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September 27, 2009

The pastoral and the personal

Bob Zyzkowksi was managing editor of The Chicago Catholic when Pope John Paul II visited Chicago in 1979.

Zyskowski, who is now associate publisher of The Catholic Spirit — the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — traveled to Ireland to begin covering the pope’s trip there under a partnership with Catholic News Service. By the time he returned to Chicago on the press plane, he had also stopped in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

For him, the highlight of the Chicago visit was Pope John Paul II’s Mass in Polish outside Five Holy Martyrs Church, 44th and Richmond streets, on Oct. 5.

“As a reporter covering the Mass, the closest I could get to the altar was outside a tall chain-link fence that bordered the parking lot,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Inside the fence, seated a few rows back from the papal altar, was my mom, Helen Zyskowski. Every parish that was predominantly Polish was allowed two representatives at the pope’s Five Holy Martyrs Mass, and because our family had been so active in volunteering in so many ministries at our parish, the pastor at St. Bruno (48th and Harding) chose my mom as one of those folks.

“So there I am — having followed the Holy Father to Ireland and across half the United States — on the outside of the fence looking in, and my mother is not only inside the fence — with a seat! — but she gets to receive Holy Communion from the pope!”

Staff writer Dolores Madlener, who then was secretary to editor A.E.P. Wall, received a ticket for a seat at the Grant Park Mass as an archdiocesan employee. She remembers the huge yellow and white “Welcome Pope John Paul II” banner waving on Michigan Avenue from the newly opened St. Paul Books & Media Center.

“Police Commander John Stibich from my parish was in charge of crowd control and the general operation of the Grant Park Mass, and I saw him in his smart dress uniform standing tall on that sunny morning,” she wrote in an e-mail recollection. “Now all I remember the pope saying in his homily was ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ but I drank in every word. Priests distributed Holy Communion from wooden bowls, and my pastor gave me the bowl he had used as a keepsake. Which, of course, I still have.”

Assistant editor Michelle Martin got a day out of the sixth grade to come downtown for the pope’s visit, spending the night of Oct. 4 with an aunt who lived in Lincoln Park and getting up early Oct. 5 to see the pope off on his day’s travels from the front of the cardinal’s residence.

While she and her family did not attend the Grant Park Mass, she remembers the crowds of people making their way to the park, and the souvenir vendors hawking papal flags, buttons and other memorabilia all along the sidewalks on the way to the train station.

But she has her own favorite souvenir: a grainy photograph, snapped on a Kodak instamatic, showing a thumbprint-size white-clad pope in the window of a black limousine, heading down North Avenue.