MONROE-"I never understood why people fell to their knees when the Pope appeared," Helene Shepard recalled last week, "until I was in Rome with my husband John and the same thing happened to me. It was as if the Holy Spirit heralded a true Pope's welcome by gently and lovingly prodding us into a prayerful position." Shepard, a 30-year resident of Monroe and the state regent for the Catholic Daughters of America, shared her memories last week following the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2. As the College of Cardinals prepares to begin its work Monday in selecting a new pontiff, Catholics like Shepard still hold tightly to their encounters with the man who filled the shoes of the Fisherman for nearly three decades. Shepard saw John Paul II twice. The first time took place during a trip to Rome 20 years ago with her husband John. The second was at the Meadowlands when the Holy Father visited in the mid-1990s and toured the crowds in his famous Pope mobile. "Those visits mean so much to me now that he is gone," Shepard said. "Seeing him in person twice will help sustain loving memories of him as time passes." During the trip to Rome, Shepard said she was very close to the Pope during midnight Mass at the Vatican. She also discovered that "some of nuns in Rome have the sharpest elbows in the world. They weren't shy about pushing their way to the front. I understand how they felt, though. It was inspiring to be that close to such holiness and goodness." There was much less rough-and-tumble elbowing at the Meadowlands in New Jersey when Shepard and a group of other Catholic Daughters saw the Pope during his visit in 1995. "Though the Holy Father was much farther away than at midnight Mass in Rome, his tremendous warmth and love reached me just the same," she said. "There was a marked difference in his health n he was frailer n but his tremendous spiritual power was present." Shepard is director of St. Mary's Little Lambs Pre-School in Washingtonville, where she cares for the children of local 180 families. A large picture of Pope John Paul II is visible, and the children sometimes say, "I saw him on TV!" The school was closed last Friday in honor of the funeral Mass for the Pope. For information about the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, call (212) 877-3041. Tom Panas, a public relations consultant for Catholic organizations, contributed this article.