Finding Ireland’s favourite saint
It all came down to two great men – St Padre Pio and St Anthony – but which one of them would be crowned Ireland’s favourite Saint? ‘Gerry Ryan Show’ reporter Evelyn O’Rourke details a quest that captured the imagination of thousands of radio listeners.
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…
Now, just where did I leave my keys??