The owners of the DiCocco Family St. Jude Shop are getting to be experts at this. When there's a presentation for the pope, call the store in Havertown.
Twice in the last 15 months, the store owners have been tapped for their Benedict XVI know-how.
The first time, they helped supply a specially made chair the pope used during a U.S. visit. This time, they assisted the White House in finding a gift for him.
That present will be given to Benedict as part of President Obama's visit to the Vatican tomorrow.
The box will contain a stole that had been draped around the enshrined body of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia for nearly 20 years.
"It's a sacred gift," said the Rev. Kevin Moley, pastor of the National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Northern Liberties. "I'm glad [the administration] asked St. Jude, and St. Jude asked us, because it represents the U.S. and Rome. We should all be pleased and thankful."
White House officials declined to confirm the gift or discuss the matter before the meeting tomorrow.
At the end of June, a State Department official called the shop and asked for advice on a papal gift, said Louis DiCocco 3d. The official first suggested an antique chalice, but then gave up the idea, hoping for something with more historical significance.
DiCocco and his brother Robert began discussing possibilities. They called their contacts in the Catholic community. When they phoned the National Shrine of St. John Neumann, officials there suggested the stole, Louis DiCocco said.
"We told [State Department officials] that we had something very precious, representing Catholic history in America and specifically Philadelphia history," Louis DiCocco said.
State Department officials thought the sash of St. John Neumann was perfect.
The ivory stole, with gold, crimson, and blue trim, was wrapped around the body of Neumann, the first U.S. bishop to be named a saint.
Born in what is now the Czech Republic, Neumann immigrated to the United States and served as bishop of Philadelphia from 1852 until his death in 1860. He was known for his service to immigrant communities, and built 35 Catholic schools in eight years. A member of the Redemptorist Fathers and Brothers religious order, he was canonized in 1977.
The sash was in place under a glass encasement starting in 1989. It was removed in 2007 when the body was re-dressed with the help of Cardinal Justin Rigali. The sash then was kept at the church, Moley said, until Louis DiCocco came calling.
DiCocco and his family have operated a series of religious gift shops since 1964, when DiCocco's parents, Louis Jr., now deceased, and Norma, founded the first one in Havertown. The family now has three additional outlets, in Philadelphia, Malvern, and Cherry Hill.
In 2008, the store was contacted by Msgr. Walter Rossi, of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, to provide a chair for Benedict. The pope met with bishops on a trip to the nation's capital in April that year and needed a a special chair for the occasion.
The chair was designed at the DiCocco shop and built by a father-son team of woodworkers from Bucks County. A year later, when the State Department needed a gift, somebody in Washington remembered the DiCocco Family St. Jude Shop, Louis DiCocco said.
On July 1, DiCocco placed Neumann's stole in a box, drove it to Washington, and hand-delivered it to State Department officials.
"How many times do you get a chance to do something not once, but twice for the Holy Father?" DiCocco said.
Norma DiCocco, 80, calls it a highlight of her 45 years in a family business that she calls a ministry.
"We take this as privilege," Norma DiCocco said. "We are beyond words."