By Father Timothy Gollob
Special to The Texas Catholic
With the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, my thoughts have turned way back to the days when we didn’t have the image of a really “hip” pontiff to look up to. You have to remember that I was in Rome as a student at the North American College from 1954 until 1958.
During those four years, the Roman Catholic Church was under the guidance of the good and holy Pope Pius XII. He had been sitting in the Chair of Peter since 1939. He had guided the church through the difficult years of World War II.
It was my joy to have been able to meet with him on two occasions during papal audiences. It was a thrill to see him bless the crowds in many languages, but he was not immensely and immediately approachable.
It was only when a new pope was elected in October 1958, shortly after I had returned to the United States, that he, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, became immediately a member of every family and every parish.
One of the first things that the new pope does is to choose a name. That is a very significant part of what he thinks his persona will be. Cardinal Roncalli took the name of John. This had been a very popular name for popes in past centuries, but for more than 500 years from the time of the Anti-Pope, John XXIII, no one wanted to open the can of worms which choosing this name and number would conjure up; but he said, “Let the real Pope John XXIII stand up!”
He also did not enjoy being a “prisoner” of the Vatican, confined to the tiny Vatican State. Soon after his election, he confounded the Swiss Guard by strolling out into the streets of Rome for a morning walk. Some nick-named him, “Johnny Walker.”
But for many, the crowning event of his so-called “caretaker” papacy was the calling of Vatican Council II. He stated that he wanted to open the windows of the church and let in some fresh air. It was a delightful announcement to all Catholics that the input of clergy and laity around the world was being asked. Even the folks at St. Augustine Church in Pleasant Grove were to be part of a process to spell out areas of the faith in which freshness and clarity needed to be implemented.
The first document of the council gave new life to the liturgy. Mass could be celebrated in the vernacular. Priests could face the congregation and see the wonderful expressions on the countenances of the faithful. Lay persons could proclaim the scriptures and teach the love of God in neighborhoods and workplaces.
Later when Holy Cross Catholic School was combined with St. James, Blessed Sacrament and Immaculate Heart of Mary schools, the great honor being called the John XXIII Catholic School was bestowed on us. Under the supervision of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, great and fresh education prevailed. Our Good Pope John was a good patron and constant inspiration.
Now we pray to Saint John XXIII to keep the universal church filled with sweet, fresh scents (and good common sense!)
Father Timothy Gollob is the pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Oak Cliff.