by Steve Johnson
Special to The Leaven
Atchison — He was THE pope to an entire generation of Catholics; they had known no other.
So it’s no surprise that there was keen interest on the part of many students of archdiocesan colleges and universities in the beatification of Pope John Paul II.
In response, several colleges sponsored various events and earlymorning watch parties during the beatification ceremonies in Rome. At Benedictine College in Atchison, the Vatican flag flew above the campus and yellow and white streamers adorned the light poles. The College Ministry program planned an entire week’s worth of events, aptly named the John Paul II Beatification Celebration.
At the same time, the Apostles of the Interior Life were busy on the campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The group hosted a movie on the life of John Paul II and held a live watch party during the Vatican ceremonies for students of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center.
Events at Benedictine included everything from a screening of the movie “Nine Days That Changed the World,” which documented the pope’s role in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, to a Sunday Mass with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann celebrating the rite of beatification.
“Students were very excited about the watch party,” said Father Brendan Rolling, OSB, director for mission and ministry at Benedictine College. “We had campus mourning when Pope John Paul passed away and we had a ‘pope party’ when Pope Benedict was elected, and now we’re blessed to have this great celebration for Pope John Paul and his beatification.”
Ian O’Hagan, a freshman at Benedictine College, was the chief organizer of the watch party. He took the name of John Paul for his confirmation name and, for him, the beatification was personal.
“I was 13 when he died, two weeks away from receiving confirmation,” he explained. “We heard the funeral bell ring. Upon turning the radio on, we heard that John Paul had died.”
“I was trying to pick a good confirmation name,” O’Hagan continued. “Right then and there, I decided I would take the name of John Paul. Two weeks later, I was confirmed with that name.
“I had watched the mourners keep vigil in St. Peter’s Square during his last days. I had watched his funeral and the crowning of Benedict XVI. It only made sense to watch the pope I have admired the most take the last steps toward sainthood.”
Holly Lancaster, a senior journalism and mass communication major at Benedictine, attended the watch party and was touched by the outpouring of love for “JP II.”
“The people around me were going nuts,” she said. “We were so excited! To have a pope . . . that we grew up with be beatified as a blessed is such an amazing gift to our faith.”
Maggie Ruppert, a senior doublemajoring in secondary education and theology at Benedictine, was similarly impressed.
“This weekend I was amazed at the love for John Paul that is still very much alive in the hearts of our students,” she said.
Earlier in the week, the delightful presentation by Nelson Krueger, the “papal pilot,” as he was billed at Benedictine, gave insights into John Paul II’s personality and natural friendliness. While there were plenty of stories, like the pope playing guitar and singing “Silent Night” on the plane, there was one particular incident that clearly touched the students in attendance.
Krueger told how a young priest was holding a very hot halogen light to illuminate the aisle inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral during Pope John Paul II’s stop in New York City. Krueger was nearby and noticed the young man, as did hundreds of others in the church.
Nobody, however, lifted a hand to help him. Krueger said that when Pope John Paul II finished Mass and was leaving the church, he stopped, walked over to the young priest, and wiped his face with a handkerchief. Krueger said the church was absolutely silent as those gathered to see the pope realized they could have easily done the same for the priest. But it took the pope to show them the way.
When Krueger concluded that story in the O’Malley-McAllister Auditorium that day, the silence was similarly deafening; several students wiped tears from their eyes.
“How often in everyday life do we see people who need things?” asked McKenna Daniel, who was moved by the story. A 2010 Benedictine graduate who had come back for the beatification celebration, she was glad she had taken the time to stop by the presentation.
“That was the best preaching, and he didn’t say a word,” she said. “Pope John Paul II was the perfect illustration of the famous quote from St. Francis of Assisi, who said ‘Preach always and, if you must, speak.’”
On the KU campus, Sister Elena Morcelli said the Apostles of the Interior Life wanted to share the love that John Paul II had for youth with the college students of today. Since they were operating on a large, secular university campus, they could not make the assumption that students knew anything at all about John Paul.
So they printed pamphlets for students to use during eucharistic adoration and they showed the Vaticanapproved movie, “Pope John Paul II: Based on the Powerful True Story.” The CBS made-for-TV movie starred Jon Voight and Cary Elwes and tells the story of Karol Wojtyla’s journey from his youth in Poland through his death.
“Pope John Paul II had a special relationship with the youth and we wanted those who did not know him to get a feeling of that,” she said. “Plus, these students did not know much about a beatification and we wanted them to have [the] experience of seeing the ceremony. With our experience from our time in Rome, we helped them with the Latin and we helped explain what was happening over the three hours.”
Ryan Dennihan, a senior English major at KU, is actively discerning a religious vocation and attended the Apostles of the Interior Life watch party.
“The event of John Paul II’s beatification was, for me, a meditation on the contemporaneousness of Christ among us,” he said. “To our generation, John Paul II was perhaps the prime example of the transforming encounter — when the living heart encounters the living Christ — and its impact on the church, in the world, and in reality.”
Dennihan grew up with John Paul II as his Pope and has read his theology of the body, along with encyclicals on vocations. He hopes to be able to find a religious vocation after college.
“I pray to Blessed John Paul II every day for my vocation,” he said.
For the Benedictine students, the event was an affirmation of their faith.
“We were proud to be a part of the beatification,” said Benedictine’s Lancaster. “And we were proud to be Catholic.”
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