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Students At Pope John XXIII School Learn Of Namesake’s Legacy Ahead Of Sainthood

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EVANSTON (CBS) – There’s only one institution in the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago named after Pope John XXIII; it’s an elementary school in Evanston, and anticipation there is building for the late pope’s upcoming canonization in Rome.

At the Vatican this weekend, the school’s namesake will be elevated to sainthood, and CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley got a peek at the growing excitement at Pope John XXIII School.

Before preparing for his canonization, the image many students had of their school’s namesake was about as wooden as the pontiff’s statue in the lobby.

“I just knew he was a good pope,” fourth grader Bridget Nolan said.

Their lack of knowledge about John XXIII was understandable; after all, he died 51 years ago. That makes his elevation to sainthood a highly teachable moment.

All year, students have been preparing and studying for the ceremony.

Fourth graders have been creating art projects, including banners and posters. Sixth graders have been writing research papers and reports on the soon-to-be saint.

Porter Jihaad said the most important thing he’s learned is “that he changed up the church a little bit during the Vatican II Council.”

The Second Vatican Council led to major changes in the Catholic Church, including allowing the use of languages other than Latin for Mass, rejecting the idea of the collective blame of Jewish people for the death of Jesus, and allowing and no longer considering Protestants heretics.

“What he did with Vatican II was say, ‘we need to re-look at how things have been and not change doctrine or tradition, but open up the windows and really in a sense empower the laity,’” said Fr. Greg Sakowicz, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Evanston, one of two parishes to support Pope John XXIII School.

Students understand sainthood is not an everyday occurrence.

“We’ll come to realize that our school is in honor of someone who’s truly very holy,” Luke Barber said.

Canonization also might bring a change in the name of the school to St. John XXIII, but any switch would have to be approved by the Vatican.