(Father Kuhn, who grew up in Mitchell County, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque who currently resides in Farley. He was a member of the Class of 1946, but didn’t graduate from Osage High School. He assists the pastor and staff of the St. Elizabeth Pastorate, which includes the parishes of St. Clement, Bankston; St. Patrick, Epworth; St. Joseph, Farley; St. John the Baptist, Peosta; and St. John, Placid. )
FARLEY — On Thursday, Nov. 8, I flew from Dubuque to Chicago. Then it was nonstop, first class to Miami for overnight there. Father Jim McEvery, a classmate from Conception Seminary (Class of 1953) joined me.
We were set to complete our celebration of 65 years of Catholic priesthood by shaking Pope Francis’ hand. Jim joined me the next day to board an Al Italia plane for an overnight ride to Rome.
Saturday, around lunchtime, we were being wheeled through DaVinci airport when we met Jon Franco from the Residanza Paul VI, who drove us the some 25 miles to our hotel home for four nights.
Rested up by Sunday, Veterans Day, we made our way to St. Peter’s Basilica. Hundreds of thousands filled the area in front of the church with a main altar that sits upon the grave of the first pope.
One tall Swiss (guard) took us through a side gate, checked us with his metal detector and finally up a winding narrow stairway to this awesome temple of God.
Our Sunday celebration’s altar was back of the main altar as far as you could go. The entrance procession included about a hundred priests. Next came about 50 bishops and one cardinal. A choir, off to the left side, led the singing. The principle parts were sung in Latin (Gregorian chants). The other music was Italian, as were the readings and the half-hour homily. We got out of the church just in time for the Holy Father’s noon greetings and the Angelus with the huge crowd.
Monday, the 12th of November was the long awaited event. Jim and I were both up by 5 a.m. We were at the Holy Office Gate by 6 a.m. No one there. Soon a couple of Swiss guards arrived. At 6:30 a.m., the other concelebrants and a few other lay people were led to the pope’s chapel. We were in the pope’s chapel a few minutes before 7 a.m.
Right at 7 a.m., Pope Francis came from a sacristy upon the left and the celebration (in Italian) began. We were all given books to follow the best we could. After the deacon read the Gospel, the Holy Father gave a sincere homily in a very conversational manner.
After the Mass and de-vesting, we returned to the chapel for a few minutes of thanksgiving. Then a single line formed to the hallway where Pope Francesco stood with a trio of cameras to his right. We all met him and were able to introduce ourselves and talk about whatever we wished. The pope seemed in no hurry. As I look back, it is difficult to believe this all happened. (The pope) stands well over 6-feet tall, has quite a bit of graying hair and a very warm and gracious smile.
On Tuesday night, we toured the Vatican gardens and had dinner with (the Diocese of) Madison’s seminarians. The gardens are above St. Peter’s. The bus circled the garden for about an hour. We saw where retired Pope Benedict XVI lives. There were great views looking over many shrines and shrubs with the dome of St. Peter’s in the background.
Our last night in Rome was very special. Father Jim had arranged for us to spend it with the Diocese of Madison seminarians.
The next morning at 7 a.m. our ride from hotel to airport was on time. It was again a long eight- or nine-hour ride to Miami. But we were full of fluid, flawless memories.