Kathleen Schenking thought meeting a saint sounded like something from ancient times, but it happened to her, unknowingly, a quarter century ago.
The Street resident received a blessing from then-Pope John Paul II on her 22nd birthday, during a 1988 Loyola University Maryland trip to Rome.
"It's something really hard to imagine now, that there was a saint that I was blessed by," Schenking said Sunday, the day Popes John Paul II and John XXIII were both officially canonized by Pope Francis.
"It just seems like something in the Bible, that you read about," she added.
Schenking, 47, who works part-time at Bel Air's Savona restaurant, recalled being selected by Pope John Paul II after the trip organizer shuffled them into an aisle inside the Vatican on June 8, 1988.
After waiting three hours for the papal appearance, John Paul II came down the aisle, walking right by Schenking.
Schenking recalls asking, "Can you bless me? It's my birthday."
The Pope responded: "English?" When she said yes, "he put his hand on my head and said, 'God bless.'"
Schenking, who is a member of St. Margaret Parish in Bel Air, said she does feel her life has been blessed and, having met the Pope, "I feel a little closer to heaven."
"Even at the young age of 22, I felt that meeting this Pope was one of the most significant events in my life and I would never meet a holier, more humble, gentle and sincere servant of God," she said, adding she found it "amazing" that she would be near the Pope, much less be blessed by him.
She said the canonization means a great deal to her.
"Saints were people who lived in history to me. I read about saints and their amazing lives in books," she said. "I have believed that his blessing has brought goodness to me in my life and I am very grateful."
'Something to remember'
The sun wouldn't rise for another two hours, but Patti Murphy Dohn was already awake Sunday morning, eager to watch two Popes become saints, and to tweet up a storm about it.
"To witness the canonization this morning on the television at 4 a.m. was a high point for me," said Dohn, the spiritual life adviser at The John Carroll School in Bel Air.
Just before 1 a.m., she tweeted: "Snoozing for 3 hours before I'm up to watch the #canonization of #2popesaints: Can't wait."
Dohn saw John Paul II in person, twice.
In 1995, when the Pope visited Baltimore, Dohn was on the subcommittee that helped plan the trip.
She served as a greeter in the morning, attended Mass in Oriole Park at Camden Yards and, together with her then 9-year-old son, "was very blessed" to get tickets to his departure ceremony at BWI Airport.
"It was just an amazing thing to be there. His plane was right there on the tarmac," she recalled. "We watched him from the time he arrived."
Dohn said she also saw Pope John Paul II while she was a student at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.
"When he came to Philadelphia in 1979, I was in college and I was able to see him in the open air Mass in Logan Circle," Dohn said.
"It was a turning point in faith for me, to witness Pope John Paul in person and all the people that were united together for that occasion," she said.
"I was so moved to be part of the universal church gathered together in one place, as this was my first time seeing a pope in person," she said. "It made you feel part of something bigger and it was so exciting to know that the Pope was right there with you where you lived and worked and went to school."
Watching a Pope that she saw in person become a saint was indescribable, she said.
"There are no words to express how much this experience has meant to me," Dohn said, taking a deep pause. "There was no way I was going to miss seeing this live on TV."
She wanted to add "how much it meant to all of us who were Catholic to have two popes, two living popes, there in the canonization ceremony."
A group of John Carroll students saw Pope Francis via TV screen when they visited Rome on April 16, during Holy Week.
They said they were in the back of the large crowd for the Pope's general audience address.
Being in Rome just before two Popes were declared saints "was cool," the students said.
"It made the whole experience more important and something to remember forever," Makda Amdetsyon said.
Morgan Ray said the canonization ceremony made her think: "That's crazy, I just saw him [Francis]."
Lindsey McCumber said she is not Catholic, but being there "is still cool because he is an international figure."
Lily Liu, a foreign exchange student, also liked seeing all the hubbub.