sure what we were all about, she said Father would call back. Sure enough he called, told us to call him at 10 p.m. our time. Since we're on the west coast and he's in New York, you do the math. It was 1 a.m. there and we talked for quite some time. But who could be tired when talking with someone the caliber of Father Benedict? What a blessing! Then there was Wayne Weible who we caught just hours before he was to embark for his 29th pilgrimage to Medjugorje. He was literally packing while we talked!
With all one hundred selections we were able to add a profile, just barely making the deadlines sometimes. But we made it in the true journalistic sense. Though we had closed the extended voting on July 4th, we still continued to receive votes after to the tune of practically 2,000 more bringing the total to over 25,000 submitted votes nominating over 1,000 candidates. Though we didn't register the late votes, they by and large mirrored the rest of the votes with even more coming in for the top ten. Had we added those votes only a few would have been affected place-wise. There were some surprises. The first was the number of liberals who read the DAILY CATHOLIC. Welcome. We hope we'll win you over. Another surprise was the knowledge of so many voters. You are to be congratulated for knowing who to vote for. We had very, very few votes that exhibited anykind of silliness or sacrilege and for that we are grateful. We also had a good representation internationally and we feel for them for many of their candidates did not make the final cut of 100. The fact that this publication is geared largely for American Catholics weighed the vote more for those they knew or were in the news and therefore some foreign nominees, who were worthy, fell short. Yet, overall, in the top 50, we are very pleased with the way the voters voted.
We felt somewhat saddened that two who deserved the honor didn't make the list and we surmise this is because so few realized that Saint Maria Goretti lived in the twentieth century and that Cardinal Terence Cooke was overlooked because of his successor Cardinal John O'Connor; but then, so were his predecessors Cardinal John Farley, Cardinal Patrick Hayes and Cardinal Francis Spellman. It kind of comes down to "out of sight, out of mind." But Cardinal Cooke, whose cause has been introduced in Rome for beatification by Father Groeschel who is serving as Promoter, was truly deserving. He was a holy priest and prelate who nurtured his New York flock and was beloved by all. Before it was popular he spoke out strongly against abortion and for the sanctity of life. He reached out to the poor and urged Catholics everywhere to do the same. He did all he could to foster vocations. Born in 1921, he served as Auxiliary Bishop of New York until he was appointed the seventh Archbishop of New York on March 8, 1968 by Pope Paul VI who also elevated him to the cardinalate during his Consistory of April 28, 1969. In addition he served as the Military Vicar of the United States Armed Forces simultaneously during his time as shepherd of America's largest populated see. He died of cancer on October 6, 1983 during the pontificate of John Paul II who appointed Cardinal O'Connor to succeed him. Of his predecessor, Cardinal O'Connor is fully behind his cause, saying: "I believe that Cardinal Cooke was and is a saint and I pray that one day he will be declared a saint by the Church."
The other, as we said is the young virgin martyr who was born on October 16, 1890 in the village of Corinaldo near Ancona, Italy. Though only twelve, the son of her father's partner made several passes at her. He had been living in the same home as the Goretti family which was often the custom in turn-of-the-century Italy and though Maria didn't like it, she accepted the situation in obedience to her parents. Little did they know the danger they had placed her in, innocently believing the young man would mind himslef. On a hot summer day in early July, when she resisted yet again his persistent advances, a frustrated Alexander Serenelli, in a fit of lustful, irrational youthful rage, stabbed her fourteen times in retaliation for her rejecting his attempts to seduce her. She was rushed to the hospital at Nettuno where she died of fatal wounds on July 6, 1902, but not before forgiving him in the manner that Jesus forgave on the cross. Because she died so early in the century, many were not aware she was eligible for the list. Her staying true to her virginity was truly a heroic act especially at the beginning of a century when the sexual revolution would make virginity a dirty word. Thanks to young Maria, young girls even in the late nineties have a role model to look up to in preserving their chastity. Her murderer served time and while in prison Maria appeared to him in a vision. It changed his life and when he was released in 1928 he went to Maria's mother and asked forgiveness. The two received Holy Communion together at Christmas Mass that year. He totally reformed his ways and became a Franciscan Tertiary with the Capuchins. He was also present at St. Peter's, along with Maria's mother, when Pope Pius XII canonized her in 1950. Alexander died in 1970.
