Saint John Paul II National Shrine

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Saint John Paul II National Shrine
Saint John Paul II National Shrine is located in District of Columbia
Saint John Paul II National Shrine
Location within Washington, D.C.
Established 2001
Location 3900 Harewood Road NE
D.C. 20017 - 4471
Coordinates 38°56′16″N 77°00′17″W / 38.9377°N 77.0047°W / 38.9377; -77.0047
Type Religious shrine
Public transit access WMATA Metro Logo.svg      Brookland–CUA

The Saint John Paul II National Shrine is a national shrine in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. It is a place of prayer for Catholics and welcomes people of all faiths. It houses a permanent exhibit called "A Gift of Love: the Life of Saint John Paul II" and hosts temporary exhibits relating to the history of the Catholic Church in North America. It has a Chapel with daily services.

The 130,000-square-foot (12,000 m2) building is built on 12 acres (4.9 ha) adjacent to The Catholic University of America and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast Washington.


Although they are two separate projects, the building which now is the Saint John Paul II National Shrine historically housed the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center. The idea for the center originated at a meeting between Pope John Paul II and Adam Maida, then Bishop of Green Bay, in 1989. Maida had proposed an institution similar to a U.S. presidential library be built in honor of the pope; the pope instead suggested a center for exploring interfaith issues.[1] The Pope John Paul II Cultural Center was envisioned as a museum and Catholic think tank which would explore the intersection of faith and culture through interactive displays, academic discussion and research, and museum exhibits.

In 1990 Maida was appointed Archbishop of Detroit, and made a cardinal, and he set to work raising funds. About $50 million was raised from several thousand donors. The Archdiocese lent $17 million directly to the center and also guaranteed its $23 million mortgage.[2] Construction of the complex cost $75 million.[1] The center was opened to the public in a ceremony in March of 2001, attended by President George W. Bush, several cardinals, members of Congress and other dignitaries.

While academic discussions and special events were reportedly successful,[3] the Center struggled. Its mission and focus were unclear. The size of the center, its high-tech exhibits, and its lavish customized installations had been expensive to build and to maintain.[4] Despite the costly construction, however, it was not fitted with a modern art gallery, making other museums reluctant to lend it works to exhibit.[5] Vatican artworks promised to donors to be on display thus never materialized.[6]

Financial forecasts had projected 200,000 to 500,000 visitors a year paying $8 admission. Despite changing the fee to a $5 suggested donation, the Center received only about 80,000 visitors in 2005.[1] Attendance also suffered due to a general downturn in visitors to the Washington, D.C. region following the September 11 terrorist attacks just six months after opening, and then an economic recession. The Center came under scrutiny after a February 2006 National Catholic Reporter article reported on its difficulties; the Archdiocese of Detroit was itself was struggling financially amidst the economic decline of the City of Detroit, and its seemed doubtful the Center would be able to pay off its $36 million debt to the Archdiocese.[4]

The center eventually closed except by appointment, although maintenance continued to be billed to the Archdiocese of Detroit. By 2011, the Archdiocese was owed $54 million[7] After Maida's retirement in 2009, the Center was put up for sale. In 2010, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist indicated a desire to purchase the building for a house of studies, but the plan fell through as it would have been too costly to renovate.[8]

Knights of Columbus Acquire the Building[edit]

The Knights of Columbus, who had contributed $3 million to the initial project,[4] entered negotiations to purchase the Cultural Center. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson announced on August 2, 2011 plans to purchase it to create a shrine and permanent exhibit honoring the life of Pope John Paul I, and eventually a museum on the history of Catholicism in North America.[9] The Knights paid $22.7 million, of which $2.7 million went to the Catholic University of America and $20 million to the Archdiocese of Detroit[8]

Following the acquisition, the Knights initiated a series of renovations, during which time the Blessed Pope John Paul II Shrine, as it was designated, held seasonal exhibits. On March 19, 2014, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops designated it as a national shrine, citing the love of American Catholics for the late pope. It formally reopened as the Saint John Paul II National Shrine on April 27, 2014, following the canonization of Pope John Paul II earlier that day in Vatican City.


  1. ^ a b c Boorstein, Michelle (February 12, 2006), "D.C. Papal Museum Struggles For Financial Foothold, Focus", The Washington Post: C03 
  2. ^ Zimmermann, Carol (April 12, 2011), Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington still looking for buyer, Catholic News Service 
  3. ^ "Overview of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Foundation" (PDF). John Paul II Cultural Foundation. Retrieved 19 Aug 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Feuerherd, Joe (February 10, 2006), Financially strapped archdiocese subsidizes troubled center 
  5. ^ Crumm, David (March 16, 2005), "A showplace for masterpieces? Well, not so far", The Detroit Free Press 
  6. ^ Crumm, David (March 16, 2006), "Papal center's spiral costly", The Detroit Free Press 
  7. ^ McBrien, Richard (September 6, 2011), The Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, etc. 
  8. ^ a b Desmond, Joan Frawley (August 3, 2011), Knights of Columbus to Take Over JPII Center in Washington 
  9. ^ "Knights of Columbus to Buy JPII Cultural Center in Washington, DC". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 3 Aug 2011. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°56′16″N 77°00′17″W / 38.9377°N 77.0047°W / 38.9377; -77.0047