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John Paul II, Pope

(Karol Wojtyla, 1920.05.18-2005.04.02)  Head of Catholic church from October 16, 1978 until his death.

Visited Phoenix, Tempe

This picture of Sparky, the personification of ASU's Sun Devils, is from the back, street side of the scoreboard. 6-03.


Sparky was not the first mascot of the college which eventually became ASU. In 1897, the school's teams were called "The Normals"--not because they were normal, but because ASU was then named the Arizona Territory Normal School. "Normal" was a common name of the era for colleges turning out school teachers. Team pictures from the ASU archives featuring athletes with "NORMAL" emblazoned across their chests leave one yearning for an explanation.


An attempt to change the team moniker to the "Owls" in 1899 met with little success, so they remained "The Normals" for over two decades.  in 1922 the campus newspaper began promoting the "Bulldogs" for the team name. The name was adopted remained the mascot through the school's change in name to Tempe State Teachers College in 1925, and to Arizona State Teachers College in 1928.


In 1946 the student body of Arizona State College as it was then known voted overwhelmingly to trade the dog for the devil. Sparky himself was the creation of an artist working for Walt Disney Studios, drawn for free as a favor. The school teams have paid homage to the antichrist ever since.

ASU built Sun Devil Stadium between two small mountains north of the campus in 1958 at a cost of $1,000,000.  The football stadium, named after the school's mascot, had an original capacity of 30,000 fans.  In 1976 the capacity was increased to 57,000, and in 1977 to over 70,000, which was the capacity at the time of the papal visit.  Over 1,000 more seats were added before the Cardinals began playing in the stadium in 1988.  The three story, 60,000 square foot building rising from the west side (right in the picture) of the stadium was added in 1989 to provide 38 private skyboxes, and a press box.  The total seating capacity for football as the Cardinals were departing in 2003 was 73,521. 5-02.

Pope John Paul II visited Phoenix on September 14, 1987, as a part of his whirlwind tour of the United States. In Tempe, he held mass for 75,000 of the faithful at a stadium paying homage to the Devil.

The only place in town. In 1987, there weren't many facilities in Phoenix that could hold the crowds a Pope would draw. To be specific, there was only one: the Tempe stadium of Arizona State University. Unfortunately, that stadium had paid homage to the devil since it was built in 1958. It even had images of Sparky, the Sun Devil incarnate, emblazoned on the scoreboard!

When faced with the choices, pragmatism prevailed over dogma. The big event would take place in Sun Devil Stadium. Sparky did not have to be removed. He merely have to be covered. Yellow bunting ordinarily used for Fiesta Bowl decorations would hide him from view during the Pope's visit.

Sparky didn't make out too badly for his indignity.  His bill (or the University's if you will) was $198,998.43 for use of the stadium.  Sparky charged for everything--right down to $393.72 of toilet paper.

Selling the Pope.  If souvenir vendors didn't make out well, it was not for lack of trying. There were papal T-shirts, muscle shirts, sweat shirts and golf shirts. Four NAU graduates came up with an inspired blend of the west and the event. Their "Cowpope" T-shirt featured the pope wearing a wide brimmed miter, bolo tie, cowboy boots and spurs, twirling a lasso. The caption: "Rome, Rome on the range."

The pope's image was hand painted on sandstone pottery bells and on wind chimes. Post cards, dinner bells, Christmas ornaments, medallions, pins, fans, plaques, pit helmets, and baseball caps commemorated the visit, as did the "Let Us Spray" lawn sprinkler.

The Catholic Diocese marketed video cassettes and books commemorating the visit. The downtown Phoenix post office offered the post mark "The Visit of Pope Paul II, Papal Visit Station, Phoenix, AZ 1987" beneath papal symbols on the day of the visit.

Bishop O'Brien's crowning achievement.  The Phoenix visit of Pope John Paul II was the crowning achievement of Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien's career. His persistence is credited with the unlikely inclusion of Phoenix on the Pope's nine day whirlwind US tour.

A review of the cities visited might suggest that there were other unlikely cities on the list. Starting Thursday, September 10, the Pope visited (in order) Miami, Florida; Columbia, Maryland; New Orleans, Louisiana; San Antonio, Texas; Phoenix; Los Angeles, Monterey, and San Francisco, California; and Detroit, Michigan.

