Soon-to-be-saint has special connection to Wisconsin - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Soon-to-be-saint has special connection to Wisconsin

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STEVENS POINT (WAOW) - Not many people can say they were Pope John Paul II bodyguard. But, Stan Potocki can.

We were asked to provide security for Cardinal Wojtyla,” said Potocki.  In August of 1976, the Pope, known as Cardinal Wojtyla at the time, made a stop in Stevens Point.  “He looked at my name Potocki, but in polish it's pronounced Potuski,” explained Potocki. “So, he looked at me and he bowed. He bowed down to me! And I thought, ‘Whoa what's going on?’”

The rest of the day we went out and around with him all over Portage County, just kind of keeping an eye on him,” said Potocki.

It was a UW Stevens Point history professor that arranged the visit.  “He (the Cardinal) was stopping in Philadelphia and because they were such good friends, they called him to see if he would come out here to visit, and he said he would,” explained retired history professor Hugh Walker.  The Cardinal gave a lecture on polish culture, and held a special mass on campus.

Historically it became far more significant then it was when he made the visit,” said Walker.  That's because, two years later, Cardinal Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II.  “I went up to everybody and I said, do you want to shake hands with a hand that shook hands with the Pope?” joked Potocki.

Pope John Paul II was the second longest serving pope in history. He was one of the most traveled world leaders. And, he had a special connection with Stevens Point.  "He said he liked Stevens Point because it reminded him of Poland," said Walker.

Even though decades have passed since the visit, the memories remain through pictures. Well, at least some pictures.  "I really wish I would have had a camera with me to take a picture of me with the Pope," said Potocki.

At least he can say he's shaken hands with a saint.

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