I just got back from a trip to Boston. While there I spotted a plaque that said the first mass ever celebrated by a Pope in the New World was on 1 Oct 79 when Pope John Paul II visited. That reminded me of the La Fleur family's involvement with that trip.
The Holy Father arrived at O'Hare on Thursday night and drove from there downtown to Cardinal Cody's residence. My grade school band had a space along Milwaukee Avenue. One of the music teachers owned a store there and staked out the space for us. When the Pope sped by in his limo we played "Sto Lat."
That reminds me of a joke. The Pope was riding along in his limo and at one stop he approached the driver.
"It's been years since I've been allowed to drive, but in my youth I used to be quite a good driver. Would you mind if I drove for a while?"
Of course the diver agreed and he slid into the back while His Eminence got behind the wheel and adjusted the mirrors.
A few miles down the road a police officer stopped the vehicle for speeding. When he pulled them over and got the driver's identification he was so astonished that he went back to his patrol car and radioed back to headquarters, "You will never guess who I just pulled over driving this limo!"
"Who, is it somebody important, somebody famous, a rock star, movie star, the President?"
"Well, I don't know how is in the back but he must be REALLY important; the Pope is his driver."
Back to Dad's story.
The next morning, 5 October 1979, Dad had been activated by the National Guard for the Papal Mass at Grant Park. He was in a hospital unit and they wanted them on site to provide medical support if needed.
Dad and some other Guardsmen who were also police officers were sitting around in their tent on Sunday morning discussing what it would have been like for the police if Jesus Christ came back today and gave the Sermon on the Mount.
At some point someone said that the mass was supposed to have started and they wondered if it was running late. They had had the flaps of the tent down and hadn't seen or heard anyone.
They opened the flaps of the tent and found more than 200,000 people had filed into the park as if it were a church. They hadn't heard a pin drop. It was the largest mass ever held in Chicago and the only Papal Mass and Dad was there.