The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Face to face, hand in hand with Pope Francis

Why did pope pick North Little Rock parishioner out of a crowd?

Published: October 17, 2017   
Aprille Hanson
Home from a surprising encounter with Pope Francis in Rome, Nancy Tomosieski stands under a photo of the pope at Immaculate Conception Church in North Little Rock.

Nancy Tomosieski still wonders “Why me?” Though the native of New Jersey views herself no different than anyone else, she is hardly the run-of-the-mill Catholic — even to Pope Francis.

Turning 80 on Christmas, Tomosieski isn’t one to slow down. She attends daily Mass about three to four times a week at Immaculate Conception in North Little Rock, a parish she’s belonged to for about 38 years. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she’s answering phones or doing other volunteer tasks at Arkansas Hospice. She’s a faithful member of Catholic Daughters of the Americas, a charitable organization of Catholic women. Each week, she prays in the adoration chapel and attends a faith formation class.

She is a widow — married to her husband John for almost 50 years before his death in 2010 — a proud mother of four children, grandmother to 11 and great-grandmother to three, with two more on the way.

Tomosieski loves her family and lives her spirituality. “I have a very blessed life,” she said with a sincere reverence.

There’s a spark about her and Pope Francis saw it.

On a 2016 pilgrimage to Rome, Tomosieski received not only multiple blessings from the pontiff, but had a short conversation.

“To this day just talking about it I feel like my heart is going to jump out of my chest. It was such an awesome thing to me,” she said.

During an audience with Pope Francis in August last year, Tomosieski was ushered to the handicapped seating in the front rows. In her row, there were children that had various disabilities.

“I spent 10 years working in Easter Seals, there was no way you’re going to tell me my kids were handicapped. Challenged, yes,” said the retired nurse of more than 30 years. “I felt the same way about these young ones sitting along this row.”

As the mother next to her tried to calm her son, about 8 or 10 years old, he felt most comfortable in his mother’s arms, with his legs across Tomosieski’s lap.

“That was no big to me … his Mama was getting very upset about it. I said, ‘Calm down it’s fine.’ He wasn’t hurting me. He was very happy that way,” Tomosieski said.

As Pope Francis came down to her row, she didn’t expect anything other than a group blessing.

“All of a sudden he got to me, he was holding both my hands in both of his hands … from then on I was in my own little world,” Tomosieski said. “Just the way it struck you, he’s actually touching me, holding my hand, I was in heaven.”

“He started talking to me and, of course, I’m addressing him as His Holiness, I didn’t know what else to call him. He asked me where I had come from and who I was with and I told him. And then he says that I’m the only one who’s saying please and thank you to him,” she said. “If I wasn’t saying please and thank you my mother would have come down (from heaven) and belted me one.”

Pope Francis then commented on her Catholic Daughters pin, inquiring about the organization, how many members there were in the chapter, admitting he had “never heard of them,” she said.

“He said, ‘Well, I’m going to give you a blessing for that,” to which Tomosieski asked if he could not just bless her, but all the members of the chapters in Arkansas. “How he blessed everyone from Rome to Arkansas, I don’t know.”

He continued to hold her hands and though he sought to just bless her at first, she asked if it could also be for her brothers, suffering from cardiac issues and her sister struggling with breast cancer. Today, while her brothers still have some illness, her sister is healed. 

“Oh honey, I felt like I was in heaven. I honestly felt like I was in heaven. How do you get things like that? How do you even get that close to him?” Tomosieski said.

While she said the conversation was short, it lasted forever in her mind.

“He said something about he never met anybody like me and my thinking afterwards was, ‘You are lucky,’” she laughed. “I’ve always told our priests I may not be that bad, but I’m sure not that good.”

But Pope Francis, in his compassion, “just made me feel like I was that good,” Tomosieski said.

Please read our Comments Policy before posting.

Article comments powered by Disqus