The Pope's Schedule


8:30 AM, Monday, September 14, 1987 - Arrival from San Antonio at Air National Guard Terminal, Sky Harbor Airport.  Greeted by Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien, Governor Evan Mecham, Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard, Senators Dennis DeConcini and John McCain, Representatives Morris Udahl, John Kyle, John Rhodes, and Jim Kolbe.

9:00 AM - Visiting patients and staff at the pediatrics ward at St. Joseph's Hospital & Medical Center, with remarks to about 6,000 guests in bleachers at the entrance.

9:40 AM - Popemobile Motorcade - from St. Joseph's, east on Thomas Road, north on Third Avenue, east on Catalina, south on Central Avenue,  east on Monroe to St. Mary's Basilica.

10:10 AM - Prayer at St. Mary's Basilica and introduction to the crowd by Bishop O'Brien from the third floor balcony of the basilica.

10:50 AM - Civic Plaza South Ballroom for a Catholic Health Association meeting.

12:30 PM - Address to clergy & laity from the Diocese of Phoenix at Ss. Simon & Jude Cathedral, 6351 N. 27th Avenue.

1:20 PM - Lunch and rest at Bishop O'Brien's home near Central Avenue and Northern.

4:30 PM - Tekakwitha Conference with 16,000 Native Americans at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

A life size statue of the Pope made in Pietrasantre, Italy,  to commemorate his visit stands at The Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, 400 East Monroe, Phoenix.  The Arizona Center can be seen across Van Buren to the north of the statue, just beyond the blue portable toilets.  6-03.

6:30 PM - Eucharistic celebration at ASU's Sun Devil Stadium (Sparky covered) with 75,000 in attendance, including a popemobile tour of the stadium, Mass, and fireworks.

10:00 PM - Retire at Bishop O'Brien's residence.

8:30 AM - Arrival at Air National Guard Terminal, Sky Harbor Airport for 8:45 AM departure for Los Angeles.

The Pope's visit wasn't the only achievement of O'Brien's nearly 21 years as Bishop of the Phoenix Diocese. He also hosted the Mother Theresa's 1989 visit to Phoenix and her public appearance at Veteran's Memorial Coliseum. He worked for a paid holiday to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was an advocate for the poor, and sought improved interfaith relationships. He supported increased involvement of parishioners the operations of their churches, and was the leader of the U.S. bishops committee that encouraged families not to disown gay and lesbian children.

Trouble for the bishop.  Unfortunately, in spite of his achievements, the bishop had a couple of blind spots that eventually led to his resignation. Like many others in the church, Bishop O'Brien turned a blind eye on child molestation accusations against priests for decades. Clergy accused of sexual misconduct were, according an admission made by the bishop in an agreement with the Maricopa County Attorney, transferred without telling their superiors or parishioners about the allegations.

Reportedly, the bishop offered to resign before entering the agreement which guaranteed his immunity from prosecution on possible criminal cover-up charges. The Vatican did not accepted by the resignation, and Bishop O'Brien continued in his position until an incident involving another apparent blind spot.

Twilight at 19th Avenue on Glendale Avenue where a jaywalking Jim Reed was struck and killed by the bishop's Buick. Reed was thrown 30 feet east on Glendale, then run over and dragged 67 more feet by another vehicle. 6-03.

At 8:35 PM on Saturday June 14, 2003, Bishop O'Brien was driving his tan 2003 Buick Park Avenue east on Glendale Avenue, just before 19th Avenue. The vehicle struck and killed 43 year old Jim L. Reed who was crossing the street mid-block. Reed's head hit the right side of the the windshield throwing shards of glass into the vehicle and leaving a sizeable concave indentation. Reed was thrown 30 feet east on Glendale Avenue, then run over by a second vehicle and dragged another 67 feet. The second vehicle was not located.

Bishop O'Brien did not stop, saying later that he thought he might have either hit a dog or had a rock thrown at his car. He was advised the next day that police wanted to speak to him, but he did not return their call. On Monday, before investigators arrived at his home, he called a secretary about replacing the windshield.

On June 16, O'Brien was arrested, making him the first American bishop to be charged with a felony. The next day, he resigned as Bishop of the Phoenix Diocese. 

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