Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the future pope and St. John Paul II, preached at St. Adalbert Church (now part of St. John Paul II Parish) in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond section during his visit there as part of the 41st International Eucharistic Congress in 1976.

As the world celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. John Paul II, local Catholics are reflecting on a pope who remains a “spiritual father” 15 years after his death.

“I was literally raised under him,” said Meghan Cokeley, director of the archdiocesan Office for the New Evangelization. “I was baptized on Oct. 22, 1978, the day he was made pope.”

Cokeley said that the saint’s “deep love for Jesus and Mary, closeness to the people and … theological and spiritual solidity” have had a profound impact on her and area faithful.

“Many Catholics in the Archdiocese spent decades under the shepherding of John Paul II and so look upon him with great affection,” she said. “When he was alive, we felt very palpably his great paternal love for us.”

While still Krakow’s Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the first Slavic pope visited Philadelphia twice – in 1969 during a tour of Polish communities in the U.S., and in 1976 as a speaker at the 41st International Eucharistic Congress.

A year after his election, Pope John Paul II drew an estimated 1 million for an Oct. 3, 1979 outdoor Mass celebrated in Logan Square, opposite the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

In both 1969 and 1976, the future pope stayed at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown (American Czestochowa), where Pauline Father Sebastian Hanks was in the novitiate.

Unaware that Cardinal Wojtyla was on site amid the hectic itinerary for his 1969 visit, the novices were surprised when he knocked on the door of their recreation room one evening while they were watching television.

Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, the cardinal handed them a $50 bill and asked if they could order pizza.

“So we went and ordered a pizza and ate it with him while talking … the whole evening,” recalled Father Hanks.

(Watch a video compilation of St. John Paul II’s 1969 and 1976 visits to American Czestochowa as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla.)


In both 1969 and 1976, the future pope stayed at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown (American Czestochowa), where Pauline Father Sebastian Hanks was in the novitiate.

The shrine has created a page on its website through which visitors can share their testimonies to St. John Paul II, while learning more about this life and teaching.

During the 1976 Eucharistic Congress, the future pope stayed at the former St. Adalbert Parish in the city’s Port Richmond section for some two weeks, celebrating Mass and visiting area shops and restaurants.

“It means a lot that he actually spent time in our neighborhood,” said Father James Olson, pastor of the newly renamed St. John Paul II Parish in Philadelphia, which now incorporates St. Adalbert as well as St. George, Mother of Divine Grace, Nativity B.V.M. and Our Lady Help of Christians.

Father Olson said that it was “an awesome experience” to preach from the same pulpit in which John Paul II had stood some 40 years earlier, and choosing him as a patron saint for the faith community was exceptionally appropriate.

Port Richmond’s residents hail from “literally everywhere you can think of,” said Father Olson, and having made 104 apostolic journeys to 129 different nations, “John Paul II visited almost every home country of our people.”

“We want to be as a parish what John Paul was as a pope,” said Father Olson. “He went everywhere to bring the church together.”

The pope’s missionary zeal led to his apostolic blessing upon the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, an initiative undertaken by his longtime friend, Philadelphia Cardinal John Krol.

Formed in 1988, the organization has awarded more than $145 million in grants to projects in 121 countries that support the church’s outreach to poor and underserved communities.

Through a generous gift from Denver-based philanthropists John and Carol Saeman, the foundation has also awarded $11 million in Pope John Paul II scholarships for religious study in Rome by priests, seminarians, religious and laity from disadvantaged nations.

“Our history of serving the poor around the globe, specifically the needs of the church that are of particular significance to the Holy Father, is because of the vision of St. Pope John Paul II,” said Eustace Mita, president of the foundation’s board of trustees. “We are honored to be a part of his legacy and the incredible impact he had on our world, extending God’s love and building the future of the church.”

Even in his death, Pope John Paul II continued to minister to his flock, said Pauline Father Timothy Tarnacki, who serves at American Czestochowa.

As a youth at the time of the pope’s passing on April 2, 2005, Father Tarnacki experienced a pivotal moment in his journey of faith.

“It was the first moment I said ‘yes’ to God about the priesthood,” he said. “I was a teen at the time, and I’d been thinking about the priesthood before but I’d never really been serious about it. But on that day, I think it was through St. John Paul’s intercession that God gave me the grace to say ‘yes’ to him, and ever since then I’ve been following that call.”