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Pope Game : Visit Changes Fortunes of Pair Who Play With Vatican Lore

September 13, 1987|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

It was a miracle.

The Catholic trivia game that Richard Crowley spent 10 months struggling to market from his kitchen table was suddenly selling across the country like bingo tickets at a church bazaar.

"It's going like a bat out of hell," Crowley said Friday as he fingered a stack of mail orders for the $29.95 board game he calls "Is the Pope Catholic!?!"

"If John Paul calls, tell him I'll get back to him," Crowley shouted across the kitchen to a friend.

Crowley is a 44-year-old psychotherapist. John Paul is John Paul Crowley, 47, his brother from Fort Wayne, Ind., who is also a psychotherapist and the game's co-creator.

Credit the Pope

It was John Paul II who was responsible for the flurry of activity at Richard Crowley's North Hollywood home on Friday, however.

The start of the Pope's 10-day U. S. tour prompted an avalanche of game orders to Crowley's postal box and kitchen phone.

Between inquiries, he chatted briefly with a local radio station and at length with a Tacoma, Wash., newspaper before Channel 2 knocked on his front door. Channel 4 was on its way over.

Crowley explained to each how he and his brother had thought up the game about 15 years ago after reminiscing over their childhood experiences in Catholic school in Somerville, Mass.

The object of their game is to see which player can advance the fastest through the Catholic hierarchy to become Pope. Players answer a series of questions from cards to move back and forth on a game board designed to resemble Rosary beads.

Some of the 470 questions arranged on "sin cards" and "grace cards" are irreverent. Others are revealing.

One asks players to pick the "patron saint of gravediggers" from a list that includes St. Martin of Worms, St. Anthony of Coma and St. Joseph of Arimathea. Another asks the name of the saint who, "while being roasted alive, is reported to have said 'Turn me over, I'm done on this side.' " Others deal with embarrassing moments in parochial school.

The brothers had planned to produce only 5,000 copies of the game. "It was a year late coming out because of problems with the printing and other mix-ups," Crowley said. "When we got them last November, we sat around and wondered what to do next."

An ad in The Tidings, a weekly newspaper published by the Los Angeles Archdiocese, brought orders for only two games. That was disheartening for the pair, who had sunk $55,000 of their money into the game.

The Miracle

Then came the miracle: The Pope announced he was coming to the United States.

Crowley mortgaged his Elmer Avenue house for $50,000 and ordered 10,000 more games. Then he took to the road for a 12-day marketing trip to each of the cities on the Pope's itinerary.

As of Friday, about 5,000 of the games had been sold. "Five thousand more, and we'll start making a profit," Crowley said, ripping open a mail order and watching a check for $103 fall out.

"It's from Our Lady of the Mountains in North Conway, N.H.," he explained after reading a note sent w ith the check. "They want three games. They want them this month, in time for the 25th anniversary of the arrival of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement."

By way of saying thanks to the man who made it all possible, Crowley on Tuesday airmailed a free copy of his game to John Paul II, care of the archbishop of Miami. The archbishop, who earlier this year wrote Crowley to say he had played the game and liked it, was the Pope's host on Thursday.

Crowley said he is booked up with psychotherapy patients on Tuesday and Wednesday, the days the Pope is scheduled to visit Los Angeles. "Anyway, I don't have a ticket for either of his Masses," Crowley said.

He tried for permission to have the games sold outside Dodger Stadium and the Coliseum, where the Masses will be held. But the stadium isn't selling souvenirs and the Coliseum is only selling inexpensive items such as shirts and pennants, Crowley said.

Although he once hired an actress to dress like a nun and sell his games at a gift show, Crowley said he has elected not to do "anything that might be tacky"--like employing altar boys to hawk them along the Pope's Los Angeles motorcade route on Tuesday morning.

The kitchen phone rang again. It was the Johnny Carson Show. Crowley grinned, then he grimaced.

"They want the game on the show Tuesday night or Wednesday," he said. "They don't want me, just the game. They'll use a Pope look-alike for the show."

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