Skip navigation

Students and Faculty Reflect on Pope Francis' Visit to New York

On Friday, September 25, a number of Iona College students, faculty and staff attended the Papal Mass at Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Multireligious Gathering at the September 11 National Memorial and Museum. Here are some reflections of their experience.
Megan Nicolaro ’16
Attending the Papal Mass on Friday, September 25, was one of the most memorable experiences of my life thus far, and I am beyond thankful to Iona for giving me the opportunity to be part of such a historic, wonderful event. Pope Francis, as well as the many attending priests, brothers, nuns, and other religious figures left me in awe of their faith and over all beauty. Listening to Pope Francis speak left my emotions torn: I was so soothed, yet ecstatic. My favorite part of the MSG mass, was being a participant in the two minute standing ovation for the Pope; it was a uniting moment for everybody in the 20,000 person stadium, and on a larger scale, a uniting moment for every Christian. Pope Francis asked us to pray for him, and I will keep him in my prayers every day. Thank you so much for this incredible opportunity, which I will cherish for a lifetime. 
Carl Procario-Foley, Ph.D., director of Office of Mission and Ministry
“I had the privilege of accompanying 10 Iona students to the Mass at MSG. It was truly thrilling to be up close to the Pope and to pray together with the Iona community for the needs of the college, the church and the world. The Pope challenged us to see God in the forgotten of the city, a theme of his papal ministry and certainly an important one for us to hear as strive as a college in our commitments to faith and justice. We were all touch by his humanity as he simply asked us to pray for him. It was a wonderful experience!”

Elena Procario-Foley, Ph.D., associate professor of Religious Studies, chair, department of Religious Studies, Brother John G. Driscoll Professor of Jewish-Catholic Studies

It was quite a surprise to receive an invitation from Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York to attend the Multireligious Gathering with Pope Francis on September 25th. To come together as practitioners of interreligious dialogue across the faith spectrum in the sacred space of the September 11 National Memorial and Museum was a profound experience of prayer and unity.  By praying with us in a setting that asserts, as he said, that good will overcome evil, Pope Francis confirmed the faith of many and affirmed the work of those who labor for interreligious understanding.  It was a true blessing to participate in the multireligious service and to be in the presence of the Pope. Pope Francis is an awe-inspiring example of the Gospel message.

The events of the papal visit also provided opportunities to teach in different ways.  Providing live commentary on the Pope's speech to Congress for FiosNews1 was simply another form of teaching. The Pope's speech was a master class in Catholic Social Teaching. Through Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton, Pope Francis repeatedly sounded the themes that we must live in solidarity working for the common good and to do so in dialogue.  Pope Francis taught us in word and deed throughout his American sojourn that our mission earth is to lift up the poor.
Celebrating Eucharist with Pope Francis—and 20,000 more-- at Madison Square Garden
Deacon John W. Mahon, Ph.D., professor emeritus of English
Fifty years ago, I was a junior at Fordham College when Pope Paul VI became the first pope to visit the United States. I will never forget celebrating Mass with the pope, my Mom, and thousands of others at Yankee Stadium (the original “House that Ruth Built”) that chill night (October 4, 1965-- Pope Paul spent one day in the U.S., entirely in New York City—and his last stop of the day was the Vatican Pavilion at the World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows to see Michelangelo’s Pieta, which he had sent to New York from its usual home in St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Paul visited the U.S. on October 4, feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

Although Pope Francis slept for two nights in New York and managed to touch base in many places (concluding with a fly-round of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in his Marine helicopter on route to JFK for the flight to Philadelphia), Pope Paul managed an incredible itinerary in one day that included prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a visit with President Johnson at the Waldorf-Austria, an address at the United Nations (“War never again!”), and a visit to Rice High School in Harlem [or was it Cardinal Hayes HS?—Br. Eugenio DeLorenzo or Br. Dunkak can clarify—I couldn’t get certainty through Googling!], as well as Mass at Yankee Stadium. The itinerary looks familiar!

I forget how my mother and I got tickets for Yankee Stadium, but this year I have Iona College to thank for my ticket to Madison Square Garden—at the UN earlier that day, the Pope spoke to UN employees, sending his greetings to those who weren’t there because they lost the lottery! I was at MSG because I won. My colleague Christina Carlson, Ph.D., associate professor of English, and I met outside Macy’s in Herald Square (Christina is young enough to be my daughter, but we both remember when there was a Nedick’s on the corner), and together we headed for the Garden.

