Wednesday, April 1, 2015

He moved me

10 years ago on a cold spring evening in early April an old man died in his bed a half a world away, and a selfish, frequently drunken 22-year old college student fell to her knees in her dingy living room.

Eyes glued to the tv screen, I struggled to make sense of what I was seeing on the television screen and the corresponding ache in my chest for a man I’d never met and for a religion I barely practiced.
I was never the same again.
I spent most of April 2nd in a daze, missing all my classes and breaking into real tears periodically. Eventually the news coverage coming out of Rome lost its pull on me and I ventured from the couch to the front door, destination unknown.
Within a half a dozen blocks I found myself in front of the Catholic church I sometimes attended on weekends, still drawn to participation in the Mass even when the vigil had been spent blacked out drunk with 20,000 of my closest friends on Pearl Street.
I pushed on the heavy bronzed door and was surprised when it yielded to me. It was around noon, and the church was unlocked and completely empty save for an elderly woman sitting near the altar and a younger guy with camera equipment standing off to one side of the sanctuary.
At the end of the aisle someone had erected a makeshift shrine; a single votive candle burned beneath an easel holding the papal portrait of John Paul II. There were a few potted flowers, leftover Easter decor still dotted the stairway surrounding the altar.
Propelled almost unconsciously, I found myself at the front of the church and dropping to my knees in front of his picture. I noticed the red light burning in a lantern hung in my periphery, and I looked past the image in front of me to the tabernacle behind the altar. I knew He was there, too.
I dropped my head into my hand and wept. I had absolutely no explanation for the intensity of my reaction, given the attention I’d given to my Catholic faith for the past 4 years. College had effectively paganized me, at least in practice, and I was Catholic in name only. I knew this, of course, but that morning for the first time it caused me both deep, reflective sorrow and inspired the hope that maybe I could turn things around.
I looked up at the sound of a camera clicking away and the young guy with the equipment shrugged his shoulders and asked sheepishly if I’d consent to having the images used in the paper. The next morning I saw myself under the fold on the front page of the Denver Post. Not many people have a picture of themselves on the day their conversion began in earnest, and even though it’s grainy, black and white, and not terribly flattering, it’s something I treasure. It’s proof that I was there, and now I’m here.
More than that, it captures the essence of my relationship with JPII: penitent prodigal meets spiritual father. Fireworks ensue. Lifelong friendship is cemented.
Later that same month I withdrew from all my college courses and stopped going out to bars every night. As my phone stopped ringing and my friends drifted away, I spent long weekend nights listening to CDs of famous Catholic speakers (Scott Hahn, anyone?) and gradually began to come alive to the mysteries and depth of the Faith.
By early May I had an acceptance letter in my hands from Franciscan University of Steubenville. I would transfer there at the summer’s end and spend the next 3 years in a kind of spiritual, emotional and physical rehab, piecing back together the real Jenny.
Through it all, St. John Paul II (who I never doubted was directly interceding for little old me) became one of my closest friends.
I couldn’t have dreamt it on April 2nd, 2005, but on Divine Mercy Sunday in the year 2011, I stood in St. Peter’s Square with a million other pilgrims, my 7-month-old son pressed uncomfortably close to my chest in a baby carrier, squeezed by Italians on every side, and listened as Pope Benedict gave him to the Universal Church as a “Blessed.”
If that wasn’t sufficiently awesome, three years later I returned to that same square, this time with two more sweet babies in tow and my husband by my side, and we distractedly wrestled toddlers through the long ceremony and misting Roman rain while Pope St. John Paul II was elevated to the altar and proclaimed “Sanctus.”
I smiled because I’d known for years that this day would come, and I cried because I never dreamt I would be there to witness it.
St. John Paul II, I love you. And I owe, quite simply, everything to your intercession. Please never stop praying for me.
“Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.” Pope St. John Paul II


  1. Jenny, this is so beautiful. I too distinctly remember keeping the television vigil a decade ago - I was a bit younger - a freshman in high school, and it was the first time I felt that emotional pull of the Church at my heartstrings. I also got very good at ignoring that pull for a long time in college, but the heart remembers even when we forget.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Oh Jenny...Your JPII story always inspires me...and I can so relate to the relationship you have with the Saint (ahhh...feels so cool to call him a SAINT!!!). I <3 JPII and I constantly ask him to pray for me and for my marriage, especially. HAPPY EASTER JENNY!

  3. Thank you for writing this! You really took me back to how I felt when I got the news that St. JPII had died - I couldn't stop crying!

    "Please never stop praying for me."

    My thoughts exactly.

  4. So beautiful! When I was 19, I went to the Jubilee with JPII. He said a special blessing over our group for our ourselves and our families. I think of that blessing often and pray for his intercession in the healing of my infertility.

  5. I just love this story!!! I love when you share how St. John Paul II has been such a part of your life, what a great gift!

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I only realized this year that JPII died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. When he died in 2005, I said to myself, "I have to become Catholic." A year later on the Eve of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2006, I was getting confirmed. I really believe that he was an immediate intercessor for young people, especially those who really needed help and mercy (like myself). I didn't realize until this year that he died on the same "liturgical day" as I was confirmed one year later.

  7. Wow, what an amazing conversion story! Our wedding day was the same day as his death. It was a lot to take in that day, but now I pray to him to watch over our marriage.

  8. So beautiful, thanks for sharing!

  9. Wow! So you werent a very practicing Catholic, but his death struck you so deeply? What a miracle!

  10. Crying. Crying. This is a beautiful, poignant, hope-filled testimony to the mercy of God and the intercession of St John Paul II. Thank you so much for sharing it. Still crying.

  11. His favoritism toward the Legion of Christ and Opus Dei, cover up of priest sex abuse, homophobia and misogyny soured me toward him, despite an early idealistic enthusiasm in the late '70s

    1. I believe he suffered powerfully for the evil which was done by priests before and during his papacy. Perhaps you could turn your anger and sadness heavenward and pray that through his intercession the scourge of child and teen abuse by homosexual predators and pedophiles alike would be ended and that God's justice would deal with the perpetrators.

    2. also if you're accusing JPII of misogyny I'd strongly recommend you read his "Letter to Women:

      and "Mulierus Dignitatem:"

      Nothing could be further from the truth. Not going to justify the conflation of Opus Dei (St. Josemaria Escriva, anyone?) with the Legion (Lecherous freak) with a reply.

  12. Jenny, I love this, every time. Your story is so beautiful!

  13. Beautiful. Thank you for this, Jenny!

  14. Beautiful. Thank you for this, Jenny!

  15. Jenny, this is so beautiful. Wish I could meet you in person to hear this story and lots of others I've read about on your blog in person.:)

    I am thankful God used the Holy Father so beautifully to "get" to you. He wants our hearts so much! What an awesome story, oh my goodness. I am hormonal today and I apparently needed the top half of my Easter bunny and this blog post to get those nice cathartic tears out, and now I'm feeling much better. :)


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