The Pope Comes to Town

On September 17 and 18, 1987, Pope John Paul II made a historic visit to San Francisco and celebrated Mass at Candlestick Park. More than 120 SI students and a host of faculty served as volunteers for the event as ushers, traffic directors, security assistants, schedule coordinators, resident experts and entertainers during the two-day visit.

Two weeks before the event, Msgr. Jim McKay called Block Club moderator Robert Vergara asking for 40 student volunteers to help direct traffic. A week later, Vergara received a request for an additional 12 students to assist police at six security stations. Vergara, with only 28 members in his club, solicited help from the freshmen class and “in no time, I had twice as many volunteers as I needed.”17

An additional 75 students served as ushers as part of a 324-member team made up of local Catholic high school students, organized by SI’s Art Cecchin. Br. Draper also helped by leading a 70-member team of priests, nuns and brothers (including a dozen SI priests) who also worked as ushers, helping to seat 3,000 priests and religious for a prayer service in the Cathedral. In addition, SI faculty David Mezzera and Michael Shaughnessy acted as experts for media covering the event, and one SI student and two alumni (Dan Guiney ’88, Dan Linehan ’83 and Brendan Kenneally ’82) performed Irish dance for the Pope at the Candlestick Park Mass.

The night before this performance, the Pope celebrated a liturgy at the cathedral for diocesan priests and members of religious orders. Br. Draper spent six hours before the event as head usher, and before the Mass, he and a friend went downstairs for a quick smoke. (He has since quit smoking.)

As they chatted and smoked, they saw a lone figure round the corner of the room they were in. It was Pope John Paul II. “He looked at us and said, ‘Fuma! Fuma!’” recalled Br. Draper. “My friend quickly put out his cigarette. However, I knew he smoked, so I went up to him and asked him if he wanted a cigarette. He nodded, and I offered him one of mine. Then he said, ‘I only smoke Camels,’ and left us there. Later, after Mass, the Archbishop introduced me to him as the prefect of discipline at SI. He told me, ‘Stay with it. The children are our future.’”