The Papal Conclave of October 1978 was convened to elect a successor to Pope John Paul I, having passed away after holding the office for only thirty-three days. Two days of voting and eight ballots later, white smoke was seen rising from the Sistine Chapel signalling the election of a new pope. The cardinal-electors had chosen Pope Saint John Paul II as the new pope, taking his papal name after his predecessor.
However, before rising to the papacy, John Paul II was Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, a prominent rising member of the Church who later come to be known for his travel. Why did Pope Saint John Paul II choose Cleveland for his first visit to America?
In September of 1969, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyła made his first visit to America in Cleveland, Ohio. He chose Cleveland because of its large Polish population, he himself also being from Poland. In Cleveland, he made a visit to the Shrine Church of Saint Stanislaus. There he gave the church a piece of bone from Saint Stanislaus himself, who was also a Bishop of Krakow the same as Wojtyła.
In addition to the relic of Saint Stanislaus, the pope’s private secretary gave the parish the mitre that John Paul II wore as Bishop of Krakow The Shrine Church of Saint Stanislaus is also the first church where John Paul II celebrated mass outside of Europe. Father Michael Surufka of the church, known as Father Mike to the local community, remarked that:
“When he decided to visit America, he did not go first to New York or Chicago, he came to Cleveland, because of the Polish community here. It’s quite an honor for us.”
Today, the bone of Saint Stanislaus remains in a reliquary inside the Shrine Church of Saint Stanislaus that has become something of a shrine to Pope Saint John Paul II for the Polish-Americans of Cleveland. At the time of his papal coronation, he was the first non-Italian pope in over a hundred years and remains a deep source of pride for the Polish people.