Thus, Cardinal Cooke and St. Maria Goretti would have made the list had we been able to include the additional votes that came in after the voting period had been closed. If we publish the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY in a book, we will make every attempt to include them, reflecting then the total vote. Others receiving votes who just missed making the list the first time were Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Austria's young conservative Archbishop of Vienna, Benin's Cardinal Bernadin Gantin, the Dean of the College of Cardinals and Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, Belgium's Cardinal Leo Josef Suenens, France's Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, Italy's Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, Australia's Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, and America's Cardinal William Baum who gained votes as more read about the Major Penitentiary in researching indulgences and the special Jubilee Indulgences. There were others but suffice it to say, the list really wouldn't have changed much.
We received a few e-mails of "how could you include..." or "why didn't you..." They failed to realize this list reflected the voters' choice and that is another reason we did not alter the list. But it was all worth it, from the hundreds of testimonials that have poured in during the countdown where readers are grateful, witnessing that, by reading these stories of saints and sinners, their example reinforced the readers' Faith. The e-mailers wrote that they could often relate to the tribulations many of the selections went through in their journey to strengthen their faith. By our describing the trials and struggles they experienced in chronicling the lives of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY, countless readers were inspired to persevere and to appreciate the precious Gift of their Faith even more. For that we thank you and no amount of money could repay those kind of fruits.
We also are overwhelmed and humbled how the Holy Spirit has allowed us to be an instrument for bringing more back to the Faith, for this past week we exceeded five million hits for the year and have not spent a dime on advertising or promotion. It has all been through word of mouth as more have been moved to check out the DAILY CATHOLIC. The beautiful thing is that they return and eventually, become regular daily readers. We know we'll lose some with the completion of the TOP 100 List, but that's alright. They've been exposed. Now we can only pray that they'll catch the fever and pass it on through living their Faith and bloom where they are planted! Planting, as the imagery we use for the Holy Father's profile, can be tiring but very rewarding. Yet there are times when the worker has to rest up as well.
And so now we're going to prepare for Christmas and the great Jubilee just a week away. It's been a long grueling process that has consumed up to an extra five hours a day with all the research and writing of the profiles and so we look forward to not only spending more quality family time, especially over Christmas, but also in catching up on e-mail correspondence, and the tremendous backlog of those who have requested a link on our Ports o' Call pages. We haven't forgotten them, just haven't had the time to review their sites and put them on our Ports o' Call links, categorized on the various Marian Decks which will be expanded after the first of the year. Other changes are planned for the DAILY CATHOLIC in order to streamline the publication. It will take a week to make these adjustments and catch up so therefore we will go on hiatus after Christmas with next weekend's issue serving as the Christmas-New Year's issue and see everyone on Monday, January 3, 2000. We want to be "2000-ready" not necessarily "Y2K" because we're really not too worried about that for we know God will provide. If He chooses to wipe out computers, praise God; if He chooses to allow us to continue for His honor and glory, praise God. Again, we look at it the way He wants us to: as a win-win situation!
That's how most of the Catholics on the long list of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS viewed or view it as well. For even though each and every one on the list and every one of us as well realize we're in a knockdown, dragout match with the devil, with God in our corner, we can be assured that eventually satan's goin' down! We just have to persevere. Prayer and preparation are the best exercises to condition us for the long battle as so many of these top Catholics have illustrated these virtues in their profiles. John F. Kennedy compiled a book called "Profiles of Courage" ; our compendium of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY could more appropriately be called: "Profiles of Encouragement!"