Pope John Paul II meeting Loreto Choir, Mullingar, back in the late 80s

‘The day we sang for John Paul II’

Sr Therese Mullen, former teacher at Loreto College Mullingar, remembers a special trip to Rome with the Loreto choir in 1986 or 1987, when they had the honour of singing for Pope John Paul II in St Peter’s Square.

“I remember going down to Bishop Smith on the Dublin Road and telling him I was thinking of taking the choir to Rome at Easter,” Sr Therese told the Westmeath Examiner, “and he said why not, and agreed to come with us too – just like that. He came and he brought a couple of priests with him, Fr Aidan Walsh and Fr Sean Heaney.

“It was 1986 or 1987, and it was a romantic dream of mine because I actually had spent a year in Rome just a couple of years previously and I had connections. I stayed with the Sisters of Resurrection and I brought the choir to visit them and they were highly entertained. They were a Polish community and of course the Pope at the time being Polish, we were all into Polish people.

“The choir sang in the Irish College, and I had also organised that they would sing in the diaconate in Saint John Lateran’s, one of the four basilicas of Rome.

“We sang for the diaconate and the men that were made deacons are now very well known parish priests. One is in Laytown, County Meath, Denis McNeillus, and Gerry Boyle, who used to be out in Multyfarnham and who is now in Rathkenny.

“That particular day of the picture, it was a Wednesday audience in St Peter’s Square, and the word came that the Pope was coming up to see the choir. We said, ‘C’mon we’ll sing for him!’ and at the drop of a hat the girls did sing.

“Now, remember, they were a hand-picked choir and they could sing anything for you, so we sang Shine Hallelujah in Gaelic and in parts in harmony,” laughs Sr Therese fondly.

Asked if the Pope was highly impressed, Sr Therese states, “Well, I cannot answer that!”

“John Paul II was always a bit of an actor in my book. Now, the fact that he came up to us was very wonderful, us singing for John Paul II was wonderful – he might be as near to a saint as I’ll ever get unless I can amend my ways,” she laughs.

“I tell you who was studying in Rome at the time, Dermot Farrell, he knew us here in Mullingar and he’s now the Archbishop of Dublin, and he drove around. He actually came with us to Florence and Milan – oh yeah, we had a great week.

“My memory was, even though I was young and foolish, and I loved those girls,I remember when I came back and going down the town of Mullingar and feeling so relieved to walk down without the clatter behind me because I had only one other sister with me in Rome and you wouldn’t get away with it now. It was a big responsibility.

“Overall it was a momentous week and it was well organised because I had the contacts and Bishop Smith said he’d come with us. It was memorable, it really was.”