The simultaneous canonization of two popes resonates across the globe and the Miami Valley, even on a university campus where graduation is less than two weeks away.
Students at the University of Dayton are preparing for semester-end exams. Not all of them have this weekend’s canonizations of popes John XXIII and John Paul II on their radar. But many do.
“People are definitely aware that it’s happening,” said Crystal Sullivan, director of UD Campus Ministry. “We’re going to be remembering it in all of our liturgies this weekend.”
This is the first time a pair of popes have been declared saints on the same day. And the simultaneous declarations are seen by some as a way for Pope Francis, the current pontiff, to unite two disparate wings of the 1.1-billion-member church.
“Putting these two popes together amounts to a call for unity between the church’s liberal and conservative wings,” John Allen, a CNN Vatican analyst and a Boston Globe writer, recently wrote.
Holy Angels Church, 1322 Brown St., on UD’s campus, will mark the event in at least two ways this weekend.
First, a Mass in celebration of the canonizations will be celebrated at 7 p.m. Saturday, in Latin, a liturgical language largely set aside outside Rome after Vatican II — convened by John XXIII in 1962 — ushered in the vernacular Mass worldwide. Father Kyle Schnippel, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, will be the celebrant.
And devotions will be held after the noon Mass the next day, also marking what the church designates as “Divine Mercy Sunday.” Pope John Paul II popularized Divine Mercy Sunday as the first Sunday after Easter each year.
Alexandria Harvey, a UD sophomore studying communication management, said her history class has discussed the upcoming canonizations, as have other students. She interns for the Elizabeth Life Center and describes herself as an active Catholic.
“It been circulated around here on campus,” she said. “I plan on going. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Father Ed Gearhart, of St. Teresa parish in Springfield, knows the impact that John Paul II had on the church. In the 1980s, he attended several of his addresses while studying church law in Rome.
“When you’re in his presence, you really had the feeling you were in the presence of a saint,” Gearhart said.
The changes made during Vatican II were difficult at first, said Father Paul Hurst, of Springfield’s Saint Bernard Catholic Church. But as time has passed, it has become clear that it allowed the laity to have a greater say in how their parishes operate, he said.
“It was a hard change, but I think one we really needed,” Hurst said.
Leah Presutti, a UD senior, became Catholic at a Easter Vigil Mass last Saturday.
“It’s absolutely very fascinating, one, to be here at a Catholic university, and two, to be coming into the church while it’s happening,” she said.
The historical significance of the dual canonizations is not lost on Presutti. “This is the first time it’s ever happened.”
She sees Francis as bringing the church forward, although not in a “completely radical” way.
“It’s a great time to be in the church, a great time to be at a Catholic university, a great time to be a history major,” Presutti said.
Dawn Pickerill, principal of John XXIII Catholic Elementary School in Middletown, said the school is celebrating the canonizations over the next week. The school kicked off its celebration with a “Follow us to Sainthood” Mass and Walk-a-Thon Friday that raised more than $17,000 to continue the mission of Pope John XXIII.
“It’s very rare you have this opportunity that the person your school is named after becomes a saint,” Pickerill said. “He was a very remarkable man and did a lot to change the Catholic Church.”
Dan Frondorf, leader of the Southwestern Ohio chapter of SNAP — the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — said SNAP has a delegation in Rome protesting the canonization of John Paul II. He contends that the pope should have done far more in response to the sexual abuse of children and adolescents by priests.
“This is kind of another opportunity by the church to congratulate one of its own, when the person being congratulated or promoted doesn’t necessarily deserve it, from the point of view of survivors,” Frondorf said.
He thinks canonization sends the wrong message, that the abuse crisis isn’t worthy of attention. “Some heads should have rolled because of this,” he said. “They circled the wagons.”
Andrew Ullman, a UD English major, admitted that the event is “not really on my radar.”
“I don’t know that I’ve heard other students talking about it, but it’s something that I’ve talked about with my family before,” Ullman said. “I was raised Catholic. My parents are pretty devout. It’s definitely on their radar.”
T.J. Corrigan, a senior mechanical engineering major at UD, is a former Catholic youth group leader. He recalls John Paul II’s own work with the youth of Poland in his time as Father Karol Wojtyla.
“I personally was a youth group leader in high school,” Corrigan said. “I love the whole concept of that, of working with people like that. To me, he seemed to be the pope we needed to have in the future, leading us in the right direction.”
Staff Writers Matt Sanctis and Hannah Poturalski contributed to this story.