Hundreds of thousands of people will descend on Vatican City today to witness the canonization of two former Popes, John Paul II and John XXIII.
Mario Enzler won’t know what it feels like to be among them, but as a former member of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard, he knows what it feels like to have protected a soon-to-be saint.
“To me, there is sadness to not physically be there, but huge happiness because these two men, I knew that they were saints,” Enzler said Saturday from his office at New England Classical Academy in Claremont, where he is headmaster.
Enzler lives in Stoddard with his wife, Julie, and their five children. The couple met in Rome. He was a Swiss Guard, she an American studying theology.
He served in the Guard from 1989 to 1992, meeting world leaders, including U.S. Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa; they were all humbled and small in John Paul II’s presence.
John Paul II had a great sense of humor and a way of making the Swiss Guard feel comfortable and cared for, Enzler said.
As the canonization approached, Enzler was flooded by memories of John Paul, including a day in which the Pope, having passed Enzler at his post, walked back to him and handed over his rosary. The Pope said to Enzler, “The rosary is my favorite prayer, marvelous in its simplicity and profundity. Take this rosary and make good use of it.”
Enzler kept the rosary in his pocket and found himself praying throughout the day because of it. Today, he continues to look to John Paul II when he is searching for an answer and when he is praying.
“I go to the Lord because I’m a man of faith, but I go to the Lord through John Paul II most of the time,” Enzler said.
More than anything, the Pope led by example. Enzler remembers the intensity with which John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist, “how he remained deeply recollected in prayer at the conclusion of Mass, and the devotion with which he spoke spontaneously of Jesus and Mary.”
Over the years, Enzler’s feeling of connection with John XXIII has also grown. In his wallet are some words John XXIII said shortly after he became Pope, in 1958.
“Consult not your fears, but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself with not what you tried and failed in, but what is still possible for you to do.”
Like Enzler, John XXIII grew up in the Italian village of Sotto Il Monte.
“I was born in Italy of an Italian mother and Swiss father,” Enzler said.
Enzler grew up Catholic, but didn’t take his faith that seriously as a youth, he said.
He joined the Swiss Army to appease his father, who thought he could do with a dose of reality. His knowledge of languages and his education prompted a superior officer to recommend he apply to become a Swiss Guard.
Enzler immediately took to this idea and applied, believing it would be fun. The uniform was cool and the position impressive.
“That’s the ‘Bella Vita,’ is what we say in Rome,” he said. “My motivation at the beginning was not to go down and protect the Pope.”
He was accepted, trained and assigned.
The first time he met John Paul II and shook his hand, the gravity of his position hit him; Enzler wasn’t in Rome to impress the girls.
“This man is special. This man is something I need to understand,” Enzler recalled thinking.
Enzler left the Swiss Guard to marry and work as a corporate lawyer in Europe, but he left deeply changed by John Paul II.
“John Paul II impacted my life in profound ways, laying the groundwork for my becoming a husband, father, businessman, teacher and most importantly a practicing Catholic. It was his leadership that inspired me, his charisma that gave me hope, and his words that provided direction to my life,” Enzler said.
Enzler and his wife started New England Classical Academy in 2009. The school is not associated with the Diocese of Manchester, but teaches in the “Catholic tradition.”
Enzler said serving his community is a calling he has now because of John Paul II. “I am serving this community because I learned how to serve by serving a saint.”