Remembering The Visit of St. Pope John Paul To Knock

On this day, May 18th, Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland in 1920.


Pope John Paul II’s papacy lasted from 1978 to 2005. On the 27th of April 2014, he was canonized by his successor, Pope Francis.  On the centenary of his birth, we take a look back at some of the interesting facts about his visit to Knock Shrine on September 30th 1979.



  • The Tuam Diocesan Choir, which had been especially formed for the Knock Centenary Year, was the chosen choir for the event. It was directed by Canon Charles Scahill, P.P. Balla at the time and the organist for the day was Gerard Gillen of Dublin with Sr. Eileen Walsh, Convent of Mercy, Tuam and Mr. Gabriel Kelly, choirmaster and organist, St. Mary’s Church, Westport as his assistants. The Choir consisted of about 160 people, lay, religious and clerical from many parishes of the Archdiocese.


  • The vestments worn on the day by the concelebrants were designed by Mr. Ray Carroll – 200 in all. There were plain white with a blue band and a golden rose in the centre. The vestments were made by the members of the Apostolic Work Society of the Archdiocese of Tuam, under the direction of Mrs. Kathleen Ryan, Castlebar.


  • 1,000 Eucharistic ministers were recruited to help distribute Communion on the day and the Holy Communion containers were rush baskets with water-proof covers. These were chosen to convey traditional Irish arts, crafts and culture as a part of the ceremonies.


  • The Sanctuary was designed by Mr. Daithi P. Hanly, Dublin. It was dominated by a Celtic Cross which was 58 feet high and proportioned according to the famous South Cross of Ahenny, Co. Tipperary, the earliest Irish High Cross. The timber altar was brought from Longford Cathedral.


  • From late Saturday night pilgrims had positioned themselves at vantage points to view the Holy Father when he passed by.


  • The lighting of the candle – a dedication to family prayer – was a historic moment.


  • One of his first duties was to visit the large group of sick people in the Basilica where he delivered a special address and blessed many of them. He then proceeded to the special altar


  • Local man Jarlath Dolly was Shrine sacristan in the Shrine at that time.


  • Dignitaries present included Patrick Hillery, Uachtarain na h’Eireann, and Jack Lynch, the incumbent Taoiseach. Minister for the Gaeltacht, Denis Gallagher, performed one of the readings (the other was read by Monsignor Horan).


  • His homily was 42-minutes long.

‘I want to express the immense joy and gratitude that fills my heart today in this place’, he said. At the end of the sermon he consecrated the entire people of Ireland to Our Lady, Mathair Dé, Mother of the Church, Queen of Ireland.


  • The Pope was welcomed to Knock by the Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Cunnane (a native of Knock) and Monsignor James Horan, P.P. of Knock. He blessed 37 foundation stones for churches and religious house all over Ireland including the Carmelite Monastery which was to be later built at Knock (Opened in 1983)


  • The open-air sanctuary was dominated by a 58-foot high Celtic Cross – still standing on the site. The altar was brought from Longford Cathedral and the Papal Chair was donated to Knock by Seamus O’ Hara, Swinford. This chair is on display at Knock Museum alongside Pope Francis’ chair.
  • He arrived in Dublin on Saturday morning, 29 September and celebrations took place at the Phoenix Park and Drogheda. On Sunday morning, 30 September he presided over a huge gathering of young people in Galway and afterwards proceeded to Cnoc Mhuire – the goal of his journey to Ireland. The Holy Father’s helicopter arrived at Knock in the early afternoon and he was greeted by Archbishop Cunnane and Monsignor Horan. He was then escorted on to the roof of the Basilica ambulatory where he could be seen by all pilgrims and where he received a rapturous welcome from all – flags and banner waving.


  • At the end of Mass the Pope raised the New Church to status of a Basilica and presented a Golden Rose – his own personal gift and symbol of the highest recognition the Shine could receive. He was then escorted to the Shrine and like his successor Pope Francis, knelt in silent prayer at the Apparition Gable. He then blessed the new statues and lit a candle, symbol of the importance of family prayer. He was presented with the Family Prayer Scroll which had been signed by thousands of families by Frank Molloy and family of Claremorris.


‘It gives me great happiness to see that the Irish people maintain this traditional devotion to the Mother of God in their homes and their parishes, and in a special way at the Shrine of Cnoc Mhuire. The closing words of his homily were: ‘A Mhuire na nGrás, a Mháthair Mhic Dé, go gcuirfidh tú ar mo leas mé’.


Read the homily of Pope John Paul II at Knock Shrine here.

For a selection of books by, and about, St. Pope John Paul II, see our online shop here.