The Catholic University of America

June 24, 2015

Faculty, Staff Reflect on Previous Papal Visits

Pope Francis’s upcoming September visit will mark the third time a sitting pontiff has blessed the Catholic University campus with an appearance. We asked faculty and staff involved in previous papal visits to share some memories of those events.

John J. Convey, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Professor of Education and Former Provost (1997 to 2007)

  John J. Convey

It will be a thrill to be present at the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in September. It’s a great honor for the University and a tribute to the University’s contributions to the Church. This visit will mark the third time that a pope has visited CUA. I was also present during the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979 and for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. For Pope John Paul’s visit all the faculty was gathered in the old gymnasium, which now houses the School of Architecture and Planning. Cameras were popping everywhere when he entered the building. I was also fortunate to be invited with Catholic educators all over the country to hear Pope Benedict speak in the Great Room of the Pryzbyla Center in 2008. They say, “The third time is a charm.” I look forward to the visit in September.

Marion Gosney, Director, Office of Alumni Relations

Marion Gosney

I was on campus for Pope Benedict’s visit in 2008. I had no idea how exciting it would be! It started with local news tracking the journey of the (vacant) popemobile to campus. Numerous news trucks with 20-foot antennas lined the sidewalk in front of McMahon, where our office was, three or four days before the event. Recognizable news anchors could be seen around campus.

I volunteered both days of the papal visit, directing visitors to campus and then assisting journalists while perched on scaffolding, and would not have missed the scene for anything!






Victor Nakas, Associate Vice President for Public Affairs

  Victor Nakas

I’ve only had the experience of seeing one pope at the University. I remember well the dozens of TV trucks that were arrayed on our campus, some of them in front of McMahon Hall. We had hundreds of journalists who were either in the Pryz or on the University Mall or University Lawn during that two-day period. Many of them used a press center that we set up on campus for them.

It was an incredibly exciting time for the members of our communications committee. It was also one of the most complicated projects I’ve ever been associated with. I’m fortunate that about half of the current staff in the Office of Public Affairs was involved in helping organize Pope Benedict’s visit, so we can apply that collective experience to the upcoming visit.



Frank Persico, Vice President for University Relations and Chief of Staff

  Frank Persico

I have been blessed to see two popes on our campus and to be involved in planning for a third. Pope John Paul II came to Catholic University in 1979. What I remember most vividly about the visit was when the Holy Father walked down the center aisle of what is now the Crough Center. It was decorated from top to bottom — it was our gym at the time, as folks may know. The security was nothing like it is these days. I was a volunteer usher in that aisle at the event and when the Pope walked by, I put out my hand and he brushed up against it — a quick attempt at a handshake. I remember it today as if it just happened.

When Pope Benedict came to campus in 2008, students had the chance to see him twice. On April 16 he came to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to meet with the U.S. bishops. Crowds (about 11,000 folks) gathered on the University Mall were able to see him enter the Basilica via the east steps (the same area where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass). The next day he came to the Pryz to deliver an address in the Great Room. Students gathered on the University Lawn (between the Pryz and the law school) had a chance to see Pope Benedict coming and going to the Pryz and to view his address on a jumbo screen. If someone were to ever ask me what my greatest accomplishment at Catholic University is, I would say without a doubt that planning a venue for our students to see the Holy Father and watch both his Mass at Nationals Park and the address on that jumbo screen would be it. Most students, I recall, wore baseball-type shirts with the name “Benedict” on the back along with the number “16.” That whole scene was really special.

Shavaun Wall, Professor of Education

  Shavaun Wall

I was in the audience for Pope Benedict’s presentation in the Great Room of the Pryz. It was an honor to be among representatives of Catholic education (both Catholic schools and Catholic colleges and universities) from across our nation who heard the Pope’s thoughts on education. The campus community provided a tremendous welcome. I remember being seated just three rows away from the special chair the architecture students designed, awaiting the Pope's arrival. The lawn behind the Pryz was packed with students, faculty, and community members. A great roar went up when the Pope arrived. There was such anticipation, then the joy of the visit.

Pope John Paul II visited very early in my career at CUA. This was years before the Pryz was built. So the Pope addressed the faculty and guests in what is now the Crough Center (but at that time was CUA's gym!). CUA transformed the gym with white and gold draping. The faculty wore academic attire. We were very excited to be present. I never imagined that three popes would visit CUA during my career. CUA really does enjoy a special relationship with the Holy See.





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