Friday, April 18, 2008

Who is Ireland's favourite saint?

A contest was held on the Gerry Ryan Show in 2005 to determine Ireland's favourite saint. The first article presents the story behind this quest. The second article details the effort to put forth Matt Talbot as the favourite saint. To enhance readability of these articles, click on each link after the word "SOURCE."

The story behind the Gerry Ryan Show’s great quest
by Evelyn O’Rourke

On Wednesday, the 12th October – which was the 30th anniversary of the canonisation of St Oliver Plunkett – we launched the ‘Gerry Ryan Show’ quest for Ireland’s favourite saint on RTÉ 2FM. The quest was to take about three weeks, with the winner due to be announced on November 1st, All Saints Day.

For weeks our desks were groaning with the weight of postcards, envelopes and scraps of school book paper as listeners rushed to nominate their favourite saint!
But how did this madcap adventure begin?

I have been working as the reporter on ‘The Gerry Ryan Show’ for three years now and we are always dreaming up weird and wonderful ways to entertain and stimulate our audience. I was in France at a friend’s wedding recently, and as I sat in the church, I suddenly thought that with the media’s current obsession with lists – everything from the ‘best movie’ to ‘the worst Eurovision song’ – wouldn’t it be great to tap into a religious theme and discover Ireland’s favourite saint?

Our listeners are a fantastically diverse bunch but whenever we touch on religious subjects we get an overwhelming response. I knew that Irish people in particular have huge affection for saints, regardless of their actual relationship with the church. I spoke to Gerry and the team about my idea and they were fully supportive from the outset. And so the masterplan was created….

On that first day, the 12th of October, we invited Fr Michael Collins (curate with Dundrum parish) to join Gerry Ryan and myself in studio as we launched the quest. We spent an hour or so on-air trawling through many, many possible contenders for the title.

After that first day we were able to collate the votes we had received and we issued a list of ten contenders. They were St Brighid, Venerable Matt Talbot, St Padre Pio, St Anthony, St Martha, St Martin de Porres, St Therese de Lisieux, St Gerard Majella, St Jude, and Pope John Paul II.

The inclusion of the late pope caused a stir, but interestingly he polled most favourably on the web as opposed to the phone or by post, so votes for him were probably reflective of the younger section of our audience. Another candidate whose huge fan base interested me was St Gerard Majella. He is the patron saint of expectant mothers and many mothers contacted us to say that they had relied on him during their pregnancy. The Venerable Matt Talbot was another popular candidate, due in no small part I believe, to the intervention of Fr Bernard McGuckian SJ, who enthusiastically canvassed on his behalf on the programme!

During the campaign we eliminated the candidates one by one, and finally the day came when we had to name the winning saint. After many thousands of votes on the web, by phone, by email, by text and by post, there could only be one winner.

While St Padre Pio had many, many supporters, in the end St Anthony, with his unique way of helping people find lost articles, won out.

St Anthony is officially (well, according to us anyway!) Ireland’s favourite saint…


Pushing the case for Matt Talbot as Ireland’s favourite saint
by Barney McGuckian SJ

Late in October, Evelyn from the Gerry Ryan Radio Show phoned. “We are looking for Ireland’s favourite saint. Will you “root” for Matt Talbot?”

I was game for anything if it promoted Matt’s cause. “The Saint in over-alls”, as the Americans used to call Matt, just about qualified for the contest as he had been declared Venerable thirty years earlier on October 3rd, 1975. He was really up against it. All other nine contenders were long-established “biggies” like Saints Anthony of Padua, Therese of Lisieux or Gerard Majella. Supporting Matt in this league was like being up for Cobh Ramblers against Real Madrid. The odds were pretty long, to say the least. In any case I gave it my best shot. Sadly it wasn’t good enough. Poor Matt was dumped “out of the basilica”, as Gerry put it, in the early stages.

I just couldn’t convince the listeners that as the only 20th century Irish person in the line-up he should have got all the Irish first preferences. If they had been sports at all they would all have got behind the little under-dog who picked himself out of an alcoholic gutter. He was only in school for a few short years. Even after that the only recorded comment about him in his life-time was an entry in the roll-book, “Mitcher”.

None of the listeners took my point that to ignore him in his country of origin was liable to have a devastating effect on the more than 40,000 members of the Matt Talbot Association in the U.S. He is their inspiration in their struggle for sobriety. Nor did the fact that May 22, 2006 will be his 150th birthday, another compelling reason for honouring him, cut any ice at all. And you would think that none of them had ever crossed the Liffey on his bridge. Was I the only one who took seriously the uniqueness of Matt Talbot Bridge in Dublin. It is the only public monument of any kind in the world named after an “ordinary” working man who, in his life time was never known as anything else. Matt wasn’t a worker who eventually became a boss, trade union official, clergyman, politician, peer, millionaire, writer or any of the other escape routes from ordinary anonymity. All these points must be taken seriously in next year’s poll.

A role model for all of us Matt had no identity crisis. He was his own person. This was evident in his remark about his employer. “T.C. Martin may be my boss. He is not my Master”. Once Matt broke with the mastery of drink he was only to have one Master. It was appropriate that he should die on Trinity Sunday, 80 years ago this year, after a life of such wholehearted and secret service of his Master and ours.

For the record St Anthony of Padua emerged as winner. With regard to him, take a word of warning when next in Portugal. Don’t say “of Padua” but “of Lisbon”. The Portuguese will remind you in no uncertain terms that he is no more Italian than yourself or myself.