Remembering 30 Years Ago
When the Pope Came to Hamtramck

Mother, Pope Visit 1987

On September 18, 1987, my mother’s brother Hank Brodacki, her sister Agnes Pavlik, and I joined her at her home at 2253 Norwalk in Hamtramck to prepare for the visit of Pope John Paul II, the first Polish pope. We spent much of the night walking the streets around her house, which were full of people as I’d never seen those streets before. The atmosphere was electric. There were vendors selling pierogi and goląbki, and I remember Uncle Hank eagerly buying and enjoying these Polish treats. I remember watching the stage being assembled for the pope.

Pope, Uncle Hank 1987

The next day, we took our place with hundreds of others on Joseph Campau, across from the beautiful old building that used to stand at the northeast corner of Campau and Holbrook and was home to the Big Boy, my mother’s favorite restaurant. “Hey Leonard, ya wanna go to Big Boy?” she would always say.

I remember madly snapping pictures, but I was such an amateur that I never managed to get a photo of the Popemobile as it whizzed by. Photos of the grandstand from which the pope spoke are shot from such a distance that it is hard to tell if the tiny speck on the stage is actually the pope.

Pope, Aunt Agnes 1987

What I remember most about that day, however, is not taking photos or the food, it is the tremendous sense of pride and unity we felt as members of a Polish American family, hearing the Polish pope speaking the language of my grandparents. Hamtramck at that time was still roughly 50% Polish and the city was festooned with American and Polish flags; the pope said to us, “Solidarity must take precedence over conflict,” words as relevant in 2017 as they were those 30 years ago.
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