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News Story

By Mike Gabriele

It isn’t often that we’re blessed with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. When they do present themselves, we often stop to think how we can best capitalize on that extraordinary and unique moment in time. In October of 2014, when Jesuit scholastic Adam Rosinski, SJ, a teacher and campus minister at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, and the school’s Mission and Ministry staff learned that Pope Francis would celebrate Mass less than two miles from campus, they realized that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was upon them.

“We asked ourselves, how might God be inviting us to respond to all of this,” said Rosinski. “It didn’t take long to realize that we needed to share this celebration of the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit with our larger Jesuit and Ignatian family. So we invited Jesuit high schools from around the country to embrace the spirit of St. Ignatius Loyola, a lifelong pilgrim himself, and make a pilgrimage to Philadelphia to celebrate with us.”

Organizer Adam Rosinski, SJ, and Vocations Director, Fr. Chuck Frederico, SJ, pause for a picture while waiting for Pope Francis’ address at Independence Hall.

Rosinski and others at St. Joe’s Prep knew that an invitation to see Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States would be an enticing offer, but they never quite imagined just how huge a response they would receive. Within minutes of launching a simple “Save the Date” email invitation, responses started coming back…lots of responses. Schools from all over the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico wanted to make the trip, hoping to bring 50, 75, even 100 students! “All they needed to see was that the invitation came from another Jesuit school, and they were completely on board,” Rosinski acknowledged. “They knew nothing else – nothing about how they would get to Philly, what their accommodations would be, or even who these people were who sent the invitation! They simply knew that we were Jesuits and lay colleagues from a fellow Jesuit high school, and that was enough for them to commit. I think this speaks volumes about our shared Jesuit and Ignatian identity and the network we’ve built up among our institutions.”

Although St. Joe’s Prep couldn’t accommodate hundreds of students from each school, they set to the task of welcoming as many as possible. Two Prep students in particular stepped up to help Rosinski organize this massive pilgrimage: Juniors Liam Scott and John Barbera. The logistics were not easy, but the fruits of their planning and labor paid off. “The pope is one of the most charismatic people of our generation,” said John Barbera. “For him to come to Philadelphia is a very special opportunity we wanted to share.”

Pope Francis waves to the students as he takes to the streets of Philly.

Since the school is so close to where Pope Francis spoke and celebrated Mass, the student pilgrims took to the streets on foot. On Sat., Sept. 26, they attended his speech on immigration and religious liberty at Independence Mall and walked again on Sunday to the papal Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. What an amazing experience to be part of a record-breaking 800,000-plus crowd witnessing such inspirational events. “This is so exciting. I never thought I would be able to do this,” said Caitlyn Drake, a student from Cleveland, Ohio. Kevin Eberle made the trip with classmates from Milwaukee. “We drove fifteen hours to get here!” he exclaimed.

More than 300 students from 42 Jesuit high schools marched from St. Joseph’s Prep to the papal events, proudly waving their school flags. “I was so excited for people to see several hundred teenagers walking together in witness to their Catholic faith and Jesuit identity,” said Rosinski.

St. Joe’s Prep President, Fr. John Swope, SJ, added, “We hope these students come away with a broader vision and a bigger goal, seeing themselves as being able to make an impact in the cities where they live.”

Hooray for Pope Francis! Students from Xavier High School in New York leap in joyous anticipation with Sister Bernice of the Missionary Sisters of Charity.

Fun, faith-filled activities kept students busy between all things Pope Francis. As they gathered together on Sunday, Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, spoke to them about listening and discerning God’s call, urging them to live the gifts God gave them. He expressed how even the secular world is affected by Pope Francis. Vocation director Fr. Charles Frederico, SJ, was especially inspired by how the students understood that this was truly a pilgrimage, not a vacation. “On Friday evening we held confession for those interested,” he said, “and just about all of the students participated! And so many were unafraid to discuss the possibility of vocations with each other. They truly felt free to be themselves during this special, spiritual experience.” The Vocations Office for the Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces contributed to help make this great event possible, donating supplies and funds through a special grant to assist the program.

Rosinski aptly summed up the “2Philly4Francis” event by saying, “This pilgrimage doesn’t end here. We hope these young pilgrims take their experiences home to share with classmates, friends and family.”

From the looks on their faces, we think they’ll be sharing their stories for a long, long time.