April 11, 2014
Cathy Kollai and her son Donald were in Rome in 2011 when Blessed John Paul II was beatified. “It was incredible, absolutely incredible,” said Mrs. Kollai, a parishioner at St. Joseph Church in Madison. “I think half of Poland was there.”
So when she and Donald heard that Pope John Paul II High School, where he is a senior, was planning a trip for students and others to attend the canonization of the school’s namesake, they didn’t hesitate to sign up.
“Mom said she would like to come back for the canonization, but she thought she would be in a wheelchair,” Donald said. “I was a freshman (for the beatification) and now I’m a senior, so it happened pretty quick.”
The Kollais will be a part of a group of four students, two parents, a grandparent and two teachers who will represent the school at the canonizations of Blessed John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII on Sunday, April 27.
“We’re going to compete with maybe 2 maybe 3 million people trying to get into (St. Peter’s) Square that holds 300,000,” said JPII’s campus minister Deacon Brian Edwards, who is leading the trip. “For the general population, there’re no reservations. It’s truly first come, first serve.”
Like the Kollais, he also was in Rome for John Paul II’s beatification, and he also was leading a group of JPII students who were in St. Peter’s Square for the late pope’s final public appearance, shortly before he died.
Being at the canonization will be “an affirmation of what I believe in, what I talk about a lot here in school about the church,” Deacon Edwards said. “It’s a great experience, a wonderful, positive encouraging experience, especially when I have students who are there and a lot of them I’m aiding them in experiencing it for the first time.”
With the canonization, “he formally becomes our patron saint as a school,” Deacon Edwards said.
Despite the canonization, the name of the high school will remain Pope John Paul II. “There are no current plans to propose to the bishop a name change,” said JPII Headmaster Faustin Weber. “We believe ‘Pope’ John Paul II marks our founding in 2002 during his pontificate, which will distinguish us from all the ‘Saint’ John Paul II institutions sure to be built in the future.”
His canonization takes on a special significance “since many of us grew up with Pope John Paul II being the main pope of our lifetime,” Deacon Edwards said. “It becomes a little more than any other canonization. There’s a sense of knowing him because of his heavy influence, his influence on the faith, the world, on my faith.”
Mrs. Kollai is one of those Catholics who were influenced by John Paul II. “Personally, he was my pope,” she said. “He was the only pope I really knew.”
She was a 15-year-old growing up in Ireland when John Paul II was elected pope in 1978. And when the pope visited Ireland, she was part of the large crowd that attended the outdoor Mass he celebrated.
“I grew very fond of him,” she said. “He had charisma. He had a stage presence. Everyone who saw him was attracted to him and was drawn to him. Whether you were a teen-ager or a politician, it didn’t matter, you were drawn to him.”
Mrs. Kollai also is grateful to John Paul II for promoting the Divine Mercy devotion and proclaiming the first Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. April 27, the date of the canonizations, is Divine Mercy Sunday.
“He established Mercy Sunday for the church, died on Mercy Sunday, was beatified on Mercy Sunday and will be canonized on Mercy Sunday,” Mrs. Kollai noted. “I think there’s a message there. That’s a two-by-four message right there.”
“I love Divine Mercy,” she added. “I think it’s one of the most wonderful gifts that we have been given.”
John Paul IIs had a powerful appeal to the young, something that still inspires. “He was very attentive to the youth,” Donald said. “I’m in that age group. That’s something for me. He’s kind of a role model.”
The others making the trip are freshman Jack Palen, sophomore Ryan Helbig, his mother Angela Helbig and his grandmother Marjorie Rippy, senior Kira Romeo, and JPII Latin teacher Bozena Lawson, who is a native of Poland.
While they will be in Rome, the school has several events planned to celebrate the canonization back home.
At 4 p.m. Sunday, April 27, the school will host its annual Spring Choral Concert. The first segment of the concert will celebrate the life of John Paul II and will feature hymns and songs that were most significant in his life. Before the closing hymn, “Lord, You Have Come to the Seashore,” a three-minute video about Blessed John Paul II will be shown.
On Monday, April 28, the entire school will participate in an outdoor Mass to mark the canonization.
Deacon Edwards and the students in Rome will send a video of the sights from the canonization and their reflections back to the school, which will be shown before the Mass, he said.
“I can’t wait,” Mrs. Kollai said about two weeks before the canonization. “I just took out the suitcases yesterday. I’m already starting to pack.”