Tapestry@25: miracle investigator Randall Sullivan

It began as a piece of investigative journalism into so-called miracles — visions of the Virgin Mary in Oregon and Medugorje. But it turned into a harrowing chapter of Randall Sullivan’s life… and the skeptic became a believer.
Catholic pilgrims gather kneeling around a statue of Virgin Mary, overseeing the area around a pilgrimage site near the Southern-Bosnian town of Medjugorje. (ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP via Getty Images)

Our deep dive into the archives for Tapestry@25 — this season-long celebration of the show's 25 years on the air - has made one thing clear: interviews are memorable for lots of different reasons.

Some guests offer hard-won wisdom about the human condition. Others dare to ask life's biggest questions: Why are we even here? Is the universe a friendly place - or an infinite expanse of utter indifference to human beings? 

But one interview from the vault, originally broadcast in 2006, defies all categorization. 

Author Randall Sullivan. (Russell J. Young)

Randall Sullivan was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone when he wrote a book called The Miracle Detective. His earlier investigative books had been given rave reviews, yet this one was widely considered untouchable. Sullivan says an editor with The New York Times' book section confessed to his publisher that they wouldn't go near a story about miracles.

The miracles in question happen in Medjugorje, in the former Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina), where Sullivan investigates apparitions of the Virgin Mary, which first appeared to six teenagers in 1981. During the course of his investigation, Sullivan ended up having a mystical experience himself. 

So begins Randall Sullivan's strange journey from skeptic to religious believer. And - true to his self-image as a cool guy from Rolling Stone - he was vaguely appalled by the transformation.

A Franciscan priest blesses a Catholic pilgrim near a scuplture of Virgin Mary, overseeing the area around pilgrimage site near the southern Bosnian village of Medjugorje. (ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP via Getty Images)

"It's inconsistent with not only my view of the world, but my view of myself," Sullivan said. "I don't see myself - and never did - as someone who would be prone to religious mysticism or hallucinations or whatever they are. I always felt a great deal of confidence in my ability to remain grounded and pretty clear about what's going on around me. And this called that into question. To believe such a thing separates you from the world I know. Can you imagine going into Rolling Stone magazine and trying to tell this story?! My credibility would probably be permanently forfeited if I ever let this out, that I even thought that for a second. But in the end I put it in the book because I felt I had to. I felt that I owed it to whoever and whatever had taken me on this journey and had made me better than I was when I started it."

 How did Randall Sullivan resolve the tension between the two warring parts of his identity?  The answer lies in one of the all-time great Tapestry quotes:

"It's too important - my soul is at stake. Which is even bigger to me than my career."

Currently, the supernatural claims of the events at Medjugorje are still under investigation by the Catholic Church. However, in 2019 the Vatican did authorize that pilgrimages could be officially conducted by Catholic parishes around the world.

The interview was produced by Susan Mahoney and Marieke Meyer.


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