DAILY CATHOLIC FRI-SAT-SUN October 15-17, 1999 vol. 10, no. 197
No Pope in the history of the holy pontiffs has a more varied background, or is more in-touch with the needs of all his flock than Karol Jozef Wojtyla, the 264th successor of Peter who took the name John Paul II twenty years ago on October 16, 1978. Below is a capsule look by years of his life from the cradle Catholic years of his ethnic background to the tumultuous time of the Third Reich in his own backyard; to his involvement in preserving the faith not only his own but those of other faiths; to being ordained a priest of God and his further education after the war at the world renowned Angelicum in Rome where he would return numerous times as an active participant in the Second Vatican Council II, then as member of the College of Cardinals where he would eventually find himself the chosen one by his peers as the 264th successor of Peter. For details of his 21-year pontificate, go to THE PAPAL YEARS: The First Dozen Years and THE PAPAL YEARS: The Nineties
THE EARLY YEARS OF FORMATION: WAR AT HOME
May 18, 1920
Karol Jozef Wojtyla is born in Wadowice, Poland during the sixth year of the reign of Pope Benedict XV, 258th Pontiff. Wadowice in southern Poland is 20 pius miles southwest of Krakow and 20 miles from the Czech border. He is born in a three room flat at 7 Church St. a block away from the Parish Church of Our Lady on the square where he is baptized on June 20. His father, Karol Sr., a retired officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, is a Lieutenant in the Polish Army.
Karol's mother Emelia Kaczorowska Wojtyla dies during the 7th year of the reign of Pius XI, 259th successor of Peter. Emelia is taken at the age of 45 during childbirth. She was a school teacher of Lithuanian descent.
Karol receives his First Holy Communion at the Parish of Our Lady and begins serving as an Altar Boy. He had hoped his mother would have lived to see this. Two years later his brother Edmond, 15 years older, would die of Scarlet Fever contracted while a Medical School intern.
Karol enters the Boys High School in Wadowice where he excels as a talented student and athlete. One of his teachers is quoted as saying: "He was the nearest to genius that I ever had."
Karol graduates High School in the 15th year of the reign of Pope Pius XI, 259th Pontiff. He is anxious to pursue a career in drama and acting as he is encouraged by his teachers.
Karol is confirmed in Krakow on May 3 during the 18th year of the reign of Pius XI. Karol moves with his father to Krakow where he would reside for the next 40 years. Here he enrolls in the department of philosophy at the same university where Copernicus studied - Jagiellonian University, 2nd oldest University in central Europe. He also joins the "Rhapsodic Theatre."
Nazis invade Poland in September six months after Pius XII is proclaimed the 160th Pope in the succession of Peter. The University is closed and Karol is sent to a rock quarry and later to a chemical plant as a manual laborer. While reflecting on the evils of totalitarianism, Karol begins writing plays which to this day are still being published and produced.
Karol is laid up in the hospital due to a trolley accident. During this time he contemplates on the priesthood but opts for continuing as an actor. A while later he is again struck, this time by a Nazi truck and while laid up in recuperation, his vocation is fostered in part from reading Saint John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul".
Karol's father dies of a heart attack in February leaving him alone in a war-torn country. He becomes active in underground movement with members of the Christian Resistance (UNIA) in helping protect Jewish families. Under the guidance of prayer group leader Jan Tyranowski, who, when Karol became Pope, would later refer as "a real master of the spiritual life", he fostered a vocation to Karol's priesthood.
Karol enters underground seminary organized by Archbishop Adam Stefan Sapieha, who had been recruiting Karol for some time. Earlier, when informed Karol wanted to be an actor first, the Archbishop had said: "What a pity. We could use a man like that in the Church." As it would turn out, Karol would lead the Church during her most difficult times.
Karol eludes the Nazis. Because of his participation with the underground resistance he is now on the Nazi blacklist and becomes a hunted man. Along with his fellow seminarians, Karol is hidden at the Archbishop's palace until the war is over.
THE PRIESTLY YEARS
Karol Wojtyla is ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Sapieha on the Feast of All Saints in the 8th year of the reign of Pius XII. Karol is then sent to Rome to study advanced Theology at the Angelicum and there develops his long-standing interest in Christian mysticism, doing a doctoral dissertation on St. John of the Cross.
Karol returns to Poland, assigned to Parish work as a deacon in Niegowic and then at St. Florian's where, as pastor he pursues working with the youth, a special interest and bond he would always have which ultimately would lead to establishing World Youth Days in 1984.
Father Karol receives his second doctorate, this time in Philosophy, centered on the work of Max Scheler, an early German proponent of phenomenology. He is assigned to teach part time at the Catholic University of Lublin behind iron curtain and where later he would be named Chairman of the Philosophy Department.
Father Karol Wojtyla becomes the youngest bishop in Poland when, on September 8th he is consecrated auxiliary bishop of Krakow in Warsaw. He is elevated to the Episcopacy during the 20th and final year of the reign of Pius XII. He's notified of this while on a backpacking and canoeing trip with some youth from the university.
THE EPISCOPAL YEARS
Bishop Karol, in the inaugural year of the reign of Pope John XXIII, 261st successor of Peter, is named to the Polish Academy of Sciences in recognition of his work in philosophy. He is a major force in the intellectual life o his country.
Bishop Wojtyla becomes an active participant of the Second Vatican Council called by Pope John XXIII, 261st Pontiff in the 4th year of his reign. His major contribution is his Dignitalis Humanae, the Declaration on Religious Freedom. It proves the false humanistic tendencies of Marx and Lenin and modernism in the west.
Bishop Karol Wojtyla is elevated to Archbishop of the See of Krakow on January 13th during the 2nd year of the reign of Pope Paul VI, 262nd Supreme Pontiff. He contributes to concilliar documents: Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes to name a few while emphasizing his Declaration which would have far-reaching effects on human rights and for the persecuted Church in communist countries.
Archbishop Wojtyla is elevated to Cardinal on June 26th by Pope Paul VI during the fifth year of his reign. He is instrumental in diplomacy with the Polish government in allowing worship to continue in Poland and he takes an active role in the International Synod of Bishops.
Cardinal Wojtyla publishes his book "Foundations of Renewal" during the 9th year of the Paul VI's reign. The book reflects his efforts to educate the people of his archdiocese on Vatican II.
Upon the death of Paul VI on August 6th, Cardinal Wojtyla is called to Rome to elect John Paul I the 263rd Pontiff on August 26th. He interrupts a camping trip with some youth to travel to Rome and returns to Poland to resume his excursion with them.
For the Papal years from 1978 to 1990, please see
21st Anniversary of the Pontificate of John Paul the Great