Karol (Charles) Jósef Wojtyła was
born in Wadowice (Kraków), Poland on May 18, 1920. His father was
also Karol (1879-1941), a lieutenant in the Polish army and son of
Maciej and Anna Wojtyła of Lipnik. His mother was Emilia
(1884-1929), daughter of Feliks and Anna Kaczorowska of Kraków. He
also had an older brother Edmund, born on August 27, 1906, who would
go on to become a doctor in Bielsko, and a sister, Olga, who died before he
Karol was baptized on June 20, 1920 by Fr. Franciszek Zak, a
chaplain in the Polish Army. In 1926 he began his elementary
schooling, in the midst of which at age 9 his mother died (April 13,
1929), the first of several such crosses he would experience as a
child and young man. From 1930 to 1938 he studied at the State
Secondary School "Marcin Wadowita" (today called "Emil Zegadlowicz").
Important events of this period include the death of his brother on
December 5, 1932, his first theatrical performances, the reception
of the Sacrament of Confirmation in May 1938, and he and his
father's move to an apartment in Kraków (summer of 1938).
Young Karol Impressed the Archbishop of
In Pope John Paul II: The Life of Karol Wojtyła, his friend Fr.
Mieczyslaw Malinski recounts that it was during this time that he
first came to the attention of the Archbishop of Kraków, Adam
Cardinal Sapieha. The Cardinal was visiting the school and young
Karol was tasked to give the welcoming speech. Impressed by the boy
the Cardinal inquired of his pastor whether Karol intended to become
a priest. The priest's reply was that his interests seemed to lie
with the theatre, an answer which disappointed the archbishop.
When Karol completed his secondary education he enrolled in the
Faculty of Philosophy at the historic Jagiellonian University of
Kraków in the fall of 1938. Not abandoning the theatre, however, he
joined an experimental theatre group known as "Studio 38". The
following July the gathering storm clouds of war necessitated
military training for the students, including the future Pope.
However, the Polish Army was no match for the Nazi forces which
invaded on September 1, 1939, so that Karol Wojtyła never had the
chance to defend his homeland.
Young Wojtyła proceeded in the fall of '39 to continue his
university studies in philosophy and literature, until the Nazi
government closed the university. This forced him in November 1940
to take a job as a stone-cutter at a quarry in Zakrzowek, near
Kraków. Earlier that year, in February, he had met a man who would
make a profound difference in his spiritual life. Jan Tryanowski was
a tailor who was knowledgeable in the spirituality of St. Teresa of
Avila and St. John of the Cross. He introduced his young protégé to
these Carmelite authors, setting him on a deeper spiritual path.
His Studies Interrupted by Nazi
A year later, on February 18, 1941, Karol was asked to carry the
cross again with the death of his father. From this time he would be
alone, though never really so since his spiritual life was deepening
under Jan Tryanowski's direction in the ways of prayer.
The following year, 1942, would see two changes in Karol
Wojtyła's life. First he was transferred to the Solvay chemical
works, which, as it turned out, would facilitate academic studies at
the reopened Jagiellonian University. Thus, in October Karol Wojtyła
entered the faculty of theology with the intention of becoming a
This double life or work and study would continue for two years,
until August 1944. At that time Cardinal Sapieha moved his
seminarians into his episcopal residence to finish their training in
an "underground" seminary he conducted there. Karol Wojtyła, who
earlier in the year had been hit by a car and hospitalized while
saving a man's life, stopped going to work that summer, dropping out
of sight of the Nazi occupiers. He continued his priestly studies
through the balance of the war, including the liberation (if it can
be called that) of Kraków by Soviet forces on January 18, 1945.
