The Catholic Legacy of William E. Miller — For His Family and For Ours

The Gregorian Institute of Benedictine College has been polling Catholics to get nominations for the greatest Catholic bishops, greatest Catholic intellectuals, greatest Catholic third-basemen and so on.

Actually they did not do third-basemen. They did greatest Catholic athletes though. Did you know Babe Ruth was a Catholic? Did you know his name is carved into the wall of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception?

The great St. Louis Cardinal Stan Musial made that list. Father George Rutler was once cajoled into attending a dinner honoring Stan Musial whom Rutler had proudly never heard of. At the dinner a man rushed up to shake Rutler’s hand and said, “Father, I watch you every week on EWTN.” Rutler’s host said, “Father, meet Stan Musial.”

The newest list from the Gregorian Institute is greatest Catholic politicians. These days a list for great Catholic politicians is fraught with difficulty. The Commonweal crowd would have a distinctly different list than what the Gregorian Institute came up with. It used to be that Catholic politicians may have been inveterate sinners but still did not challenge the teachings of the Church. You could imagine them confessing their sins. But how does one confess dissent?

So, there’s no Ted Kennedy on this list, or Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden or John Kerry. Some Democrats are on the list including Sargent Shriver and Bob Casey. Some on the list are well know: Henry Hyde, Clare Booth Luce, and Al Smith. But there is one man on the list that I suspect most people have totally forgotten though he is of the modern era. And who ever thought he was a Catholic? Only political junkies will remember William E. Miller.

 Toward the end of his life Miller was best known for starring in one of those American Express “do you know me” ads. But, he was the first Catholic on a GOP national ticket when he ran with Barry Goldwater in the disastrous campaign that elected Lyndon Johnson but ended up launching the modern conservative ascendancy. The Gregorian, the Institute’s publication, points out that Miller was “one of the best political minds and most effective orators of his day.” He was also a World War II hero now buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

What is deservedly less known about Miller is that he has a famous daughter. Stephanie Miller was a stand-up comedian of marginal success who now hosts a nationally syndicated radio program. She is a hard-core leftist who has come out of the closet as a lesbian. Her show is funny and mean and smutty. I know; I listen to it. She is, however, very respectful toward her father. She obviously would not agree with his politics, though she is one of those who claim that Goldwater and her father would have rejected today’s conservatism.

When the Gregorian list came out, I went to her show’s website and sent it to her. I thought it would be a nice gesture and that she might mention it on her show. A few weeks later I received the most remarkable email.

Stephanie’s older brother William Jr. wrote to tell me that Stephanie had sent it to him and to their still living mother and how profoundly moved they were that William Sr. had been so honored. Thus began a very interesting exchange of emails.

He wrote to me, “My Mother, who is alive and well at 89-years-old under my primary care here in Charlotte, NC, was especially touched by your gesture. It brought back to her some fond memories, and put a lump of pride in her throat. We could not be more proud of this fine distinction that Benedictine has bestowed in my father’s memory.”

Miller wrote this to Tom Hoopes, the editor of The Gregorian:

My mom and I loved Dad more than words can ever convey, as did our whole family, and it touched our hearts very deeply to know that people still, this many years later, remember the kind of man he was. As his son, I have had no greater influence on my life. Growing up, I thought ‘all dad’s must be like my Dad.’ As I have grown, I know now that he was a special rare human being who powerfully and personally affected many lives…

Dad’s Catholic faith was a powerful force in his life until the end and, a son could not have asked for a better example of ‘humanity’ to follow, and my Mother could never have had a better, more loving, ‘help-mate’ throughout life…

These beautiful lines are moving. They show the love of son for father and wife for husband. They demonstrate a man’s honorable and faithful life can reverberate down through the years. What is remarkable, though, is what Stephanie Miller did. She actually sent this to her family whose relationship with her is strained, at least religiously and politically, perhaps in every way. She recognized this would be important to them. Perhaps it was important to her.

I cannot reveal Miller’s comments about his sister except there is pain there. Still, all along the way you can see the Holy Spirit’s guiding hand. Most of all you can see Him guiding Stephanie. No matter how at odds she may be with her family, she did this profoundly kind thing for them.

Do I believe the Holy Spirit will guide Stephanie to renounce lesbianism and leftism and become a faithful Catholic? I suspect He is trying. Every time we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, as she did, even without knowing it, we are strengthened and fortified and prepared for what He may ask us to do next. Who knows where Stephanie Miller is headed. But stranger more miniscule instances have utterly changed lives. In the meantime, her brother and her mother are comforted and some of us know that William E. Miller was a great Catholic. To say the least, the General Judgment will be a giddy time.

Austin Ruse

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Austin Ruse is a contributing editor to Crisis Magazine. He is the author, most recently, of No Finer Time to be a Faithful Catholic (Sophia Institute Press, 2021).

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