Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared regularly in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds BS and MS degrees and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside in Connecticut.
“I remember it like yesterday,” Pat Clark said with great joy during a phone chat from his home in Columbia, S.C.
He was referring to Sept. 12, 1987, the day Pope John Paul II came to St. Peter’s Church in Columbia, and Clark saw the future saint bless his two children, Jennie and Christopher. This happy dad never expected the national exposure that blessing would receive.
Months before, he learned that the Holy Father was going to stop at St. Peter’s during his trip to the United States.
But with more than 5,000 people applying for tickets to attend the pope’s service in St. Peter’s, Clark knew they were nearly impossible to get.
But the day before the pope arrived, so did four tickets at the Clark household.
“With the pope canonized as a saint, I still have to pinch myself that my two children were personally blessed by John Paul II,” Clark said excitedly before explaining how it all happened.
Going to St. Peter’s, he decided they “were going to sit in the last pew in the church. That would be my best time to get the children blessed.”
He spotted the Secret Service man directing the pope’s security guard and asked, “Is it okay if I bring my children to have the pope bless them when he’s coming down aisle after the service?”
But he got no answer — until after the service, when John Paul II started walking up the aisle, and one of the security men said to Clark: “You won.”
The family stood there, and, indeed, Pope John Paul II stopped to bless Clark’s children.
And he gave each one a rosary.
It was quite a birthday present for Jennie, who turned 10 that day. Her brother was 12.
Then came more surprises.
“Later that afternoon, I happened to get a call from my sister-in-law." She told him his mother was excited and exclaiming, "These are my two grandchildren being blessed by the pope," as she was sitting on a couch in San Diego watching a recap of the papal visit on television.
“So many good things happened that day,” Clark continued. “Not only did they meet the pope, but it was all over the national television, and my mother was able to watch her grandchildren on national television being blessed by the pope.”
Relatives around the country called him, too, as well as non-Catholic friends.
Then came Newsweek.
“Four days later, on p. 29 of Newsweek, I look, and I’m frozen,” he said. “There was a picture of the pope, with his hand on my daughter’s head. We had no idea it would happen. Newsweek was kind enough to send me the original picture blown up.”
Then Clark got a phone call from the producer of the Today show, who said they wanted the family to go to the local television station for a [remote] interview with Matt Lauer.”
But that never happened, because “he called back to tell me there was no time,” said Clark.
Still, other regional television stations and newspapers interviewed the Clarks.
Even though that blessing took place 27 years ago, the memories remain fresh, especially now that the beloved Holy Father is St. John Paul II.
“John Paul had such a peaceful aura about him. There was something about him, like a radiation of peace. I’ll never forget,” Clark said.
Today, daughter Jennie is 36 and lives in Greenville, S.C. After working as a lawyer for seven years, she went back to school and is in her second year studying to be a veterinarian.
Son Christopher is 38 and an ICU nurse at the Veterans Hospital in Columbia.
Clark shared the thoughts of his children upon the canonization of John Paul II.
“My son says, ‘I can’t believe I was blessed by a saint. … I never realized until I became an adult how meaningful that was.’ And Jennie says, ‘For one moment in time, I was physically touched and blessed by who I consider the greatest pope in the Catholic Church; and, now, for him to be a saint makes that blessing more powerful.’”
Pat and Sallie Clark have been married 40 years and remain longtime members of St. Peter’s. They passed along the rosary given to Jennie by John Paul II to a friend dying of cancer.
They love to look at the Newsweek picture.
“Every time my wife and I look at that picture,” Pat explained, “we go, ‘Can you believe this?’ What an emotional feeling for my wife, Sallie, and me. It’s like a miracle for us. We are very prayerful and blessed over what happened. It’s so meaningful and so spiritual to think I was a part of it.”