We had to walk down Seventh Ave from the start of the waiting line at 31st street to its end just north of 24th street (we arrived on the line at 12:30—it eventually stretched much farther back, one block across 23rd street, and up Eighth Ave). Walking past hundreds of people waiting to celebrate Mass with the pope, I greeted friends from different parts of my life: the wife of a fellow-deacon in the Bridgeport Diocese, a deacon couple from my old parish in Greenwich (Andrea graduated from the College of New Rochelle and wound up sitting with Deacon Renato two rows behind me—many of Iona’s tickets were in a section that included folks from Fordham, CNR, and probably other colleges in the Archdiocese). I also greeted Brothers Sean Moffett and Raymond Vercruysse and several others.

As we waited on line for over an hour before moving, a priest who was stationed at the parish on Staten Island where Christina grew up walked by on his way to the end of the line, and after we started moving toward MSG, Christina met two nuns who had taught at her parish school, we saw Carl Procario-Foley trying to find the end of the line and I greeted a priest I know from Bridgeport, and finally we discovered Dr. Joe Nyre a few yards ahead of us as we inched our way uptown—such was the crush that, although I tried to catch his eye, we never did get to greet him. Sitting next to us inside were Linda Downes from telephone services, a member of the Foreign Language Department, and a number of alums.

So—the whole world converged on MSG for Mass that evening, and Cardinal Dolan explained why when he quoted words he himself prayed during the Eucharistic Prayer: “Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with Francis our Pope, and me, your unworthy servant . . .” Today, Cardinal Dolan said to Pope Francis, we get to have you physically “together with” us in celebrating the Mass—and 10,000 worshippers roared their welcome.

As we waited for Mass to begin (it took us over four hours to get into the Garden, so we missed some of the “warm-up” entertainment) we enjoyed a spectacular performance of the Lord’s Prayer by Kelli O’Hara (currently starring in The King and I on Broadway) and a sing-along with the chorus and Harry Connick, Jr. at the keyboard for “How Great Thou Art.” My colleague in Foreign Languages called out to someone, “Can I take your picture?” And he said he’d be back—I realized it was Sting! He did come back for a photo-op. It was that kind of crowd. There were people that I never did get to greet: a high-school classmate and his family (we texted several times but couldn’t figure out how to meet), or the headmaster of my old high school (Xavier), or the deacon from the Bronx who helped distribute Holy Communion. I saw my bishop, Frank Caggiano, only on the jumbotron—when the camera was on Francis delivering his homily, Bishop Caggiano was visible behind the Pope, listening thoughtfully to Francis’ wonderful message: “Go out to the whole world; don’t be overwhelmed by the confusion of the city but make a difference in Christ’s name among your many urban neighbors.” I’m sure there were other worshippers whom I know.

The theme of the New York portion of Francis’ American journey was “A Journey of Faith through the Heart of New York.” For me it was a journey of faith through the hearts of New Yorkers. Not only did I have so many opportunities to share joy in Christ’s love with familiar faces; I also made at least one new friend in Christ, an Iona alum seated near me whose last name is McMahon! Professor Richard McMahon of the Education Department graduated from Iona in 1973, so he was a junior when I began teaching English in 1971. I would not have taught him because I dealt with freshman and sophomore courses only. We met after Mass while everyone waited for Pope Francis to leave the building safely. Richard and I had a great time remembering the early 70s and other students of the period, including future championship player and Coach Jeff Ruland, whom I did teach.

The New York logo for the Pope’s days with us was a dove holding an olive branch in its mouth—the dove of the Noah story, who comes back to the ark with the branch that confirms the end of the great flood. The olive branch of hope forms one side of a heart hovering over the dove, the heart of New York but also the heart of God’s love in the Holy Spirit, of Pope Francis’ love for all of us, and of our love for each other.

Christina Carlson, Ph.D., associate professor of English, was wearing two articles that identified her: one was the badge of Iona’s 75th Anniversary, the other was a wrist band made available to members of the Fordham community (including Fordham Ph.D. Christina): engraved on the wrist band were the words FAITH, POPE, LOVE. The Papal Mass at Madison Square Garden reinforced the power of that phrase: receiving Eucharist at a Mass presided over by Pope Francis helped me to see that, indeed, this very special Holy Father embodies the faith, hope, and love at the center of Catholic faith, but especially the virtue of hope as he challenges us to put internal Church quarrels to one side in order to bring the Church to the whole world.

Permalink: Students and Faculty Reflect on Pope Francis' Visit to New York