MANITOWOC – Two former leaders of the Catholic Church will become saints Sunday. Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will be canonized at the Vatican.
A local school has a special reason to celebrate the event.
A painting of Pope John XXIII is proudly displayed in a main hallway at Roncalli High School in Manitowoc. The art is there because the school is named after the future saint.
Before he was elected pope in 1958, Pope John’s name was Angelo Roncalli.
“His legacy remains alive, so it’s a very exciting week for us,” said John Stelzer, the school’s president.
According to a newspaper article in the school’s scrapbook, the Roncalli name was one of several submitted before the school opened. It was chosen by Bishop Bona. Roncalli High School opened in 1965, two years after Pope John died.
This week, Roncalli students have been learning about their school’s namesake.
“Even though our school is named after John XXIII, we probably have not put as much of a focus as we should have, and this is a good opportunity to do that,” said Stelzer.
“We always say John XXIII pray for us. We don’t really think about his legacy,” said senior Michael Theile.
Often known as “Good Pope John,” he was responsible for gathering the Second Vatican Council. That led to major changes in the Catholic Church, like eliminating Latin from the mass.
“We don’t know what pre-Vatican II liturgies were like,” said Thiele. “We were all shaped by John XXIII’s legacy and his changes.”
Thomas Bolen, a religious studies professor at St. Norbert College, recalled Pope John XXIII’s impact.
“Prior to Vatican II, the church’s stance toward the modern world had been one of caution at best and sometimes sort of outright hostility or condemnation,” said Bolen.
Thiele says Pope John lives on.
“John XXIII was very well loved by many different kinds of people, and I think that’s something we can learn as a community, is to break down barriers and to reach out to those in need and those who we’re not most comfortable with,” said Thiele.
Sunday will be the first time a pope is canonized since 1954.
Pope John Paul II served for 26 years. He is recognized for helping to end Communist rule in Europe.
“John Paul II I think is going to be one of the most interesting historical figures in the church because he was pope for such a long time,” said Bolen.
The pontiff was criticized for not responding quickly enough to allegations of child sex abuse crimes committed by priests. Church leaders say no documentation exists that links John Paul personally to the scandal.
Bolen says it still is a part of his legacy.
“We give him, sort of, a free pass on this kind of stuff, we have to be honest in looking at the whole three-dimensional aspect of his pontificate,” he said.
Bolen says Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II had different views and thinks it’s significant they will be canonized at the same time.
“I wonder if Pope Francis isn’t trying to send a message to all of us by making these two figures saints on the same day, sort of saying, there’s room at the table for everybody,” he said. “It’s a big family.”