On October 29, St. John Paul II parish in Bigfork celebrated the dedication of a first class relic ex sanguine, or from the blood, of their patron saint. After five years of praying, hoping, and working, the parish graciously received a piece of the former pope’s garment, stained by the blood from his gunshot wound in May of 1981.
Bishop Thomas began the Mass by recounting the miraculous events that led to its acquisition.
“Roughly four years ago, the Knights of Columbus sent me a letter requesting my assistance in obtaining a first class relic of St. Pope John Paul II, which began a long process of attempting to find such a relic,” Bishop Thomas said.
“Bishop Thomas was told everywhere he went that due to the worldwide demand for, and the scarcity of, such a relic, it was incredibly unlikely that we would get one,” said Fr. Craig Hanley, pastor of St. John Paul II parish in Bigfork.
Then, after four years and “exhausting all possible avenues,” Bishop Thomas reached out to now retired Archbishop Elden Curtiss, a former bishop of the Diocese of Helena and the Diocese of Omaha. In the past, Archbishop Curtiss had worked very closely with the recent Archbishop Emeritus of Kraków, Poland, Stanisław Dziwisz. Dziwisz was a long time aide to St. John Paull II during his papacy. Three weeks later, the parish in Bigfork received its first class relic.
In his homily, Bishop Thomas said, “It’s my deepest hope that this parish, named for John Paul the Great, would use his life’s example as a model to gather, to care for, and to nourish the faith of this people.”
After his homily, Bishop Thomas moved in procession to the reliquary, where he administered a blessing and the relic was installed. He then took a moment to pray, requesting the intercession of the saint.
Bishop Thomas remarked, “It was through four years of persistent work that we were blessed to finally receive the relic, but the effort to acquire a relic was very much parishioner-led. It was requested, helped, and finally celebrated by the people of this parish.”
The Knights of Columbus began the process with the initial request, and another parishioner, Neal Garbenis, designed and built the reliquary. In addition to being active in his home parish, Garbenis is a well known local contractor and cabinet shop owner.
“It was a big honor to be asked by them,” Garbenis said. “I wanted it to be simple, representing the church and John Paul, who was a very simple man. I was trying to decide how to put it into the rock wall, and then Terry Mimnaugh showed me the bust, because before that there was to be a picture above it. And that was it! My design changed to add the bust compartment to the top, and it all came together from there.”
The bust Garbenis speaks of was crafted by local Bigfork artist Terry Mimnaugh, who is an active member and well known across the state of Montana for her paintings and sculptures. She created the larger bust of St. John Paul II which stands in the entrance to the church. The idea was suggested by Bishop Thomas as a way for the community and pilgrims to easily identify the origin of the relic.
“We feel so honored and blessed to have a relic of this caliber of probably the best known modern saint,” Fr. Hanley said. “It is an inspiration to us on a daily basis to have that extra connection to our patron which the relic makes possible. In addition, we’re sure that the founding pastor, Monsignor Don Shea, who was here when this process began, would be very proud and happy to see this incredible relic installed.”