<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Papal Charters




Travel With Angels, the TWA Papal Charters

"Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once told an audience
that TWA meant "Travel With Angels".

Pope ShadowTWA had the distinct honor to be the U.S. official Papal Charter. In Jan. 27, 1999, Pope Paul I returned to Rome aboard a specially configured TWA 767-300, dubbed Shepard I for the trip. The flight was the fifth time TWA had the honor of carrying the Pope, and the fourth time it had carried Pope John Paul II and his entourage.

TWA first flew the Holy Father in 1965 when it transported Pole Paul VI roundtrip from Rome to New York City to address the United Nations. TWA transported Pope John Paul II in 1995 from Newark to Baltimore and then on to Rome. In 1987, the airline carried the pontiff on an 11-day, nine city U.S. tour and again in 1979, on a six-day, six city trip that included a return flight to Rome.TWA’s international travel experience with Catholic hierarchy began the same year the airline launched its overseas service to Europe in 1946. That year, TWA flew 11 Catholic bishops to the Vatican where they received their “red hats” signifying their elevation to Cardinal.


TWA had such a long standing relationship with the Catholic Church that Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once told an audience that TWA meant “Traveling With Angels”. In 1995 Bill and Virginia Kelly had the honor fly Pope John Paul II’s from Baltimore to Rome. They have shared with us what it was like to be part of TWA’s most distinguished moments in history. It was an honor to be selected by TWA as crew for the Pope Charters. Not only did TWA select their finest flight attendants, but they must also be Catholic. Having worked with Bill and Virginia on TWA International flights for years - I guarantee that TWA did pick the finest! Thank you Bill and Virginia for sharing your memories.

Pope John Paul II
Flight 8699
October 8, 1995
A/C: N601TW 

Baltimore to Rome, Italy

Virginia J. Kelly
Flight Service Manager

VirginiaBeing assigned to a Papal Charter had been my dream for a long time, more so because of my respect and love for Pope John Paul II.

 Bill (my husband) and I had put in a request several months prior to the charter. We hoped that a combination of our languages (Greek, French, Lithuanian), our having been married in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and our records with TWA would help us. At one point, without my knowledge, Bill went to Pat Rice (Manager In Flight) and Judy Zimmer (General Manager). He asked them that if only one of us could be chosen which he assumed was the case, to please choose me and not him. They told him that there were many qualified people and that nothing was for certain. It was Pat Rice, weeks later, who called to inform me of our assignment. A precedent was broken by giving me the Flight Service Manager position. A male FSM had always been used in the past internationally. In my opinion, it was time for an older, woman FSM (the crew consisted of many FSMs who worked as Flight Attendants). Later it was told to me that the selection process was done by the company and union together.

A week before the charter, I injured my foot by putting a chair leg on it and sitting down. What pain! What a mess! Nothing would keep me from flying the charter so I did not mention this to anyone at the time.

In Florida, Bill and I kept in touch with JFK & STL supervisors as to plans, services, procedures, studying all as it became available.

October 6, 1995, we flew to New York and went to Hangar 12. The preparations on the a/c were unbelievable…the enthusiasm, the work, the happiness of everyone involved was unprecedented.

October 7, 1995, the crew from New York left on TWE to Baltimore. (This little commuter airline no longer exists.) We stayed at the Marriott Inner Harbor Hotel, across from Camden Yards, where the Holy Father would be appearing the following day.

The STL based flight attendants joined us for dinner. Some of us went to a moving Mass at the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The crew belonged to many different religious faiths. It was not part of the criteria for being chosen.

The morning of October 8th was spent in briefings. We received extensive packages about the flow of services, procedures, protocol, etc. The crew members chose working positions. Harold Newton would be working the galley in First Class, Bill Kelly would be the First Class aisle person, Ratan Bhappu the extra floater. Karen Sikora would be in the next galley with Carolyn Hamilton and Anna Delmolino in the next area. Mary Ellen Norton-Hayes, the aft galley, Susan Exum, Oksana Faller aisle in the aft section. I would be in the aisle in the aft section and wherever needed.

