Blinkhorn: John Paul In Vermont

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(HOST)  The recent beatification in Rome of Pope John Paul II – one of the last steps in the process that confers sainthood – has reminded commentator Tom Blinkhorn of a visit the late Pope once made to Vermont.
(BLINKHORN)  A weathered marble monument standing beside a budding cherry tree on a North Pomfret farm marks the spot where Pope John Paul, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, said daily Mass, using a picnic table, attended by two sheep, a goat and four people.  He swam in a small pond across a dirt road from the Oak Ledge farm, hiked through the Vermont woods and, by most accounts, thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
It was the summer of 1976, two years before he became pope.
The story behind this unusual visit began a few years earlier.  A Polish-born philosophy professor, Anna-Teresa Tymienecka, was teaching at St. John’s University in New York, when she came across an early draft of a philosophy book by Cardinal Wojtyla, which she called a "book of genius."
She wrote to the Cardinal and eventually visited him in Krakow. They hit it off almost immediately, the beginning of what Anna-Teresa calls an "intense philosophical partnership." She invited him to lecture at philosophy seminars in Italy, Switzerland, elsewhere in Europe. He invited her to help him refine the thinking behind the book and to assist in the English translation, called "The Acting Person."
Anna-Teresa and her late husband, the distinguished Harvard economics professor, Hendrik "Henk" Houthakker, who had been a member of President Nixon’s Council of Economic Advisers, had purchased a 75 acre farm in North Pomfret as a summer home. They also established a permanent residence in Hanover, after moving from Cambridge.
Professor Houthakker played a key role in inviting Cardinal Wojtyla to lecture at Harvard in 1976.  He introduced the pontiff as "the next pope."  The cardinal visited several Polish Catholic parishes in the United States and made time to spend a few days at the North Pomfret farm in late July and again in late August of that year.
He was accompanied only by his private secretary – Stanislaw Dziwisz – who is now Cardinal of Krakow. The only other people in attendance that summer were Anna-Teresa, her husband Henk and their youngest son, Johnny.  A photograph of the Cardinal, Henk and Johnny hangs prominently in a conference room off the main house in a space that once was a stable.
Although Cardinal Wojtyla never returned to Vermont after he became Pope, Professor Houthakker was invited to lecture at the Vatican in Rome and in 2003, received a high papal honor, even though he was a non-Catholic with Jewish heritage.
When Anna-Teresa arranged for a Vatican visit for a group of parishioners from St. Denis chuch in Hanover, they were received by Pope John Paul in his private chapel and he presented them with two gifts.  The first was a large, signed portrait of himself, that resides today in the St. Denis parish house.  The second was an historic icon – Poland’s holiest relic – The Black Madonna of Czestochowa.  It now hangs inside St. Denis Church.

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