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November 2015 - McCormick Place

The news arrived via the media. The Sun Sentinel reporter told my wife, Peggy, that our daughter was one of three kids picked to meet the pope at Miami International Airport. She doubted him. She thought Julie was one of a bunch from her school who would be at the airport—some minor role in greeting the Polish pope. No, said the reporter, only three and he wanted to know all about Julie.

Turns out he was right. The late Father Timothy Hannon, pastor at Fort Lauderdale’s St. Anthony Parish, had been asked to pick a mainstream kid from his school to be among three children greeting Pope John Paul II when he arrived in the U.S. Naturally, a priest from Ireland (we used to call him Canon Hannon from Shannon) picked a kid with an Irish name and Irish freckles. Julie was 9 and in fourth grade.

And so it came to pass, one September morning in 1987. Julie, wearing a new Blessed Mother blue dress, was there at the bottom of the ramp when the pope’s plane pulled in. President Ronald Reagan, a widely known figure at the time, was also present with his wife. We were in a grandstand 50 yards away, closely watched by 10,000 secret service guys. It had been an exciting day for the school and our neighborhood. Tom Adler, our neighbor, gave Julie some marketing advice.

“When you get close to the pope shout ‘Coca Cola’ and you’ll never have to work for the rest of your life,” he said. Julie was just old enough to know not to do that. Instead, she said whatever they had told her to say, which was, “Welcome to Florida,” or something like that. The pope told her she had a nice smile, which she did, despite missing a few front teeth. It was a busy day. Julie talked to reporters from everywhere, and at the request of Kevin Boyd, managing editor of the late Hollywood Sun, where we worked at the time, she wrote a personal account of her day. We scooped the Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald big time. Late in the day, as we drove home, Julie fell asleep with Whitney Houston’s “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” on the radio.

The next day, a thousand miles away at Notre Dame, one of Mark McCormick’s roommates asked him what his little sister was doing the day before. Mark, who had sort of forgotten about the event, thought that question odd. “Well, she’s on the front page of the Chicago Tribune,” the roommate said.

That was true. Not just the Tribune, but also just about every paper and many magazines carried similar photos, often on the front pages. For weeks, friends around the country were sending copies of pages from their local papers.

It was a day to remember, and last month when the current pope made his highly publicized rounds of Washington, New York and Philadelphia, Peggy was glued to the television. She was watching Pope Francis excite much of the country, but she was seeing memories.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Julie McCormick Donovan took her children, ages 6 and 4, to be among the crowds elbowing each other for a brief glimpse of the pope. She sent a cell phone video of the kids pressed against a fence, formidable enough to stop a panzer division, as the entourage passed by. You can hear her say, “Look for the little car. There it is!”

We acknowledged receipt of the video with a memory. “You had a better view last time.”