Living History Farms Marks 40 Years Since Pope John Paul II Visit

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URBANDALE, Iowa -- October 4, 1979: the day the pope came to Iowa.

Pope John Paul II visited the Des Moines area 40 years ago. He was invited by farmer Joe Hayes, who sent the letter in July. Eight weeks later, the pope landed at the Catholic Church in Cumming, Iowa. He later went on to the open air mass at Living History Farms, attended by an estimated 350,000 people.

“The fact that the pope was coming to Iowa was unbelievable,“ said Father Jim Secora, now at St. Cecilia Church in Ames. “Nobody ever expected that the pope if he came to United States would come to Iowa.”

People came from all over for this event, including a group of students from Independence St. John's School. The group walked from Independence, Iowa, to Des Moines. Some of the group even got to meet the pope.

“In my dad's yearbook it said Father Hatt, the priest at the time, and six other students stayed up here in the line to meet the pope, while the rest of us went and sat down and rested,” said Kate Finnegan, a current student at St John's. “I feel like I’m following in my dad’s footsteps, as he was here that day.”

“Soon we were striking up conversations with people from Wyoming, Minnesota, Missouri and various places,” said Secora. “The amazing thing of the day was just as great sense of unity that everybody felt.”

Living History Farms has a display of Papal Visit photos up in the Exhibition Center through Sunday.

“That talks about how the pope came to Iowa, what it took to put it together and what the lasting impacts were,” said Dan Jones, education director for Living History Farms. "We also have marked the spot where the pope’s stage was, and we’re focusing our visit today on the theme of stewardship that Pope John Paul spoke about during his homily.”

If you would like to know more about Living History Farms, click here.


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