First-time visitors to the chapel at Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan, may wonder why a kayak is parked in the foyer. A small plaque explains that the boat, along with an accompanying life preserver and paddle, was used by Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, Archbishop of Krakow, on September 4, 1976, during a visit to the school. Cardinal Wojtyła, of course, went on to become Pope John Paul II just two years later, thrilling Polish and Polish American Catholics alike.
St. John Paul II paddled this kayak — named the Bałtyk after the sea on Poland’s north coast — during a visit to Orchard Lake, Michigan, in 1976.
And at SS. Cyril and Methodius, founded in 1885 to prepare Polish seminarians to serve the Catholic Church in the United States, the late pope — now canonized as a saint — is especially beloved.
While the seminary has widened its mission to include the preparation of foreign-born seminarians to serve the U.S. Catholic church, its Polish roots remain strong. In 2016, the Archdiocese of Detroit designated its Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake as the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. John Paul II.
Many visitors to the chapel come to venerate another relic that is kept in a large marble and gold reliquary near the chapel’s sanctuary: a bloodstained piece of clothing the pontiff was wearing when he was shot during an assassination attempt in 1981.
In May 2020, Orchard Lake Schools (which includes the seminary and a high school, St. Mary’s Prep) hosted a celebration to commemorate the 100th birthday of St. John Paul II. Because of the pandemic, Mass was held outside under a tent. Surely the honoree — who enjoyed some solitary time on Orchard Lake and was well known for his love of the outdoors — would have approved.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ORCHARD LAKE SCHOOLS