Saintly influence: Karwacki has collected articles, photos of John XXIII for 60 years
MOUNT CARMEL - More than 60 years after clipping the first article in what would become a collection on Pope John XXIII, the Rev. Frank Karwacki, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, will see his childhood role model become a saint.
Pope John XXIII will be canonized along with Pope John Paul II in Vatican City Sunday.
Karwacki's interest in Pope John XXIII began in 1958 when then Cardinal Angelo Giuseppi Roncalli became pope. Karwacki, who was in eighth grade at the time, began clipping images and articles.
"Nobody told me to do this," said Karwacki. "I kept track of him all these years."
The photos show Pope John XXIII meeting dignitaries, visiting libraries and observatories and blessing countless people. Some capture him smoking and drinking champagne, activities that now seem shocking for someone in the highest position in the church, but they were normal at the time.
This everyman image is one of the aspects of the pope's personality that drew Karwacki's admiration.
As an example of Pope John XXIII's character, Karwacki relayed a story in which the pope insisted the guard to his doorway sit in a chair and eat breakfast after standing through the night.
"He was so personable. He had a great sense of humor," said Karwacki. "He would sneak out and walk around in the streets in disguise."
The collection also includes articles about the Second Vatican Council, which brought together thousands of members of the Roman Catholic Church to redefine the relationship between the church and the modern world. Although Pope John XXIII died before the completion of the second council, it remains part of his legacy.
His death, which coincided with Karwacki's graduation from high school, left the young man deeply affected.
"I remember listening to the radio and I was in tears," he said. "It was like losing a grandfather."
'Go full time'
After college, Karwacki, who had watched his family suffer several tragedies in his childhood, including the death of his twin sister at the age of 3 1/2 and a mining accident that left his father disabled, began his career as a biology teacher. He dedicated his leisure time to the church.
"I never missed CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, an educational program of the Roman Catholic Church), and I still did readings on my own," Karwacki said.
Karwacki's decision to dedicate his life full time to the church came after several years of teaching.
"One day I woke up and He was saying, 'You spend all your free time working for Me, why not go full time?'" said Karwacki.
When he enrolled in Blessed John XXIII National Seminary, near Boston, he realized his attraction to Pope John XXIII had come full circle.
"I think maybe he was looking out for me," said Karwacki.
In 2000, Karwacki again crossed paths with Pope John XXIII when he had the opportunity to attend his beatification. In this step in the sainthood process, the grantee is given the title "blessed" for performing at least one miracle. Pope John XXIII's mummified body was exhumed from the crypts beneath St. Peter's Basilica and placed on permanent display in a glass coffin near Michelangelo's Pietà.
"I thought, wow, I'm lucky, I get to see him," said Karwacki.
At the beatification, Karwacki snapped a photo of John Paul II, which he later added to his collection.
John Paul II died in 2005 and was beatified in 2011.
Karwacki and his staff erected a display with photos of both popes at the left of the main altar in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. It will stand through the evening of the canonization.
Although he wishes he could attend the canonization in person, Karwacki will watch it when it is televised live at 4 a.m. Sunday EDT, which is 10 a.m. in Vatican City.