Early Life:

Pope John Paul II was born Karol Wojtyla on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland. As a child, he survived the deaths of his mother and older brother. After graduating high school in 1938, he enrolled at the University of Krakow. A year into his studies, in 1939, the Nazi occupying forces closed the university. Karol went to work in a quarry, and later, a chemical factory to avoid deportation to Germany. During this time, he lost his father. In 1942, he began studying for the priesthood in a clandestine seminary in Krakow.


On November 1, 1946, Karol became Father Wojtyla at his ordination in Krakow. He was sent to Rome, where he attained a doctorate in theology. In 1948, he returned to Poland and was appointed a curate. He also served as a university chaplain, while pursuing studies in philosophy and theology. Additionally, he became a professor of moral theology and ethics at the major seminary of Krakow and Lublin.

On July 4, 1958, Pope Pius XII appointed Father Wojtylathe Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow. Six years later, on January 13, 1964, Pope Paul VI appointed Bishop Wojtyla the new Archbishop of Krakow. From 1962 to 1965, Archbishop Wojtyla attended the Second Vatican Council, and made significant contributions to the drafting of crucial Church documents, specifically Gaudium et Spes. On June 26, 1967, Pope Paul VI appointed the Archbishop asa Cardinal.


On October 16, 1978, the College of Cardinals elected Cardinal Wojtyla the 264th Pope. Six days later, he took the name Pope John Paul II and began his papacy. He was one of the most traveled popes in the history of the Church. He made 146 pastoral visits in Italy, visited 317 of the 322 Roman parishes, and took 104 international apostolic journeys.

During his papacy, he wrote 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic Exhortations, 11 Apostolic Constitutions, 45 Apostolic Letters and 5 books. Additionally, he canonized 51 saints, declared 1,338 blesseds, and celebrated 147 beatifications.

On May 3, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot in Saint Peter’s Square. After a lengthy recovery, he forgave the attempted assassin and renewed his commitment to his vocation and ministry.

Other highlights of Pope John Paul II’s papacy includethe Year of Redemption, the Marian Year, the Year of the Eucharist, the Great Jubilee Year, and the beginning of World Youth Day.

Death and Beatification:

On April 2, 2005, on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope John Paul II left this world. He suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and arthritis for years leading up to his death. He is buried in the crypt of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

His successor, friend, and long-time collaborator, Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II on May 1, 2011, in Saint Peter’s Square.

Interesting Facts:

He survived and resisted both Nazi and Communistic forcers during his adolescence and early adulthood.

He was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

He was the first pope to visit the White House, a synagogue, and Cuba.

He canonized more saints than any pope in history.

Time Magazine named him “Man of the Year” in 1994.

His pontificate was the third longest in history.

His canonization process was the shortest in centuries, taking only nine years. The average canonization process is 181 years.

During the last 1,000 years, only seven popes have become saints. John Paul II was the seventh.

He is the fourth pope to carry the title “the Great.”

Recommended Reading:

Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, John Paul II
Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II)
The Legacy of Pope John Paul II: The Central Teaching of His 14 Encyclical Letters, Alan Schreck
Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel