Pope St. John Paul II
Pope St. John Paul II Pope St. John Paul II

Era: 1978-2005

Saint John Paul II was a man of tremendous prayerful holiness and great personal prestige who influenced a generation with his long pontificate and great magnetic appeal. He has been called, the Great, a term used only a few other times in the history of the papacy. He died on April 2nd, 2005. He was nearly eighty-five years of age.

The following biographical information offers chronological information about the life of Karol Wojtyla, Blessed John Paul the Great.

Saint John Paul II

Karol Josef Wojtyla was born near Krakow, Poland, on May 18, 1920. His childhood was marked by the death of his mother when he was eight years old and his beloved brother, Edmund, when he was twelve. A sister, Olga, died before he was born. At twenty, his father died leaving him the only remaining member of his immediate family.

As a young student, Wojtyla had a great interest in athletics and drama, and it was soon apparent that he was talented in languages as well, learning as many as twelve foreign languages which he used extensively as Pope.

In 1939, the invasion and occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany forced the closure of his university and required him to work at various menial jobs in an effort not to be deported to Germany. About this time his interest in the priesthood grew and when he survived being hit by a truck, due to the kindness of German officers, he took it as a sign of his vocation. As life became more difficult for Poles at the hands of the Nazis, Wojtyla studied secretly for the priesthood.

He was ordained on All Saints’ Day, November 1st, 1946, and sent to study in Rome where he later earned the first of two doctoral degrees. Upon his return to Poland he was tireless in his work as a parish priest, forming a group of young people to help the poor and the sick. The group grew to number about 200 people.

When the Communists came to power, life in Poland continued to be harsh particularly for Catholics whose source of life and sustenance had always been the Church and their devotion to Mary. Father Wojtyla wrote extensively at that time, focusing on both original literary work and influential theological work. In 1960, he wrote Love and Responsibility, a defense of traditional Church teachings on marriage from a new philosophical standpoint. He was forty years old.

In 1958, Wojtyla was appointed a bishop, which allowed him to participate in the Second Vatican Council. He made contributions to two of the most influential products of the Council: the Decree on Religious Freedom and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. He was gaining influence and authority and it was no surprise that Pope Paul VI named him a Cardinal in June of 1967. He was forty-seven years old.

Upon the death of John Paul I, Karol Wojtyla became the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the first pope of Slavic origin. His papacy was characterized by his relative youth: he was only fifty-eight when elected. He became the second-longest documented pontiff, serving from 1978 to 2005.

In 1981, Pope John Paul was shot and critically wounded. He was certain he had been protected by the Blessed Virgin to whom he had great devotion all his life. He later traveled to Fatima, Portugal, the site of her appearances in 1917, to offer his thanksgiving.

It is impossible in so short a space to do justice to his influence both within the Church and throughout the world. It is widely believed he was instrumental in ending Communism in Poland and eventually in all of Europe. He improved relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion. Proponents of traditional Catholic values have praised him for his strict adherence to orthodox Catholic teachings.

He was one of the most traveled world leaders in history, visiting 129 countries while speaking often in people’s native languages. His appeal to young people was evident in the World Youth Day events he initiated that drew hundreds of thousands of youth to see him. His energy and vigor were evident during much of his long reign and he had hundreds of audiences and meetings with people that reputedly numbered over 13 million. He met with Heads of State, Prime Ministers and Church leaders and the faithful. He wrote extensively, thirteen encyclicals alone, and beatified and canonized numerous people.

On Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, 2014, Saint John Paul II was canonized, and the Curator of Papal Artifacts was there.