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Saint John Paul II

Saint John Paul II

Pope St. John Paul II in 1991 (photo: White House Photo / Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

Pope Saint John Paul II was born in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920 and was baptised Karol Józef Wojtyła. As a child, he enjoyed sports, especially football. Though his early childhood was joyful, by the time he had turned 21, he had already endured deep sorrow. He lost his mother when he was eight years old, and then his only living sibling, a brother, died. Soon after that, his father passed away. 

Following his father’s death, Karol felt called to the religious life and entered the seminary to become a priest. During WWII, as the University where he studied was closed by the National Socialists (Nazis), he enrolled in an underground seminary in Krakow. During this period, he held different day jobs: he worked in a limestone quarry, a restaurant, and a chemical factory.

Saint John Paul II was ordained in 1946 and then sent to Rome, where he earned a doctorate in theology. Back in Poland, he first ministered as a rural parish priest and eventually became a chaplain for university students and a professor of philosophy. He was appointed archbishop of Krakow in 1964 and was elected pope in 1978, the first non-Italian pope since the 16th century.

As pope, he visited many countries, improved the relations with Orthodox Churches, and published a Catechism of the Catholic Church. His famous visit to Poland in June of 1979, where hundreds of thousands of people at Victory Square chanted “We want God” in defiance of the communist regime, is believed to have greatly contributed to the fall of communism in that country. Saint John Paul II died in 2005 after suffering for several years from Parkinson’s disease.


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