When Pope Francis visited the Catholic University of America during his historic United States tour, media from all over the world and 25,000 people flocked to the campus – with news cameras, DSLRs and iPhones at the ready.
And with all those cameras capturing snapshots of the Pope’s visit, Catholic University Photographer Ed Pfueller and his team had an ambitious mission.
“We wanted a different perspective,” Pfueller said.
Pfueller wanted to capture the Pope’s visit from every angle, and show how special this visit was for the Catholic University community.
“Being a member of the official credentialed media wouldn’t be what we were looking for,” he explained.
Pfueller has been planning the University’s coverage for months – since the Pope’s visit was announced early in the summer.
“The main challenge – even though this was on our campus – was knowing what sort of access we would have as photographers,” Pfueller explained. “A lot of that was controlled by the Secret Service.”
Pfueller is usually a one-man-band with an intern, but for this historic event, he hired two freelance photographers and made sure every staff member had a camera. The team effort made all the difference – they captured the visit from a uniquely Catholic U perspective.
Pfueller and his team took a media bus in to the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception first thing in the morning (it took them a couple hours, but for some members of the crowd, it took four hours to get in to the university!). They got their credentials, and spread out to their positions (later, those positions would prove to be stationary – the crowd of thousands of people made moving around impossible). Together, they captured the day from every angle.
The two freelance photographers, Dana Rene and Greg Kendall-Ball, were stationed on rooftops of campus buildings. They wanted to give their photos context, and show that this historic event, the Canonization Mass of Blessed Junipero Serra, took place at Catholic University and the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The Student Section
Pfueller’s student intern, Justin Walker, had access to a position where no other media was allowed – the student section.
Not only did Walker snap this amazing image of Pope Francis in front of the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, he captured the student experience and the excitement of the crowd.
The Press Pool
Pfueller joined 300 members of the global news media on the riser, which gave him a straight shot to the altar.
Pfueller also managed to get into a local press pool, which gave him some mobility. As he got closer to the Basilica’s east portico, he was able to capture some more intimate photos of Pope Francis during the mass.
Pfueller had to shoot through trees to capture some of these images, but he overcame the challenge and created beautiful up-close images of Pope Francis.
The press pool also allowed Pfueller to enter the Shrine, where Pope Francis greeted seminarians and nuns who were gathered inside.
The Big Picture
During Pope Francis’ visit, Pfueller and his team sent a handful of photos to a staff member who was manning social media, but speed wasn’t their first priority.
“We weren’t trying to compete with the news media,” Pfueller said. “We were looking at the big picture and the historic nature of the event.”
The team was thinking towards the future, trying not to miss anything.
When the day was over and the Pope had moved on to his next stop, Pfueller and his team uploaded over a thousand photos to the university’s visual asset management system: Libris.
Libris allowed each person to upload their photos in a way that was easy for them – some uploaded from Photo Mechanic and others used the Desktop Uploader (Libris gives photographers six different upload methods to choose from).
A gallery called “Submitted Staff” collects photos submitted by staff members and students who weren’t on Pfueller’s team – creating an even more well-rounded look at the day (Pfueller expects this gallery will continue to evolve as students and staff continue to share photos of the day with the university).
The communications team at Catholic will also use Libris to keep track of who to credit for use of the photos.
“Our goal is for as many people to get them and to use them,” Pfueller said.
In the short term, Libris has already had a meaningful impact for one person in the crowd of thousands. One of the priests on the altar happened to be a Catholic University student. Pfueller realized he had a picture of the student and was able to use Libris’ quicksend feature to send him a photo of this incredible moment.
In the long term, Libris will streamline the process of searching and sharing snapshots of Pope Francis’ visit (in preparation for this visit, Pfueller had to search Catholic University’s archives for photos of past papal visits to the university in 1979 and 2008).
This moment is a milestone for Catholic, and a point of pride for the whole community. Catholic is the only university in the US that has ever had a pope visit more than once. The photos from this momentous day are important records of the university’s history, and these incredible galleries will continue to share the story of Pope Francis’ visit long after his journey back to the Vatican.
“These pictures will be used 100 years from now,” said Pfueller.
Cover photo by Justin Walker, courtesy of Catholic University.