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The Last Look: Pontiff Visit


When Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis in January 1999, he took part in a youth rally, led an ecumenical service at the New Cathedral and celebrated Mass with 104,000 people at the Trans World Dome (now the Dome at America’s Center) — the largest indoor Mass in the United States.

SLU on Stage

Saint Louis University featured prominently in the papal visit. The campus became a staging area for the clergy and many others who participated in the Mass. Nearly 400 members of the national media worked from Busch Student Center and reported live in front of St. Francis Xavier College Church. Classes were canceled so students and faculty could attend papal events.

The Pope is driven down Lindell Avenue in the Popemobile

Pope John Paul II waves to crowds along Lindell Boulevard during his visit to St. Louis in January 1999.

Cruising by Campus

The pope stayed at the home of Archbishop Justin Rigali near the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. To get to and from downtown events during his 30-hour visit, the Holy Father rode in the popemobile east and west on Lindell Boulevard — right past campus. Thirty miles of orange fencing lined the papal route.

A close up of a SLU banner promoting the Papel visit
A banner promoting the Pope's visit hangs on a lightpost outside of Cook Hall

Pre-Pope Prep

The papal visit got an early start with a conference, “A Celebration of the Thought of John Paul II,” sponsored by Saint Louis University Faculty and Staff for Life, which attracted 700 participants. The evening before the pope arrived, Campus Ministry hosted a prayer vigil in College Church and invited students from five neighboring colleges and universities.

In Harmony

Seventy students from SLU’s 10 p.m. Sunday Mass choir joined with students from Washington University in St. Louis and Kenrick Seminary to form a 105-member ensemble. They were one of seven groups that performed during the “Light of the World” Papal Youth Gathering. SLU distributed 800 tickets for the event; 21,000 attended.

Lifelong Effect

Dignitaries in town to see the pope included President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Stan Musial and Rosa Parks. Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan later commuted the death sentence of a convicted murderer to life without parole, citing a personal plea from Pope John Paul II.