Benedictine Students Celebrate Beatification

  • Thursday, May 05, 2011

He was the Pope to an entire generation of young Catholics. For students who were in high school and college in either 1978 when he became pope, or in 2005 when he passed away, Pope John Paul II was extremely influential in their lives. From World Youth Day to Theology of the Body, his activities and teachings created a special relationship with Catholic youth around the world.

Now known as Blessed John Paul II since his beatification on May 1, his journey toward sainthood continues to thrill that generation. In response to the keen interest from the student body, Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., held a wide variety of events throughout the week leading up to the beatification ceremony in Rome. The air of celebration was noticeable, as the Vatican flag flew above the campus and yellow and white streamers adorned the light poles.

The College Ministry program planned a host of events aptly named the John Paul II Beatification Celebration. Events included: a two-day prayer vigil; weeklong displays about Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit to the U.S. and historic newspaper coverage of his papacy; showing the movie “Nine Days that Changed the World” which documented his affect on the fall of communism in Eastern Europe; a presentation from Nelson Krueger, who flew Shepherd One during the 1979 U.S. visit; a “Jam for the Lamb” music festival dedicated to Pope John Paul II; a live beatification watch party; and Sunday Mass with Archbishop Joseph Naumann, of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, celebrating the Rite of Beatification.

According to Father Brendan Rolling, OSB, director for mission and ministry at Benedictine College, the Benedictines have long been close to the Holy Father, going back to St. Benedict himself. Rolling noted that St. Benedict and the first generation of Benedictine monks sought refuge with the Holy Father in Rome when their monastery at Monte Cassino was destroyed.

“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,” Rolling said. “Students were very excited about the watch party. There were hundreds of thousands of people at St. Peter’s in Rome so we’re united with them all across the world to celebrate his life and his legacy.”

Ian O’Hagan, a freshman at Benedictine College, was the chief organizer for the watch party. He took the name of John Paul for his confirmation name and, for him, the beatification was personal.

“I was thirteen when he died, two weeks away from receiving Confirmation. We heard the funeral bell ring. Upon turning the radio on, we heard that John Paul had died,” he said. “I was trying to pick a good confirmation name. 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 towards sainthood.”

O’Hagan confirmed the love he and his generation felt for this Pope, and the love John Paul II had for them.

“John Paul had an immense love for the youth, regardless of race or creed,” he said. “He never criticized or complained about the youth, nor did he pander to them. Instead, he lovingly challenged them raise the bar higher, to strive for perfection, and not let the modern world seduce them into settling for less. It only seems proper that we young people should honor the man who gave us such great inspiration by participating (in spirit) in his beatification.”

Holly Lancaster, a senior Journalism & 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 from our generation that we grew up with to be beatified as a blessed is such an amazing gift to our faith.”

Maggie Ruppert, a senior double-majoring in Secondary Education and Theology at Benedictine, was also impressed with the level of emotion on the campus.

“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. “Many of the events on campus were dedicated to our dear Holy Father and it was great to see the Pope's picture proudly displayed in front of the Student Union.”

David Trotter, team director for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) at Benedictine, noted that the first FOCUS chapter was started on the campus of Benedictine College in 1998 and its founder, Curtis Martin, was inspired by John Paul II.

“John Paul II was one of the most traveled popes in history,” he said. “And his love of young people around the world, along with his deep desire and ability to change the culture for Jesus Christ inspired the foundation of FOCUS.”

Trotter explained that other popes had called for a new evangelization and a renewal of the faith in young people, but John Paul II was able to bring about a major rejuvenation of the Church.

“In a world that believed the Church was old and dying, he gathered the largest group of young people on earth to celebrate the Catholic Church,” he said. “John Paul II upheld what was true and beautiful and put it in front of young people and inspired them.”

Earlier in the week, the delightful presentation by Krueger, or 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 about a young priest who 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 silent and everyone knew they could have easily done the same for the priest, yet it took the Pope to show them the way.

The silence in O’Malley-McAllister Auditorium that day was similar, and 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.’”

Across the Archdiocese, across the country, and around the world, millions tuned in to see the beatification and it seems to have had a profound effect on nearly all. The close relationship these young people had with John Paul II through most of their lives made his beatification a seminal moment.

“We were proud to be a part of the beatification,” said Lancaster. “And we are proud to be Catholic.”