Sultana Klatt made certain that former Bishop Thomas O’Brien was comfortable and well-fed during the dozen years she was his housekeeper. But for 24 hours in September 1987, her mission was to provide all the comforts of home to Pope John Paul II.
During the pontiff’s brief stay during his 10-day, nine-stop U.S. tour, Klatt and the pope hit it off so well that John Paul called her later from California for advice on settling his upset stomach.
Klatt, 88, died Friday in Phoenix. O’Brien will deliver a eulogy at her funeral on Friday in Scottsdale.
“She was very devoted to me and took care of me like a son,” O’Brien said Tuesday in a phone interview. “She mothered me. She took care of the house as if it were her own, and when we’d have a special dinner, she would prepare days and days ahead of time for it.”
The papal visit, he said, “was the event of her life.”
The housekeeper had been given a year of advance notice that the pope was coming to Phoenix and had accepted the bishop’s invitation to stay at the home.
Other bishops, knowing the pope would stay at their homes, would have chosen outdoor professionals to do the cooking and make arrangements, O’Brien said.
“I didn’t have to do that with her,” he said. “She took care of it herself.”
Klatt was born in French Morocco and later developed skills in seven languages, so she easily conversed with the Polish-born pope. Just before his departure, the pope insisted that Klatt scramble to round up as many family members as she could to come to the house to meet him. Eight were able to come.
In the end, the pope’s insistence to meet the Klatt clan delayed his departure that morning from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
“She took very good care of him, and I think he wanted to stay a little longer because of the care that she was giving him,” O’Brien said. “I think she spent more time with the pope than I did.”
O’Brien, 72, retired in 2003 and continues to live in the diocesan home near north Phoenix because his successor, Bishop Thomas Olmsted, has opted to live in the rectory of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral.
“Sultana had a strong character, a strong personality and was very devoted to people,” O’Brien said, adding that “she could take on anything.”
He remembered the time a group of rabbis came to dinner, and Klatt prepared a choice kosher meal.
Another time, O’Brien said he hosted baseball personality Joe Garagiola, the late syndicated columnist Erma Bombeck and Family Circus cartoonist Bill Keane at his home on the same night.
“Can you imagine them together in the house?” O’Brien said. “She handled that nicely. She could take on anything.”
Klatt came to the U.S. as a World War II war bride in 1945 and became a citizen in 1952. She traveled widely with Leonard, her husband of 57 years, while he was in the military. While they were stationed in Japan during the Korean War, she worked as an American Red Cross translator.
In 1979, she was awarded a U.S. patent for a tray that holds tacos. She also worked as a hotel executive chef, which led her to be hired by the diocese in 1981 to be chef and house manager for the bishop’s home just before O’Brien’s installation as bishop in 1982. She retired in 1993 following a heart attack.
She is survived by five children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Services will be noon Friday at Desert Hills Chapel and Cemetery, 6500 E. Bell Road, Scottsdale, with graveside services 1:30 p.m. at National Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, 23029 N. Cave Creek Road.