For His Feastday: The Day I Met Pope John Paul II

For His Feastday: The Day I Met Pope John Paul II October 22, 2015

It was September 2004. I was conference director for Legatus, the organization of Catholic CEOs, and each September the group traveled to Rome.

In my years planning pilgrimages for Legatus, we typically had reserved seating on the dais beside the Holy Father during the Wednesday General Audience.  After the Audience, we’d pose for a group photo with the Pope, gathered around his chair. (There I am with my husband, barely visible at the far left.)

Vatican - Legatus w JPII on Dais

In 2004, however, Pope John Paul II was sick with the flu and missed the Audience.  In his place that week was Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who received us in the Paul VI Hall due to inclement weather. (This time I’m on the far right, with Tom Monaghan and Fr. Joseph Fox.)

Vatican - Legatus in Paul VI Hall

But by the following Saturday, we were still in Rome; the pope had recovered and we asked, Was there any chance that we could visit on Saturday, before we returned to the United States?

Wonder of wonders, Bishop James Harvey, the pope’s personal secretary at the Prefecture of the Papal Household, replied in the affirmative.  He wondered, Could we come to the Apostolic Palace?

Well, Y-E-S!!!  Yes, we could do that!!!

We cancelled our planned trip to Castel Gandolfo, and on Saturday morning, our group lined up at the Bronze Door, an imposing door at the rear of the right colonnade.  We were greeted by the Swiss Guard, the soldiers who guard the Holy Father, their colorful uniforms designed by Michelangelo.  The guards stood at attention, then struck the floor with their halberds, or pole weapons—the echo evoking ahh’s from our group of excited pilgrims.

Vatican - Swiss Guards

Once cleared, we were led up a long staircase.  At the top of the stairs was a trompe l’oeil (French: “fool the eye”) painting which made it appear as though the path continued onward a great distance.  Unfortunately, I can’t find a photo of the art; so here, for your entertainment and edification, is another trompe l’oeil work which graces the ceiling of the Vatican Museum.

Vatican - trompe loeuil

Once at the top, we were led to an open walkway which faced onto the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.

Vatican - hallway in the Apostolic Palace

Here we were to wait until a contingent including the President of the Philippines completed their state visit.  I know that the elaborate frescoes in this hallway are rarely seen, and so I’ve included some here.

Vatican - artwork in the Apostolic Palace

Finally, we passed through a gauntlet of Swiss Guards, bayonettes held in an arch over our heads.  We were led through several small galleries where we gawked at the Throne of Constantine, two of the four existing tapestries designed by the artist Raphael, and countless works of precious art.

Finally, we entered the Papal Library, where the pope receives heads of state and foreign dignitaries.  I recall that the room had just been remodeled, the wallpaper was fresh and there was a strong smell of wet paint.


Vatican - inside the papal office

Pope John Paul II was seated at the end of the room, beneath a large painting of Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven.

Vatican - JPII greeting pilgrims

We were each introduced by name; when I approached, my former boss Tom Monaghan said, “Your Holiness, this is Kathy Schiffer, an executive of Legatus.”  I bent and kissed his ring, and he gave me his personal blessing.

Vatican - Kathy Schiffer w JPII

Vatican - Kathy Schiffer w JPII hands touching

That’s all folks—What else could a person say, EVER, after that moment?


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  • Bill Russell

    A great saint, John Paul II. And he had flaws – which encourages us. His obliviousness to the truly evil Father Maciel being one. Another was his tolerance of Cardinal Sodano – a man who, along with relatives, was titanic in his corruption. It remains a mystery why he has not been exiled to do penance.

  • LOTR

    I regret to say but your account of your audience seems to me an uncritical and exaggerated exercise in papolatry. I have real problems with John Paul II who was not only oblivious to the pedophile-adulterer-rapist Maciel for decades but also appointed the vast majority of the heretical bishops and cardinals who now support Communion for adulterers and homosexuals.

    • Tito

      Papolatry? What is that? Actually, the account is just about a natural reaction of a believer in the presence of holiness, especially as it is embodied in this case in the Vicar of Christ.Your problems with St. John Paul II would seem to lack merit.

  • Guest_august

    If the testimony of Fr. Luigi Villa is true, then one day the real legacy of Pope John Paul 2 will come to light.
    Sorry to say it but Kathy and many others may have a hard time coming to terms with it.
    truly we are living in tough times.