Seminarian Wojtyła's march toward the priesthood included all the
stages called for under the Church's discipline before the Second
Vatican Council. On September 9, 1944, he was tonsured, in which a
circlet of hair was cut off the crown of his head to show that he
was now a cleric. On December 17 of that year he received the first
two minor orders, porter and lector. The following year on December
12, 1945, he received the two other minor orders, exorcist and
acolyte. Finally in 1946 he completed his studies and the reception
of orders, with Sub-diaconate on October 13, Diaconate on October 20
and Priesthood on November 1, the Solemnity of All Saints. His
priestly ordination was performed by Adam Cardinal Sapieha in his
private chapel. The next day he celebrated his first Mass in the
crypt of St. Leonard, located in Wawel Castle, Kraków, the royal
residence of Poland.
He Was Trained for the Priesthood in
Fr. Wojtyła left almost immediately for the Pontifical University
of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome to begin graduate studies.
Together with another Polish priest, Fr. Starowieyski, he resided at
the Pontifical Belgian College, Via Quiranale 26, near the
University. In short order he completed his Licentiate (teaching
credentials) in Sacred Theology (STL) on July 3, 1947 and commenced
a summer traveling with his Polish confrere to France, Belgium and
Holland. Near Charleroi, Belgium, they spent some time doing
pastoral work among Polish workers residing there.
Under the tutelage of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, Fr.
Wojtyła began to write the dissertation for the Doctorate in Sacred
Theology (STD) in the fall of 1947.
Showing the interest in prayer which Jan Tryanowski had formed in
him, he wrote his dissertation in Latin on The Problem of Faith in the Works
of St. John of the Cross, successfully defending it with high marks.
However, being too poor to pay for its publication, a requirement of the
pontifical universities, he returned to Poland without actually receiving
the doctorate. There he began to serve as an
assistant pastor in Niegowic, near Gdów. During this time he submitted his
dissertation to the Jagellonian University, whose faculty reviewed it and in
December 1948 granted him the Doctorate in Theology.
The archbishop's plans for young Father Wojtyła went
beyond being a parish priest. During a period as an assistant
at St. Florian's in Kraków, from August '49 to September '51, he
also served as chaplain to the university students and to health
From Graduate Student
On September 1, 1951 Archbishop Baziak (who had replaced Cardinal
Sapieha), gave him a sabbatical so that he could qualify, by
examination and another dissertation, for a university
professorship. This he worked towards during the next two years,
completing and then defending a thesis in philosophy on the ethical system of Max Scheler in December 1953.
Scheler, like Dietrich von Hildebrand and St. Edith Stein, was a student of
Edmund Husserl, who applied a phenomenological method to the study of
ethics, an effort which the future Pope found subjective, lacking a
metaphysical base such as Thomistic philosophy provided (see Intellectual
History). In the fall of that year he taught the course on
Catholic social ethics to the fourth year theology students.
Unfortunately his career at the Jagiellonian ended with the
abolition of the theology faculty the next year ('54), which was
then re-organized as part of the archdiocesan seminary. However, Fr.
Wojtyła accepted a non-tenured professorship at the Catholic
University of Lublin. This "temporary" status would last until
December 1, 1956, when he was appointed to the Chair of Ethics. The
following year on November 15 he was approved by the University's
Central Qualifying Committee as a free docent (lecturer). He would
continue to develop his own thought and to teach for the next 20
years, up until his election to a different Chair, that of Peter.
Fr. Wojtyła was appointed to the episcopacy on July 1, 1958 when
he was made an auxiliary bishop of Kraków (titular bishop of Ombi).
