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Local Polish community prepares for Pope's canonization

Panna Maria has relics from future Saint's Texas visit

Residents living in the oldest Polish Catholic colony in the United States, which is about an hour Southeast of San Antonio in Panna Maria, Texas, have a deep connection to the former leader of the Catholic faith.

On Sunday, the Catholic Church will canonize Pope John Paul II, officially making him a saint.

The second longest serving Pope in history was also one of the most popular of the modern era, especially among his fellow Polish people.

Residents living in the oldest Polish Catholic colony in the United States, which is about an hour Southeast of San Antonio in Panna Maria, Texas, have a deep connection to the former leader of the Catholic faith.

Loretta Niestroy is looking forward to the canonization of Pope John Paul II.

She's spent her entire life in the tiny Polish American community of Panna Maria.

Niestroy fondly recalls the day the Polish cardinal was named Pope in 1978.

"You could see on his face, he was thinking what am I getting into, and at the same time he looked like he was so excited and wanted to go and hug everybody that was there," Niestroy said.

When John Paul came to Texas in 1987, Niestroy and her fellow parishioners piled onto buses to see him hold mass in San Antonio.

"We didn't get too close to him but our daughter and niece got real close to him and the pope touched their hand as he was going through the line," Niestroy said. "They said they would never wash their hands again."

While the pope never made it to Panna Maria in person the church has a permanent reminder of his visit to Texas, including a set of chairs which he used during a private audience with local Poles. To this day, visitors to the church still want to sit in them, especially the kids.

"So many kids would say, 'I want to sit in that chair where that pope sat' because they feel like they're really important and these are young kids," Niestroy said.

Niestroy saw John Paul a second time in Poland in 1991 at World Youth Day and she said he saw her.

"He made the sign of the cross and when he saw the Panna Maria banner he just clapped, so we know he knew we were there," Niestroy said.

While she wasn't able to join the local parishioners on their trip to the Vatican to be part of the canonization, Niestroy said she will be watching from home.

"That TV's going to be on," Niestroy said. "Anybody comes around I'll just tell them, you all go sit in that other room or something I'm watching TV"

A slideshow is embedded here.

For a list of recent stories Tim Gerber has done, click here.

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