When students and parents arrived at St. Rose of Lima School on Thursday afternoon, they were greeted by three nuns dressed in their full black habits.
Becky Floyd, Gloria Adams and Vanessa Hammond went car to car, carrying collection baskets and asking for spare change. They weren’t women of the cloth but thought the imagery would resonate.
With an opportunity to see Pope Francis in the U.S. on Thursday, they would use any method possible to their advantage to help fund the trip.
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“We thought we had to get the kids really excited for our trip,” said Floyd, principal at St. Rose.
“But we’ve found that everyone’s really excited for our trip.”
Floyd, Adams and Hammond will join the thousands of faithful traveling to Washington, New York City or Philadelphia for the pope’s visit, his first trip to the U.S. and the first by a pope since 2008.
To see the leader of the worldwide church is an opportunity that still seems surreal.
“I’ve never, ever even dreamed of seeing the pope,” Adams said. “It has taken a while to register. I’m not sure it has yet.”
Francis arrives in Washington on Tuesday for a six-day U.S. visit.
He will meet with President Barack Obama, lead the sainthood Mass for Junipero Serra, an 18th century Franciscan friar credited with founding the first Roman Catholic mission in California, and pray with U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.
The pope will spend a day in New York City, including celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden. The final leg of the tour will be two days in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, the world’s largest gathering of Catholic families.
Greenwood resident Tami Koehl and her three sons — Arthur, 18, Jaylen, 16, and Theodore, 12 — will be in Philadelphia for the event.
“We’re excited to talk to other families about how to function as a family in faith and keep church and Christ part of that,” Koehl said.
They were selected by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to attend the meeting. The archdiocese chose families from throughout the region to do a pilgrimage to see the pope.
Msgr. Mark Svarczkopf, pastor at Our Lady of the Greenwood Catholic Church, approached Koehl about representing the church for the archdiocese.
“He brought it to my attention and thought it would be a wonderful experience for my family. He knows what we’ve been through and our struggles,” she said. “How could I pass that experience up? It’s a wonderful chance to help strengthen our faith.”
Following her divorce, Koehl had been living with her sons in a two-bedroom apartment. But her family was selected as a Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County recipient in 2010.
Their six-day trip will mainly revolve around keynote speakers, daily Mass and interaction with other Catholic families from all over the country at the World Meeting of Families.
They will attend the Festival of Families to celebrate the pope’s arrival with performances by Aretha Franklin, Andrea Bocelli and Jim Gaffigan before attending the pope’s Mass at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 27.
“It’s amazing. It’s once-in-a-lifetime. It’s not anything I ever thought I’ve have the opportunity to do,” Koehl said.
Floyd, Adams and Hammond learned only Wednesday that they will have an opportunity to see the pope. The school received a call from U.S. Rep. Todd Young’s office, and the congressman offered three tickets to Francis’ appearance on the west front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
House members were given tickets to distribute to the event, and Young’s office approached Catholic schools throughout central and southern Indiana with the opportunity.
Floyd, as principal, will take one of the tickets. She offered one to the Rev. Steve Schaftlein, the priest at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. He turned it down, insisting that Floyd give it to a teacher.
“Luckily, we were having a staff meeting that day. So I put all of the names in a basket to draw out,” Floyd said. “I was going to do it at the end of the meeting, but I couldn’t wait, and we did it first thing.”
Adams, who teaches first grade at St. Rose, was the first one chosen. She didn’t know what the drawing was for and never imagined it would be for a trip to see the pope.
“I thought that when she said she was having a drawing, it was going to be for some candy or something like that,” Adams said. “Not to go see the pope.”
All three were ecstatic to have the opportunity. But it also presented challenges — namely, finding flights and hotels and paying for it.
Almost immediately, they spread word on the school’s social media site about donations. They scheduled an out-of-uniform day, where kids could dress in casual clothes if they brought in change to help with the trip.
“We weren’t going to miss it. No matter what, we were going,” said Hammond, who teaches fifth grade.
The trio also came up with the idea to dress up as nuns in Halloween costumes they still had to help generate excitement. Floyd adopted the persona of Wanda C. Francis, while Adams was Sister I.C. Washington.
Hammond called herself Sister Ilene Onyourpiggybank.
“We went into all of the lunches, and all of the kids were carrying on about bringing in their piggy banks,” Floyd said.
So far, the group has raised more than $700. The trio will be at this weekend’s parish festival to collect more funds to help with costs.
For the group at St. Rose, their experience will serve as a chance to help their students understand more about the Catholic Church.
“A lot of our kids know that they go to St. Rose, and that they go to a Catholic school. But they don’t realize that Catholic schools are nationwide and worldwide,” Floyd said. “This makes it more relatable.”
They will be leaving for Washington on Tuesday, pick up the tickets from Young’s office and spend a little time sightseeing.
Francis will appear at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Capitol. Gates open at 5 a.m., so they plan to bring blankets and get in line early to get as close as possible.
They also will take a wooden rosary, in hopes of getting it blessed.
“Just to be in his presence is so neat. The spirit of it and being together in our Catholic communities is exciting,” Hammond said.
Pope Francis U.S. visit
When: Tuesday to Sept. 27
Where: Washington, New York City and Philadelphia
- 9:15 a.m.: Welcoming ceremony at South Lawn of White House
- 11 a.m.: Papal parade along the Ellipse and the National Mall
- 4:15 p.m.: Junipero Serra Canonization Mass at Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
- 10 a.m.: Address to a joint meeting of Congress
- 11 a.m.: Appearance on the west front of the Capitol
- 11:30 a.m.: Multi-religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum and World Trade Center
- 4 p.m.: Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem
- 5 p.m.: Papal motorcade through Central Park
- 6 p.m.: Madison Square Garden Mass
- 10:30 a.m.: Mass at Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul
- 4:45 p.m.: Visit to Independence Mall
- 7:30 p.m.: Papal appearance at Festival of Families
- 11 a.m.: Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility
- 4 p.m.: World Meeting of Families Papal Mass