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The e-newsletter of Chestnut Hill College

Pope Francis' Visit Generates Excitement, Goodwill

Pope Francis' Visit Generates Excitement, Goodwill

Sisters Michelle Lesher and Cathy Nerney watch as Pope Francis passes by during Saturday's mass at the Cathedral
Kathy Pales, SSJ

CHC students, faculty and staff participate in many ways and are changed by their experiences.

Pope Francis was here at Chestnut Hill for a while in late September. Although not in body, most definitely in spirit.

Excitement on campus was palpable and built to a steady hum throughout the week prior to the pope’s arrival as students, faculty and staff shared their plans for the coming weekend; carried around Pope Francis’ cardboard cut-out persona (affectionately referred to in some quarters as Flat Francis); and perfected the art of the “pope selfie.”

In a more serious vein, the College’s annual Mission & Legacy week offered additional ways for the College community to participate, including the Opening Liturgy, involvement in the Campaign for Mercy and Justice (including participation in the Mary Undoer of Knots public art project at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul) and presentations by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSF, and author Chris Lowney.

The East Parlor was full for a live streaming of the pope’s historic address to the U.S. Congress and of his Sunday Mass on Ben Franklin Parkway. Groups also participated in the Day of Service by serving residents at St. Joseph Villa and helping to launch the Midnight run program, a weekly service initiative to college and distribute leftover food from local restaurants to area soup kitchens.

So many of our College community participated in so many ways. Here are just a few of their stories:

Sue Harkins volunteering on the Parkway during the pope's visit.

“As soon as I found out Pope Francis was coming to Philadelphia and volunteers were needed, I knew I had to be a part of it.  This would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.  My role as a volunteer was to greet and direct those arriving on Sunday for the Papal Mass.  From my vantage point, I could see how happy and excited people of all cultures and ages were to welcome Pope Francis as they tried to find the best place to catch a glimpse of him as he paraded down the Parkway.  My experience affirmed how faith-filled people really are!”

—Sue Harkins, assistant to undergraduate dean

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Sisters Sheila Kennedy, Mary Theresa Shevland and Nancy Fitzgerald pose with Channel 6 reporter, Alicia Vitarelli, on the Parkway.

Sheila Kennedy, SSJ, Ph.D., attended Mass in the Cathedral on Saturday, attended Pope Francis' speech at Independence Hall and was present on the Parkway during Sunday's Mass. She was interviewed by Alicia Vitarelli, a reporter with Channel 6 news, along with Mary Theresa Shevland, SSJ, and Nancy Fitzgerald, SSJ. Although Sister Sheila also was present in 1979 for the visit of Pope John Paul II, she felt differently in the presence of Pope Francis.

"About 9:30 Sunday morning, while we were waiting to get through the security check-point around 23rd and the Parkway, Alicia Vitarelli stopped us. We were holding our tickets up, as we were told, so we could pass through the gates more easily, and they attracted her attention. She asked to see them and asked who we were. We told her and chatted for a few minutes. I said it felt as if we were in a cathedral, surrounded by thousands of people who were all reverent and respectful. It was amazing.

"The weekend felt so personal," she says. "I got to see him up close, in the Basilica, watched him ride slowly by in the popemobile ... I could look in his face and in his eyes. It was a thrill to be with all those people who love and respect him. It was unique and almost mystical."

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Flat Francis in the Fitness Center
Marilee Alena Gallagher '14

Denis Okema, former mailroom coordinator, and Colleen Gibson, SSJ, assistant director of campus ministry, spoke to pilgrims from the 2Philly4Francis Pilgrimage of Jesuit High Schools at St. Joseph’s Prep. Sister Colleen’s topic was “Joy and Sharing One’s Story/Vocation” and Denis spoke on “Mercy” and about his experiences when he was kidnapped as a child in Uganda, by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Sister Colleen had a very busy Saturday, as she also was in the Cathedral for the Mass (read her first-person account below), was in the 8th row during Pope Francis’ speech at Independence Hall (a baby right in front of her was chosen for a papal kiss) and she was seated for the Festival of Families that evening. (Read more about her week’s experiences at her blog,

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Crowd panorama from Sunday's papal mass
Marilee Alena Gallagher '14 

Polly Teti, director of campus safety and security, and Drew Westveer, director of event planning and facilities marketing, worked closely with Captain Jack Fleming, of the Philadelphia Highway Patrol, who was responsible for the pope’s police motorcycle escort during his visit, managing about 100 officers. Fleming needed to recruit motorcycle officers from other departments around the state, but was faced with the problem of where to house these officers for the long weekend; some had traveled from Lehigh County and Pittsburgh. They would be working long hours and needed a place to sleep. Thanks to Teti’s previous work with Fleming and Westveer’s experience in the hospitality industry, rooms were provided in Commonwealth Chateau at SugarLoaf for 13 officers.

Westveer rented beds and linens and provided simple toiletries for each officer. He rearranged flowers from another event so each impromptu “bedroom” had its own bouquet and he arranged for personal notes of welcome from Sister Carol to be placed at each bedside. For him, this was just another day doing what he loves. “This is what we’re all about here,” he said after the weekend.

Teti says: “I checked the rooms prior to anyone arriving and Drew did a wonderful job. I was impressed with the way the rooms were set up, but more importantly, with the little touches that would make the officers feel welcome. Each officer even got a CHC t-shirt! When I met with the officers, they were so impressed with CHC — the location, the food, and the little extras. Those officers will never forget the experience they had with the pope or with the hospitality they received at CHC.”

The CHC care package was appreciated by the visiting police officers.
Drew Westveer

And Captain Fleming says: “I am very thankful to Director of Security Polly Teti and Chestnut Hill's President Sister Carol Jean Vale for agreeing to support the Philadelphia Police Department by housing several of our out-of-jurisdiction motorcycle riders while they participated in the Papal weekend's extensive security efforts.

“My unit was tasked with escorting the Pope, the many dignitaries who were in town, and the over 900 accredited media members from event to event. Due to the many moving parts of my detail, I was forced to bring in motorcycle officers from as far away as Pittsburgh. Chestnut Hill College was quick to answer my call for help in housing the outside riders. 

“I formerly captained the 14th District, which encompasses Chestnut Hill. While assigned there, I developed a solid professional rapport with Director Teti. That relationship resulted in a quick affirmative response for help in housing.

“The accommodations provided by Chestnut Hill College more than exceeded my expectations. I was approached during the Sunday Mass on the Parkway by Pittsburgh Police Lt. Joe Tersak, who stated that Chestnut Hill was treating him and his personnel with class. They, along with officers from Easton and Bethlehem, extended to me their thanks for such a great home-away-from-home stay while detailed to the Papal visit.

“I want to end with once again thanking the great people associated with Chestnut Hill College who made this event possible with their great caring and generosity.”

View a photo album of the weekend’s events from around Philadelphia here.

View a video of Pope Francis as he kissed several babies along his route on Sunday.

— Brenda Lange