Patron saint of plate-cleaners

Initially this column was going to be about a college sophomore’s once-in-a-lifetime experience of going to Chicago for an open-air Mass at which the relatively new pope, John Paul II, would be presiding. It was historic and memorable, but that college student, namely me, was a football field or more away from the man canonized this weekend by Pope Francis. Several among us have far more direct memories of that man.

St. Stans parishioner Chet Brilowski, for example, was the driver for Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the man who would become John Paul II, when he visited Stevens Point on Aug. 23, 1976. They traveled in a Pontiac Roadmaster to a farm near Rosholt, a stop at St. Peter’s Church, an academic address at the university and Mass at SPASH.

Chet spoke some Polish but a different dialect than his passenger and so they didn’t talk much between stops. Chet told a news reporter a few years ago, “It meant a lot to us because we are Polish. We felt blessed.” It was a memorable day, made even more so with the news two years later that the Cardinal was now the pope.

The visit to Stevens Point was arranged by Waclaw Soroka, father of Paul Soroka, also a St. Stans parishioner. The occasion was an annual lecture series on Polish culture, which the cardinal delivered in Polish although, as we know, he would develop a pretty impressive grasp of English during his pontificate. Paul drove up from Milwaukee where was living at the time for the Mass held on a hot summer day. Originally the Mass was scheduled to be held in the

UW-Stevens Point Sundial, but UW System bigwigs in Madison feared backlash from a religious service being held in a public space. So, it was held in a public high school gym instead. Go figure.

Another natural stop for the Polish cardinal was the motherhouse of a community of religious women established to teach Polish-speaking immigrant children. Cardinal Wojtyla celebrated Mass at St. Joseph Convent, where Newman celebrates Mass each weekend. Bishop Freking, our bishop at the time, and Father Jim Logan, the Sister’s chaplain, concelebrated.

Fr. Logan remembers the care with which the cardinal vested for Mass and the big hug he gave his mother. After Mass the Sisters hosted their guest for breakfast and one of those serving the head table was Sister Carlene Blavat, then a teacher at Maria High School and later a parish minister at St. Stans. “We were very impressed,” Sister Carlene recalls, “how at the breakfast table he wiped up every last bit of egg and bacon with his bread. His plate looked like it had been washed!”

She took a photo that now marks the spot where the future pope (and saint) left that spotless plate. TL


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