MERCHANTVILLE — For three nights here at Saint Peter Church earlier this week, the visitor from Indiana shared never-before-heard stories of his friend.
One time, as his friend celebrated Mass, the visitor heard the man utter “Mother of God, help us” during a time of quiet reflection, after experiencing a vision of worldly suffering.
The visitor to the Diocese of Camden? Father Bronislaw Jakubiec, SDS. His friend? Saint John Paul II.
Father Bronislaw, a member of the Society of the Divine Savior, was often present in John Paul II’s circle during his papacy, celebrating Mass with the pontiff in his private chapel, eating at his table and spending time in his private chamber.
His visit to Saint Peter’s coincided with the community’s celebration of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle, which reflects on the call and mission passed down by Christ to Peter, and continues in unbroken succession to, today, Pope Francis.
From Feb 20-22, visitors were captivated and inspired by Father Bronislaw’s stories of the pontiff.
As a “normal, very friendly person,” Father Bronislaw said, John Paul II could “speak to everybody, from the highly-educated to the lowly poor on the streets.” He characterized his friend as one with an “excellent” mind, and as a “mystic.”
“It was a big grace to have known him,” he said.
“After meeting him, I have changed my vision of saints (as only those from hundreds of years ago). Now, they are not so long-distance. I am sure in our time right now, like John Paul II, there are saints.”
Traveling from the Salvatorian Monastery at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Merrillville, Indiana, Father Bronislaw brought with him relics of the saint for veneration, that he inherited from Father Tadeusz Styczen, a good friend of John Paul II’s. They included a lock of his hair; his gold cufflinks; and his everyday china, with teacup and water glass.
In addition, a chair used by Pope Francis during his 2015 visit to Philadelphia and a zucchetto worn by Blessed Pius IX were displayed in the church.
Father Timothy E. Byerley, pastor, and members of Saint Peter’s Knights of Columbus Council 6735 were present to provide historical background on the items.