Stories abound on Papal Artifacts regarding the items the Curator has acquired for this Collection, and this Train Pass is one of them. It was issued on June 29, 1958 to Father Karol Wojtyla, a university professor at the Polish Katolicka University in Lublin, Poland. His signature is underneath an image of the future pontiff when he was 38 years old. On the reverse side is his name and further identification of his work, and the place of issue (Lublin) on 29 of June (Czerwiec), 1958.
What makes this story so special, besides having any item belonging to a canonized saint? To fully appreciate it, you’d have to be familiar with George Weigel’s definitive biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness To Hope. In the beginning of Chapter 5 (pp. 146 – 147), Weigel describes the circumstances of the young priest’s July 4th appointment by Pope Pius XII as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Krakow. (This was, by the way, the last formal act of the Pope who died in 1958.) Here is the story in full.
George Weigel’s Account of Father Wojtyla’s Appointment as Auxiliary Bishop and Its Relationship to the Train Pass
Witness To Hope, pp 146 – 147
In early August 1958, as his friends Stanislaw and Danuta Rybicki awaited the birth of their first child, Father Karol Wojtyla began a two-week Srodowisko kayaking trip on the River Lyne in northeastern Poland. Organized by “Admiral” Zdzislaw Heydel, the flotilla of kayaks had traveled fifteen miles or so the first day. The vacationers then camped along the riverbank, played soccer, and talked around the campfire. Heydel had left behind in Krakow a detailed daily schedule, so that mail from children and friends who couldn’t join the trip could be forwarded to local post offices where the kayakers could pick it. On August 5, which happened to be the day Stanislaw Rybicki, Jr., was born, Wojtyla got a letter ordering him to report immediately to the Primate, Cardinal Wyszynski, in Warsaw.
They took off in two kayaks, Wujek alone in one, Zdzsislaw Heydel and Gabriel Turowski in another. Turowski, an immunologist, was known to his friends as “Gapa” (dumbbell or dummy) because he would play dumb when State Security called him in for interrogation after his annual refusal to participate in May Day demonstrations. The three men pulled off the river at a spot along the road to Olsztynek, the nearest railroad station, and left the kayaks under a bridge. “Admiral” Heydel tried to flag down a passing car. A milk truck stopped, and Heydel said they’d pay for the gas if the driver got them to Olsztynek. Wujek climbed into the back and sat amid the milk containers. When they got to the station in Olsztynek he slipped into the men’s room, put on a cassock, and, as Turowski later put it, “left the men’s room a priest again.”
When Father Karol Wojtyla arrived in the Primate’s office, (On August 5, 1958) Cardinal Wyszynski informed him that, on July 4, Pope Pius XII had named him titular bishop of Ombi and auxiliary to Archbishop Baziak, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Krakow. Wojtyla accepted the nomination and went straight to the Ursuline convent in the capital, where he knocked on the door and asked if he could come in to pray. The sisters didn’t know him, but his cassock was a sufficient passport. They led him to their chapel and left him alone. After some time, the nuns began to worry and quietly opened the door of the chapel to see what was happening. Wojtyla was prostrate on the floor in front of the tabernacle. Awestruck, the sisters left, thinking that perhaps he was a penitent. Some hours later they came back. The unknown priest was still prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament. It was late, and one of the nuns said, “Perhaps Father would like to come to supper…?” The stranger answered, “My train doesn’t leave for Krakow until after midnight. Please let me stay here. I have a lot to talk about with the Lord….”
Having settled matters with the Lord, Father Wojtyla went to talk things over with Archbishop Baziak, who presumably expected his new auxiliary bishop to remain in town. Wojtyla told the archbishop that he had to get back to the River Lyne to celebrate Sunday Mass for his friends. Heydel and Turowski met him on the road to Olsztynek, at the bridge where they had flagged down the truck, and they kayaked back to the campsite. His old friends, stunned by the news, wondered what they should call him. Don’t worry, he said, “Wujek will remain Wujek.”
What you see here is the Train Pass he used to travel to Krakow, the site of his new assignment, making this invaluable and a one-of-its-kind item belonging to the man who became, not only Pope John Paul II in 1978, but a canonized saint in 2014. He is the Curator’s favorite saint, and this story, when read by him left an indelible mark in his memory.
And so, while Pius XII appointed Father Karol Wojtyla/Wujek on July 4, 1958, the story connected to his lengthy prayer at the Ursuline convent occurred on August 5, 1958.
It is fitting that the Train Pass found its way to Father Kunst and his Collection.