While serving in this capacity he continued to teach and to provide
pastoral care for university students. These latter contacts lead
him to write his first book Love and Responsibility (he had already
written many philosophical and theological articles). Having had his
advice sought on many occasions about how to handle, morally and
practically, relationships between the opposite sexes, Love and
Responsibility represented the fruit of his reflection on his
pastoral experience. The same year his dissertation on the ethics of
phenomenologist Max Scheler was published by the Catholic University
Bishop, Cardinal, and
The most momentous event of the 1960s for Bishop Wojtyła was the
Second Vatican Council. He attended all of its sessions beginning in
October 1962. In July Archbishop Baziak of Kraków had died. The See
remained vacant through the beginning of the Council, until after
the first session (Oct 11-Dec. 8) concluded. Then, on December 30,
1962, Bishop Wojtyła was designated to replace him by Pope John
XXIII. However, because of the situation in Poland under Communism
he wasn't able to be officially appointed until January 1964 (by
then, Pope Paul VI). He was not installed until March 8, 1964. On
May 29, 1967, the Pope named him a cardinal, elevating him to that
honor on June 28.
During the three year course of the Council, the future Pope
actively participated in the debates and in the formulation of the
decrees. He was on the drafting commission for the Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes and
also contributed to the Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatis
humanae and the Decree on the Instruments of Social Communications
Inter mirifica. Returning to his archdiocese he set about
implementing the decrees. One of the fruits this effort was a book
about the Council documents and their implementation called Sources
of Renewal. Published in 1972, it is the only book on the subject by
a bishop who took part in the Second Vatican Council.
Two institutions that came out of the Council were the Synod of
Bishops and Conferences of Bishops. The Synod was intended as a
exercise of collegiality of all the world's bishops, each national
hierarchy sending representatives. The Synod's purpose would be to
discuss certain themes (priesthood, laity, penance, family etc.) and
provide advice for the Pope to help him govern the universal Church.
It meets in ordinary and extraordinary sessions. Conferences of
Bishops, too, were meant to be collegial institutions, but of the
bishops in a particular country or region toward their own people.
Cardinal Wojtyła participated in both these new institutions,
serving as Vice-president of the Polish Bishops Conference upon his
election in March 1969 and in the Synods of Bishops in several
capacities. Foregoing the First Ordinary Assembly (October 1967) to
protest the denial of an exit visa to Cardinal Stefan Wyszinski of
Warsaw, he attended the First Extraordinary Session in October 1969
on the collegial relations between the Pope and the bishops as a
papally nominated member, the Second Ordinary Assembly (Oct./Nov.
1971) on the priesthood and justice as an ordinary member (at which
he was elected to the Council of the Secretary General of the
Synod), the Third Ordinary Assembly (October 1974) on evangelization
as a relator (moderator) in the doctrinal section and the Fourth
Ordinary Assembly (October 1977) on catechetics as a member (and is
again elected to the Council of the Secretary General. His collegial
spirit was not limited to the universal Church, however. As
archbishop he convoked a Synod of Kraków (May 1972, May 1975). The
next Synod of Bishops (October 1980) he would attend, on the family,
would be called by him as Pope.
As already noted, during his years as bishop Karol Wojtyła
continued to teach and to write. In 1969 he completed and published
his principle academic work The Acting Person (called Person and Act
in one edition). In this book he explains the philosophical approach
to understanding the person and ethics which he had developed, using
the phenomenological method of contemporary personalism (which count
St. Edith Stein and Dietrich von Hildebrand among its advocates)
together with the metaphysical teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. (see
The Thought of Pope John Paul II for further explanation) This
philosophical approach, together with the equivalent theological
approach (that the Person of Christ, the God-Man, must be in the
center of theological reflection) continue to characterize his papal
teaching. It also is the key to an authentic understanding of the
personalism of the Second Vatican Council.
Cardinal Wojtyła's personal ties to the papacy continued to
deepen in the mid 1970s. In March 1976 he gave the Lenten retreat to
Pope Paul VI. This is considered a great sign of papal esteem. The
talks he delivered are published under the title Sign of
Contradiction. In July 1976 he was sent by the Pope as his
representative to the International Eucharistic Congress in
Philadelphia, on the occasion of the US bicentennial in July 1976.
Finally on August 25 and 26, 1978, he participated in the Conclave
which elected Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice as Pope. It would be
the one and only Conclave he would both enter and leave as a