When it was announced that Pope John Paul II would be coming to Columbia, South Carolina, in September, 1987, 10-year-old Jennie Elizabeth Clark was as anxious as anyone to see the Holy Father, never foreseeing a handshake or a personal blessing. Through extraordinary luck and some strategic planning by her father, September 12 became one of the great days in her life. It was also her 10th birthday.
Not only was she warmly greeted by Pope John Paul II, but little did she dream that 27 years later, she could say she was touched by a saint. Next Sunday at the Vatican, Pope Francis will preside at canonization ceremonies for two Popes, John XXIII, and John Paul II.
The unlikely saga began two months before the big day, as her father, Pittston Junction native Pat Clark, set on a very determined course to get tickets for inside the small St. Peter’s Church in Columbia, where the Pope would be welcomed by a maximum crowd of only 400 people. Friends in Washington came through with the tickets less than 48 hours before the ceremony.
Pat, a Scranton Prep graduate and basketball standout, who later played for the legendary basketball coach Frank McGuire at the University of South Carolina, entered St. Peter’s with his daughter and son, Christopher. They refused seats, determined to remain standing in the rear of the pews, right near the main isle.
The Pope had to walk down the aisle out of the church, and this spot was as close to the Holy Father as they could get.
By noon of the next day, Jennie Elizabeth’s picture with the Pope blessing her was being seen around the world. The wire photo of the blessing was on the Associated Press “A Wire,” in the next edition of Newsweek, with television coverage on CNN international, and stations in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. At the age of 10, it was all very awesome.
Today, Jennie Elizabeth Clark Yarborough resides in Greenville, South Carolina, with her husband Atty. William Yarborough. Although a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and later of its law school, Jennie is now pursuing veterinary studies at the University of Georgia, Athens campus.
Christopher Clark is on the nursing staff of the U.S. Veterans Medical Center in Columbia. He resides in Columbia, near his father and mother, Sallie Ann Clark.
Jennie is the granddaughter of Junction resident Albert Clark, and his late wife Mary Jordan Clark.
Although the Papal encounter was 27 years ago, Jennie Elizabeth comments, “What a birthday, it was the experience of a life time. I could never forget it. And next week, he’s a saint.”