A Paulist priest who proposed a former all-America football player for canonization says the response to his proposal has been "100 percent positive."

The Rev. William J. Cantwell said he has received letters and phone calls from throughout the country since recommending that Bruce Smith, a University of Minnesota football player who won the 1941 Heisman Trophy, be canonized.

Father Cantwell never saw Smith play football. They became friends when Smith was a cancer patient in a Minneapolis hospital and the priest was a chaplain there. Smith died in 1967.

"There is no contradiction in being chosen as an all-America athlete and being declared a saint of God," Father Cantwell wrote to the Catholic Bulletin here. "Most important was his (Smith's) creative fidelity in seeking to do the Father's will each day of his life.

"Our Catholic faith teaches us of communion of saints. And I have always believed that Bruce Smith, who knew so well from personal experience the ravaging pain of cancer, would do everything he could do to fight this scourge of humanity."

"This is why," the priest said, "I have often invoked his intercession on behalf of cancer patients. And I have asked others to do so.

"I have not kept records nor gathered statistics on my friend Bruce this past decade. Perhaps I should have. But I do know that such prayers for his intercession have made a difference in the lives of unnumbered patients and in the lives of their families and friends," he said.