At 4 PM three Super Shuttle vans transport the crew and TWA officials to the BWI cargo facility. Prior to boarding Shepherd I, Secret Service checked each crew member and TWA passenger against a master list which has been screened in advance.

Chefs come on board to provide even more detailed information about the food and its presentation. The press boarded early and the services began hours before departure.

A helicopter with the Holy Father landed. There were ceremonies and speeches. Vice President Gore was there to see the Holy Father of. The Cardinals and other high officials boarded first.

Captain & PopePrior to the Pope’s boarding, Captain Fred Arenas told us that he wanted the crew to stand in a row like a reception, starting by the door. As the Holy Father started going up the stairs very slowly, I was overcome by the honor of being able to be in his presence. I spoke to him in Lithuanian, “Sventas Tevas, Sventas Tevas, Aciu, Aciu.” I kissed his ring and genuflected. Bill genuflected, kissed his ring and greeted Him in English. Fred Arenas did so in Spanish and so on.

Once seated, the Holy Father asked Bill for a wet cloth to wash his hands. The Holy Father and the other passengers ate, choosing from an extensive menu. The Holy Father then went to bed for about three hours. He had changed to night clothes and rested in a bed which is now in a museum in Kansas City. In the morning he had a light breakfast and read a Bible.


Bill KellyWe had brought a box full of rosaries to be blessed. Bill was worried that there would be no time for this. During the night he placed the box under the Holy Father’s bed under his head, later moving it to under his feet. I was worried that it would look suspicious to have Bill on the floor putting a box under the bed. Of course I was not aware of Bill doing so till later.

During Bill’s conversations with Monsignor Dziwisz, it came out that I had been born in Vilnius, Lithuania. Monsignor Dziwisz asked Bill to have me come up to talk him. Most people from Vilnius speak Polish, unfortunately, I did not. I could understand him and he could understand my English, so we were fine.


The Holy Father signed books, photos, and blessed religious artifacts. Bill had brought our wedding photo taken in St. Peter’s. The Holy Father autographed it “Cum Benedictum. Joannus Paulus II 9.10.95”.

VirginiaWe were told to get ready for short audiences. I sat down next to the Holy Father. He took my hand! I never expected that! I spoke in Lithuanian, “Sventas Tevas, Aciu, Aciu”.He replied, with a most dazzling smile and outstretched hands, “Lietuva, Lietuva”.

He then proceeded with the following, “Tegu buna pagarbintas Jezus Kristus.” I answered, “Per amzius, Amen.” It was an old Lithuanian prayer that my aunt and godmother, Dagmar Svoinickas had taught me. The Holy Father now took his thumb and blessed me by making the deepest cross on my forehead; it was as if an indelible mark would be left. During this audience, those watching thought the Holy Father and I were singing songs.

Everyone had an audience and in a myriad of languages. Everyone was touched. It seemed that the Holy Father related to each person on the level they needed.

Cardinal Sodano praised TWA and the service. He offered a tour of the Vatican to the crew. This was very interesting. Everyone was complimentary.

Bill, virginia & PopeThe trip was coming to an end. The Holy Father indicated he wanted to speak on the PA. He came forward and put one hand on Bill and one on me. He said, “Good couple. God Bless You.” As he touched us to steady his arm, I gave the PA to him upside down. Bill turned it around. The Holy Father spoke in Italian, thanking everyone. Then he said, “GOD BLESS TWA.”

This trip, with a most wonderful crew, was the highlight of my TWA career.

 Virginia J. Kelly


Pope BandDocumentations and Articles about Sheppard 1


List of Crew & VIP's

Interview with the Pope

Pope's Personal Music Choices

TWA Press Release

Article flying with the Pope

Last Papal Charter

TWA Weekly Article PDF