John Paul II’s visit dominates coverage for weeks

By Chicago Catholic
Wednesday, September 6, 2017

John Paul II’s visit dominates coverage for weeks

The visit of Pope St. John Paul II to Chicago in October 1979 dominated the coverage of the Chicago Catholic for weeks.
St. John Paul II waves to the crowd during Mass in Grant Park on Oct. 5, 1979. (John H. White photo)
A contemplative pontiff is seated in Holy Name Cathedral during his visit to Chicago. (John H. White photo)
Pope John Paul II walks among the thousands gathered for a Mass in the parking lot of Five Holy Martyrs Church in Chicago. (John H. White photo)
As was the case wherever the Holy Father went, huge crowds turned out in Chicago when Pope John Paul II came in 1979. (John H. White photo)
Sisters and others applaud for the pope during his 1979 visit to Chicago. (John H. White photo)
People hold prayer cards bearing the Holy Father's image. (John H. White photo)
People carried banners and flags during his visit. (John H. White photo)
St. John Paul II waves to the crowd during Mass in Grant Park. (John H. White photo)

The visit of Pope St. John Paul II to Chicago in October 1979 dominated the coverage of the Chicago Catholic for weeks.

On Sept. 28, the weekly paper ran to 28 pages, with news of the Polish pope on nearly every page.

Chicago’s Polish community took center stage with a front-page story headlined “Chicago Poles: ‘We just can’t wait.’” The rest of the page included a full itinerary of Pope John Paul II’s 37-hour visit, including a ticket-only Mass in Polish in the parking lot at Five Holy Martyrs Parish, 44th and Richmond streets, at 8 a.m. Oct. 5; and the highlight for most Chicagoans, the 3 p.m. Mass in Grant Park.

The preview edition also included a cut-and-fold, 16-page program with music and readings for that Mass, and a coupon for readers to send in with donations to defray the cost of the visit. Any excess donations, the coupon promised, would be given to the pope for him to distribute to the poor.

The following week’s issue, dated Oct. 5, went to press before Pope John Paul II arrived in Chicago, but carried stories by managing editor Bob Zyskowski, who covered the first leg of the pope’s trip, in Ireland — despite having, he wrote, not a drop of Irish blood in him.

The editors also included a photo of the pontiff kissing the ground when he arrived at Logan Airport in Boston. He then travelled to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly before coming to Chicago, with the full text of that address printed in the newspaper.

The staff went all out for the 84-page souvenir edition that included coverage of all of the stops Oct. 4 and 5. They wrote about the crowds that lined the streets for his trip from O’Hare Airport to Holy Name Cathedral on the evening of Oct. 4 — a day in which the pope had already celebrated Masses in Philadelphia and Des Moines, Iowa — and about Luciano Pavarotti singing “Ave Maria” for him.

After a brief break at the cardinal’s residence — “We are told they sent out for hamburgers,” one story in the Chicago Catholic noted — he met with an assembly of some 1,050 religious brothers from 50 congregations at St. Peter’s in the Loop, arriving at about 9:30 p.m. for a compline service. 

The next morning, the pope stopped at Providence of God, 717 W. 18th St. in Pilsen, and gave remarks praising the Catholic Campaign for Human Development before proceeding to Five Holy Martyrs, where he spoke in Polish and made quips that were not part of his published remarks.

He greeted nearly 1,200 diocesan seminarians at Quigley South Preparatory Seminary, in what is now St. Rita High School, 7701 S. Western Ave., and participated in a prayer service with more than 300 bishops.

In a meeting with the bishops that was closed to the media, he spoke bluntly, forcefully rejecting “the ideology of contraception and contraceptive acts,” explicitly endorsing “Humanae Vitae,” proclaiming that marriage is indissoluble and condemning sexual acts outside of marriage, according to a story from the National Catholic News. He also praised the U.S. bishops for rejecting “racial antagonism and discrimination … the oppression of the weak, the manipulation of the vulnerable, the waste of goods and resources, the ceaseless preparation for war, unjust social structures and policies, and all crimes by and against individuals and against creation.”

All of that came before the 3 p.m. Mass in Grant Park, which was attended by an estimated 1.2 million people, most of whom waited all day.

In his homily, he called for unity among American Catholics.

“In the first two centuries of your history as a nation you have traveled a long road, always in search of a better future, in search of a homestead. You have traveled ‘from sea to shining sea’ to find your identity, to discover each other along the way,” he said. “Different as you are, you have come to accept each other, at times imperfectly and even to the point of subjecting each other to various forms of discrimination. … The church, too, is composed of many members and enriched by the diversity, but our unity in faith must be complete, lest we fail to give witness to the Gospel, lest we cease to be evangelizing.”

The paper printed the full text of St. John Paul II’s public remarks at each stop, including the homily.

Many of those who attended the Mass arrived early in the morning, greeted by vendors selling photos and pennants and periscopes for those on the periphery.

Early arrivers were treated to a four-hour praise festival featuring singers and dancers of different ethnicities. There were choirs and soloists from primarily African-American parishes and representatives of Eastern and Central European communities, Mexican and Puerto Rican groups, and singers and dancers from the Vietnamese, Chinese and Filipino communities.

That was followed by a dramatic program that reviewed the history of the church in Chicago, titled “The First Letter of St. Paul to the Chicagoans.” Father William Burke appeared in the role of St. Paul, telling the crowd, “Never did we dream of sharing the Good News with so many.”


  • pope john paul ii
  • 125th anniversary

Related Articles